23 Jun 2020

How can anthropology help us understand deep energy renovation?

In the fourth TripleA-reno project newsletter, we explore why an interdisciplinary approach is needed to understand energy consumption in buildings and to plan and carry out renovations. This includes engineering, building physics, architecture or computer modeling, as well as social sciences and humanities. We are also inviting you to tune in to the TripleA-reno Home Show!

The assumption that buildings consume energy (and not the people who live and work in them) is still quite deeply rooted in discussions about energy efficiency. In this context, the individual as a classic “homo economicus” implicitly enters into relationships based primarily on rational calculations of his or her own costs and benefits. The model is established mainly because of the simplicity of this initial formula. If we were to admit that people can have complex, sometimes even contradictory or conflicting motives and interests, there would be too many factors to consider in the analysis. It would be too complicated to assess and weigh them up correctly and, consequently, it would be impossible to predict and model people’s behaviour. Therefore, people are often seen as disruptive factors; as those who hinder us on the way to improved energy efficiency because people – from an expert position – do not understand what is really in their (economic) interest.

In real life, there are situations where the “minimax” assumptions, i.e. cost minimisation and profit maximization, simply do not work. As we see in the TripleA-Reno project, energy-efficient renovation is certainly one of them. In the latest newsletter we show why an interdisciplinary approach is needed to understand energy consumption in buildings and to plan and carry out deep renovations, i.e. an approach that includes engineering, building physics, architecture, computer modelling, etc. as well as the social sciences and humanities. In the project, anthropological approaches and ethnographic research methods make it possible to learn about the everyday experiences of people – especially the residents and owners of buildings and apartments and other stakeholders involved in the processes of integrated refurbishment. The analysis and interpretation of the results obtained and the international comparison of the findings reveal the complexity of renovation processes, taking into account human motives, behaviour, values and established practices and habits. With the TripleA-reno project we want to gain new insights into the accessibility, attractiveness and acceptance of deep renovation from the perspective of the people involved, which we observe and directly involve in the research.

Among other contributions in the newsletter, we specifically highlight the TripleA-reno Home Show, a collection of recorded interviews in which experts present the individual elements of the project, methodological approaches and findings in the field of deep renovation in an understandable way. Enjoy reading (and listening)!

Cover image: dylan nolte on Unsplash