DECC has set up a programme of work to understand the potential for smarter heating controls to save energy. As part of this DECC wished to gain insight into the usability of smarter heating controls to understand their suitability for future trials. DECC is interested in whether smarter heating controls have the capacity to support energy saving behaviours, but foresee a prerequisite of this is the ability of smarter heating controls to support easy use by consumers.
The study reports usability testing of five currently available smarter heating controls in a simulated home environment with 72 participants. Results, presently anonymously in the report, show that none of the controls met the benchmarks for effectiveness (completion of tasks), satisfaction (ease of completing tasks) or the industry standard subjective assessment for how easy the controls were to use overall. Three of the controls met the benchmark for efficiency (how long users spent attempting the tasks) indicating that users could complete tasks within a reasonable or desirable time for a number of controls.
A number of barriers to use were inferred through observation of participant behaviours and their subjective comments regarding the controls. These included: complex set-up of schedules; lack of error prevention; unclear icons and text labels; visual design issues; difficulties in identifying the status of controls; and lack of confirmatory feedback.
Participant demographic data was analysed as a potential factor underlying the relative usability of the smarter heating controls. It was found that usability issues may be more prevalent among older people, those less familiar with smart phones, and users with dexterity or vision impairments.
The report concludes that these findings have implications for the potential users and manufacturers of smarter heating controls as well as for DECC. Difficulty in using current space heating controls may present a barrier to people who wish to save energy. The perceived difficulty in using smarter heating controls may also pose a substantive motivational barrier to the uptake of energy saving behaviours, even if controls are installed in a person’s home. There is a need for innovation around the usability of controls in order to address the current barriers to use. A number of recommendations are provided to highlight opportunities for manufacturers and DECC to improve the usability of smarter heating controls.
More information can be found on the Smarter Heating Controls Research Programme page.