The role of occupants in buildings’ energy performance gap: Myth or reality?

Ardeshir Mahdavi, Christiane Berger*, Hadeer Amin, Eleni Ampatzi, Rune Korsholm Andersen, Elie Azar, Verena M. Barthelmes, Matteo Favero, Jakob Hahn, Dolaana Khovalyg, Henrik N. Knudsen, Alessandra L. Navarro, Astrid Roetzel, Fisayo C. Sangogboye, Marcel Schweiker, Mahnameh Taheri, Despoina Teli, Marianne Touchie, Silke Verbruggen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review


Buildings’ expected (projected, simulated) energy use frequently does not match actual observations. This is commonly referred to as the energy performance gap. As such, many factors can contribute to the disagreement between expectations and observations. These include, for in-stance, uncertainty about buildings’ geometry, construction, systems, and weather conditions. However, the role of occupants in the energy performance gap has recently attracted much attention. It has even been suggested that occupants are the main cause of the energy performance gap. This, in turn, has led to suggestions that better models of occupant behavior can reduce the energy performance gap. The present effort aims at the review and evaluation of the evidence for such claims. To this end, a systematic literature search was conducted and relevant publications were identified and reviewed in detail. The review entailed the categorization of the studies according to the scope and strength of the evidence for occupants’ role in the energy performance gap. Moreover, deployed calculation and monitoring methods, normalization procedures, and reported causes and magnitudes of the energy performance gap were documented and evaluated. The results suggest that the role of occupants as significant or exclusive contributors to the energy performance gap is not sufficiently substantiated by evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3146
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number6
Number of pages44
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Jakob Hahn gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), promotional reference 03ET1648A (EnOB: NuData Campus). Matteo Favero would like to thank the Research Centre on Zero Emission Neighborhoods in Smart Cities (FME ZEN, Grant n. 257660) and the Research Council of Norway (Norges Forskingsrådet) for the support. Silke Verbruggen gratefully acknowledges the financial support received from the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) in the frame of the strategic basic research project S009617N. Dolaana Khovalyg and Verena Barthelmes acknowledge supporzt from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) as part of the project SI/501895-01. Marcel Schweiker was supported by a research grant (21055) from VILLUM FONDEN. Henrik N. Knudsen and Rune Korsholm Andersen would like to acknowledge funding by the Danish EUDP programme, project: 64 018-0558. The authors acknowledge TU Wien Bibliothek for financial support through its Open Access Funding Programme. In the writing of this paper, the authors benefited from participation and related discussions in the IEA EBC Annex 79 activities.


  • Buildings
  • Energy
  • Occupant behavior
  • Performance gap


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