Methods used in social sciences that suit energy research: A literature review on qualitative methods to assess the human dimension of energy use in buildings

Mateus V. Bavaresco; Simona D'Oca; Enedir Ghisi; Roberto Lamberts
Energy and buildings

Different stakeholders are involved in the energy consumption in buildings: occupants, designers, managers, operators, policymakers, technology developers and vendors. Therefore, it is necessary to understand their opinions and needs to optimise the energy consumption in buildings during their lifespan. Questionnaires and interviews have been applied; however, the literature still supports that energy research lacks social science approaches to improve their outcomes. Although limitations are inherent in qualitative methods (e.g., social desirability bias), much information such as human needs, preferences and opinions cannot be obtained through quantitative methods like building monitoring. Therefore, to have a deeper understanding of human-related aspects regarding the energy consumption in buildings, this literature review synthesises opportunities and main challenges of applying methods commonly used in social sciences. We reviewed papers published over the last five years (from 2014 to 2019) and presented information about questionnaires, interviews, brainstorming, post-occupancy evaluation, personal diaries, elicitation studies, ethnographic studies, and cultural probe. Increasing use of qualitative methods is expected to support the spread of human-centric policies and design/control of buildings, with a consequent overall optimisation of energy performance of buildings as well as the comfort of occupants.