About the Study
What are we trying to understand?
The purpose of this study is to understand how people interact with their thermostats to control the heating and cooling systems in their homes to meet their comfort needs.
Why is this important?
This is important because electrifying heating and cooling systems in homes and powering these systems with renewable energy is an essential strategy for mitigating climate change. The challenge is that the electric grid cannot control the generation of renewable energy (e.g., wind and solar power) as we can non-renewable sources like natural gas or coal, so we need flexibility to control the use (or demand) as we transition to renewable energy sources. We are trying to understand the limits of how “flexible” homes can be to balance the demands of the grid while continuing to provide comfortable spaces for occupants.
Click on the questions below to learn more about the study and how you can participate.
The purpose of this research is to understand how people interact with their thermostats to control the heating and cooling systems in their homes to meet their comfort needs. This is important because electrifying heating and cooling systems in homes and powering these systems with renewable energy is an essential strategy for mitigating climate change. The challenge is that the electric grid cannot control the generation of renewable energy like wind and solar power in the same way as non-renewable sources like natural gas or coal, so electric grid operators need ways to anticipate and manage the demand for electricity. Greater flexibility in when electricity is used will become increasingly important as we transition to renewable energy sources. Our study tries to understand how “flexible” people and homes can be while continuing to provide comfortable spaces.
If after initial screening you are selected as a study participant, the research team will schedule a time for a visit to your home. During this home visit, you will participate in an interview about your household’s typical energy use patterns and your attitudes about a range of energy and environmental issues. We will also document your home’s layout and appliance types so that we can build an energy model or “digital twin” of your home and perform an energy audit. Over the next two years, the research team will monitor your home energy use and ask you to participate in occasional brief online surveys about your home’s temperature and your comfort level.
Researchers will install the following devices in participating homes:
- ecobee smart thermostat (with sign reminding users to use the Home Assistant app)
- ecobee occupancy sensors
- ecobee window and door sensors
- Plug load monitors on major appliances
- Home Assistant (HA) server
In addition to the devices listed above, we will also give you a smartwatch..
This study will take place over two years, beginning in summer 2021. During the first year, we will monitor your home and passively collect data from the smart thermostat and sensors. During the second year of the study, we will intervene with your heating and cooling system to test new approaches for adjusting the timing and frequency of your home’s energy use to maximize overall grid energy efficiency. Throughout the study, we will periodically ask you to complete short questionnaires to document any major changes that may affect your thermal comfort or the energy demand of your home. Also, you will periodically be prompted to respond to 30-second thermal comfort surveys on your study-provided Fitbit in clusters (e.g., two to three times a day, on various days).
As part of the study, we will install an ecobee smart thermostat and occupancy, window, and door sensors in your home that you may keep if you complete the study. We will also provide you up to two Fitbit smart watches to be worn by adults (18 years and older) in your household, that you may keep upon completion of the study. Please note that if you do not complete the full two years of the study, we will need to retrieve these devises so that we may use them to enroll another household. Our research team will also conduct an energy audit during our documentation of your home. We will provide you the results of this energy audit which may be beneficial to you in the future.
In addition to the items mentioned above, each household will receive monetary compensation for participation in and completion of the study. You will receive $50 after the installation of the system in your home, $150 at the end of the first year, and another $250 at the completion of the study This is a total of $450 for each participating household over the duration of the study. Additionally, every time you complete a survey response on your Fitbit, you will be entered into a monthly raffle for a chance to win a $50 gift card.
This study has been reviewed by Northeastern University’s Institutional Review Board and was determined to present a low level of risk to participants. You may experience temporary discomfort with the temperature in your home when we intervene with your heating and cooling during the second year of the study. However, the temperature will never reach extremes such that it is unsafe. Additionally, you will always have the ability to manually override the temperature by adjusting it on the physical thermostat.
There is a possibility that you may not want to answer some of the questions you will be asked during the interview or in the surveys, and you are free to refuse to answer any question. Your refusal to answer will not have any impact on your participation in the study, and you are free to stop your participation at any time. Throughout the study, data about energy use will be collected from your home and you will provide information about your household and thermal comfort. As with any such study, there is a risk that the confidential data you entrust to us could be compromised. Such a breach is unlikely, as the research team has developed strong administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to protect your confidential information. For more information, see the “How will my personal data be protected?” question and answer below.
Your participation in this research is confidential. Only the researchers conducting this study will see the information about you and your home. No reports or publications will identify you or include information that could identify any individual as being part of this study. We will record directory information like your name, address, email, and telephone number so we can administer the study and troubleshoot any problems with the system. This personally identifiable information (PII) will be encrypted following standard practices and stored separately. At the completion of (or withdrawal from) the study, we will destroy the record of that directory information. The demographic data, interview data, and information you share with us on the household and optional health questionnaires will not include your PII. It will be organized using a unique UserID and HomeID that will be keyed to the PII. Only the project’s senior researchers will have access to this key map. Along with the PII, the key map will also be destroyed at the conclusion of this study.
The research team will install a computer server in your home, the Home Assistant, collecting and storing data from all smart devices connected to your home’s HVAC system, and then encrypting and transmitting it to the Northeastern cloud over a secure connection approximately every 5 minutes for online processing. Only the PIs and senior researchers will have administrative control and access privileges on the Home Assistant server. For more detailed description of data security measures in this study, please contact the research team (see below for contact information).
If you have any questions about your rights in this research, you may contact Nan C. Regina, Director, Human Subjects Research Protection, Mail Stop: 560-177, 360 Huntington Avenue, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115. Tel: 617.373.4588, Email: [email protected]. You may call anonymously if you wish.