Subjective housing quality as social acceptance test of sustainability

Post occupancy evaluation with residents of four low energy building projects and four conventional residential buildings in the city of Salzburg.
(A co-operative project with the Workers Chamber of Salzburg and provincial research into residential building).

Content Description




The Austrian government project "Haus der Zukunft" (Building of Tomorrow) supports research projects helpful for a social implementation of domestic and office energy saving concepts. Sustainable development will only work through the understanding and commitment of individual dwellers.

Alexander Keul (Applied Psychology) studied opinions and self-reported behaviour of 114 households in 4 energy-saving (E) and 4 conventional (C) housing projects of Salzburg City. The long field interviews were done by Marina Wimmer and Verena Trifich. There were only minor differences in socio-demographic variables (more children in E, higher operating costs in C).

Main quality feature for all residents was the floorplan and the number of rooms, it was also the main reason to move. The residential quarter and its quietness was a main attractive factor. Contrary to a motorcar, energy consumption of an apartment plays no role in the Austrian world of social values. Every fourth C household suffered from noise (less in E). Over 60% had had no influence in the planning process (although 40% of them wished they had). Sanitary problems (mostly dampness and mould) were reported by 20% in C, none in E. Healthy housing is associated by the dwellers with materials, light and sun (not with heating/energy).

On the average, eight neighbours were personally known to the residents; 40% had already visited a neighbour's apartment. 50% in E, 30% in C reported a house community. 5% (E) to 13% (C) found their home environment unsafe. 60-70% are satisfied with the property management.

Heating and energy (saving) is no main topic for the Salzburg majority due to the lack of information and transparency in the field. Existing hot water counters were unknown, non-existent counters were reported. 80-90% said they had received a refund from the operating costs. In the annual cost statistics, the energy costs are hidden and hard to compare. In a C housing project, the recorded heating costs per square meter in 1999 varied by 700%. Nobody bothers, as only up to 25% of the tenants knew the correct answer (room heating and hot water, over 50%) to the question about the main domestic energy cost factor.

Environmental behaviour, pollution control, is for Salzburg residents mainly garbage separation (due to a year-long government PR campaign), and saving electric power. The energy-saving apartments did not make 80% of its dwellers act more environmentalist.

The thermal comfort region (living-room 21° centigrade, sleeping-room 17-18°) was identical for E and C-projects, but not the heating control: More than a third of the E residents handled it with thermostat and thermometer, in C only 13% did so. Over 25% in all apartments still "regulated blindfold". 60% were used to short-time room ventilation, only about 5% to (energy-consuming) long-time ventilation.

Most have acquired their heating and energy knowledge on their own, considerably less via the builder or government information centres. More than 80% of the "conventional" dwellers have no interest in energy-saving housing and living. 60-70% of all residents have the opinion, that their knowledge on heating/energy is "enough", over 80% find the practical heating operation "easy". This indicates overconfidence, i.e. a too high subjective certainty caused by a social consensus on "energy saving", based on cognition and image processes, not on practical behaviour.

The project scientist draws the following conclusions from his data analysis: Further steps into the direction of energy-saving mass housing in Austria are possible by improving consumer-friendliness and transparency of operating and energy cost accounting. The Austrian heating cost accounting law (HeizKG 1992) makes it obligatory that every dweller must receive an accounting sheet and have access to the bills and documents, but who really understands what has been accounted/documented?

Heating, energy, and operating costs should be visualised in a user-friendly way. Internet accessibility, graphical comparisons with the preceding years and with the cost span of the neighbours should help to create a broad energy-cost consciousness. Politics, firms, government, and research should not leave alone the customer with this complex task, but co-operate to organise - as for garbage separation and recycling - a professional public relations program for a modern resource management.

Project Partners

Project manager: Dr.Alexander Keul
Partners: Dr.Anton Kuehberger, psychologist
Verena Trifich, Student of psychology
Marina Wimmer, Student of psychology


Dr. Alexander Keul
(Ass.Prof. at Salzburg University)
Angewandte Psychologie
Egger Lienz Gasse 19/8
A 5020 Salzburg
Tel/Fax: +43 (0)662 453689