La Savonnerie Heymans. photo ©Filip Dujardin, ©MDW
Bruxelles Environnement
An ethnography of energy-efficient housing

Passive houses are more ecological, more collective, smarter, forward-looking and basking in a positive aura in our societies. Paradoxically, the thought process that brings about these houses sometimes overlooks the main variable: the people living in them – who inadvertently end up testing the technical breakthroughs engineered for them.

The Brussels-Capital Region was one of the first to venture into passive housing, and has been boldly developing high-energy-performance buildings for several years now. It has many of them today, but did not have much information about their dwellers’ everyday lives until recently. And yet understanding the way in which people use these housing units – and the difficulties they might have making these new-generation houses homes – is one of the key factors to develop the programme countrywide. Understanding these uses and habits will also ensure society continues to see sustainable development and its promises in a positive light. 

Méthos is working with Bruxelles Environnement on these transformations with an extensive ethnography among people living in efficient homes.

Our team spent 6 months partaking in everyday lives in a wide variety of homes, describing what their dwellers (in a wide range of social and professional categories) felt about the comfort levels, their practices as regards energy, their problems, their wants and needs, and the way in which they use (or do not use) the technologies supposed to make their homes more efficient. The study shows that it is important to support people living in these homes after handing them the keys. It also sheds light on the fact that dwellers' comfort levels depend, to significant on the ecosystem of professional and institutional stakeholders and on dialogue among them.

Méthos started a conversation with the professionals in this sector to enhance comfort in passive buildings and secure the policy’s long-term success. The goal is to decide on and design them collectively, adding an essential dimension to a building’s energy performance: human performance.