Don’t forget Building User Experience (when Designing for Sustainability)
With reducing energy consumption being a top priority for responsible developers, it can be difficult to evaluate other important qualities of a product without conducting your own testing (which is an option too; I still have a water-saving shower head in my shower that I was testing for a development 3 years ago). But, most developers don’t have time to thoroughly examine every product they will use in a project, so what other factors besides efficiency should we be taking into consideration?
Wes Chapman, an architect who now works at Orfield Laboratories, Inc. in Minneapolis reminds designers and developers about the importance of two product qualities: light and sound. With all the time building occupants spend in their offices and homes, slight differences in the environment can affect productivity, health, and happiness.
For example, many new styles of super-efficient light bulbs like T-5’s and LED’s emit much more glare than their incandescent predecessors. Brighter is not always better when it comes to user comfort. In fact, the City of Minneapolis has reevaluated their plan to install super bright LEDs in street lights due to the glare reducing night vision of pedestrians, drivers, and police officers. Chapman advises that some bulbs are better than others. Toshiba LEDs, which go through rigorous product testing in Japan, can be a less-glary option.
Developers are trying out new techniques to shape the indoor environment, creating a more stimulating, pleasant atmosphere. For example, some new churches install color-changing LED lights that can be used to change a room’s aura and its actual wall colors to match the seasons. Imagine how cool it would be to have that feature in your house? It would save you a lot of time painting! Wind-like breezes are possible from HVAC systems in large open indoor spaces, to prevent some areas from being overly heated or cooled, and give building occupants a more natural experience.
One of the areas developers may overlook is noise output by appliances like HVAC units and refrigerators. Just another way small decisions can have a big impact on a resident’s overall comfort in, and opinion of, their home. Next time you’re working on a project, or giving feedback about one, don’t forget the details! They can make the difference between a satisfied, comfortable resident and one that quickly moves out.