Facilitating energy savings through enhanced usability of thermostats
Residential thermostats play a key role in controlling heating and cooling systems. Occupants often find the controls of programmable thermostats confusing, sometimes leading to higher heating consumption than when the buildings are controlled manually. A high degree of usability is vital to a programmable thermostat’s effectiveness because, unlike a more efficient heating system, occupants must engage in specific actions after installation to obtain energy savings. We developed a procedure for measuring the usability of thermostats and tested this methodology with 31 subjects on five thermostats. The procedure requires first identifying representative tasks associated with the device and then testing the subjects’ ability to accomplish those tasks. The procedure was able to demonstrate the subjects’ wide ability to accomplish tasks and the influence of a device’s usability on success rates. A metric based on the time to accomplish the tasks and the fraction of subjects actually completing the tasks captured the key aspects of each thermostat’s usability. The procedure was recently adopted by the Energy Star Program for its thermostat specification. The approach appears suitable for quantifying usability of controls in other products, such as heat pump water heaters and commercial lighting.