By Lola Gayle, Editor-at-large

Adjusting the thermostat, using blinds, opening windows, or using electronics such as a heater or air conditioning unit can all have an impact on the amount of energy consumed in our homes. But which of these is really the most efficient when it comes to saving power?

Researchers from the Wuhan University of Technology in China set out to find answers by developing a holistic, integrated model including such things like the building enclosure, the mechanical systems, the external environment, the proportion of window opening, and the shading factor based on data collected from 270 households. They also took into account if the buildings were single and multiple units, as well as different heating and cooling methods. For the purpose of this study, the researchers focused on homes located in the city of Oshawa, Ontario.

“I was interested to find the trends of energy use in typical households and to understand the consumer behavior and the reasons behind high and low energy consumption. I have a strong belief that, if society boosts energy conservation (as well as other resources), we will have less of a challenge meeting future demands,” explained Dr. Gabriel Kamiel in a statement provided by Frontiers.

To calculate the building energy consumption, Kamiel, Wei Yang and Yaolin Lin simulated the occupants’ possible activities on different days for various types of housing while utilizing a number of heating and cooling methods. These activities included turning on lights, using electrical appliances and the continuous adjustment of the thermostat.

The results showed that opening a window during the colder months has the greatest negative impact on energy consumption. In contrast, using drapes, blinds or window shades had the greatest impact on reducing the energy consumed during warmer months.

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Leave the drapes closed during warmer months to save on your cooling bill. Pixabay

The researchers recommend hanging appropriate window shades to help reduce energy costs. For an increased reduction in energy use, homeowners should keep their windows closed in winter, add solar panels to reduce the heating loads of the house, only adjust the thermostat temperature slightly during transitional seasons, and turn off lights when not needed.

“The study is a first of its kind in that it related actual energy usage in typical households to the consumer’s actual trends and habits in consuming energy. The latter was obtained through surveying the inhabitants of the homes we monitored,” Kamiel said.

Going forward, the researchers suggest that factors such as climatic zones, occupants’ attitudes, as well as financial, social and cultural behaviors, should be included in future studies.

They believe this model could also be used for creating efficient building design and for retrofit analysis as it takes into account factors such as building orientation, building envelop material, shading and control on heating and cooling.

“Once we can accurately classify the type of consumers in terms of high, medium or low consumption, municipalities and governments can effectively develop programs targeting these segments,” Kamiel said.

Results are published in the journal Frontiers in Built Environment.