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Reducing energy consumption in low income public housing: Interviewing residents about energy behaviors


Low-income housing constitutes an important but often overlooked area for energy use reductions within the US residential sector. Given the scarcity of existing information on this subject, this study uses a semi-structured interview format to explore the key behavioral tendencies, energy knowledge gaps, and attitudes among low-income public housing residents, with the goal of demonstrating a process for developing, scoring, and analyzing the interviews that will be useful to other researchers when first engaging complex subjects like behavior in contexts that are not well covered by existing literature. Methods for sampling subjects and iteratively developing an interview guide and response-scoring framework are described, and the usefulness of this approach in allowing both quantitative and qualitative analysis of behavior response data is demonstrated. The paper concludes by illustrating how themes that emerge from the response analysis can be used to inform future surveying and intervention efforts. Key themes include the varying definitions for “comfort” amongst residents; the lack of resident control over the household environment; the tendency for residents to evaluate energy conservation measures (ECMs) in terms of costs, savings, and comfort; the muted differences in behavior between those who do and do not pay energy bills; and the importance of building maintenance and resident energy education to ongoing efficiency efforts.