Communication Breakdown: Energy Efficiency Recommendations to Address the Disconnect Between Building Operators and Occupants: Article No. 102719

Shelby Ruiz, Julia Day, Krissy Govertsen, Michael Kane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus Citations


As technology advances, progressive building performance goals are met with ease and occupant behavior plays an increasingly significant role in preventing building operators from achieving those goals. However, removing occupants from participating in building control and operation is counterintuitive to the purpose of building operation. Occupant-centric control (OCC) has been suggested as a means of incorporating the occupant while simultaneously reducing the negative impact their behavior can have on building performance. As a result, operators are now tasked with incorporating OCC into their daily operation. The relationship between building occupants and operators is a critical component to OCC, and balancing occupant comfort and building performance. In this paper, we present findings from an international qualitative study of building operators with a focus on the operator and occupant relationship. This paper identifies the role operators play in OCC, how these relationships develop, and how these relationships impact building operation through two key research questions: What factors influence the quality of relationships between occupants and operators? How can the relationships between operators and occupants be improved? Subsequently, these questions revealed this relationship becomes strained when building performance is prioritized over comfort, occupants are ignored or uneducated, and feedback is negative or sparse. In short: there is a disconnection between operators and occupants. We propose several solutions including modifying job requirements to prioritize occupant comfort, educating occupants to make autonomous decisions that are not detrimental to operation, and creating effective communication channels for instances where operator intervention is required.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-83776


  • building operation
  • occupant comfort
  • operator and occupant relationships
  • qualitative research
  • tenant engagement


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