Residential energy use: habitual behaviour and possible interventions

Panel: Panel 3 Behavioural analysis

Wim Heijs, Department of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Technology Eindhoven, Eindhoven, the Netherlands


Altering energy related behavior in households using cognitive and financial measures is a laborious process. In the literature, the embedment of this behavior in larger activity patterns and habitual behavior are mentioned as important causes that need further scrutiny. Yet, it still seems to be an underexposed topic, which probably follows from the fact that theoretical models in this field are usually focused on planned behavior and that studying such behavior is difficult because of its less conscious and private nature. In addition, the results of research on habitual behavior in other areas are not easily translated to this domain, due to a variety of definitions and explanatory models, a rather vague distinction between habitual and planned behavior, and a certain disregard of habitually 'not-acting' (which is particularly relevant in the case of energy behavior in households, e.g. leaving the lights on) and of situational stimuli eliciting this behavior.

Based on a study of the literature, a theoretical model has been developed that partially solves a number of these problems. The model provides a conception of separate types of habitual behavior, a clarification of the differences between habitual and planned behavior in this field and suggestions for intervention and prevention. These suggestions are brought together in a method for typifying habitual activities and selecting appropriate strategies (HABIT: "Habit Assessment and Behavior Intervention Typology"). The theoretical and deductive nature of the research implies that the results still need empirical verification and possibly modification. Recommendations are made for a follow up.


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