Post-occupancy assessment: building design

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Post-occupancy assessment: building design, governance and household consumption a

David J. Hendrickson & Hannah K. Wittman



Department of Geography, Faculty of the Environment, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, Canada, V5A 1S6 b

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, Canada, V5A 1S6 E-mail: Available online: 24 Aug 2010

To cite this article: David J. Hendrickson & Hannah K. Wittman (2010): Post-occupancy assessment: building design, governance and household consumption, Building Research & Information, 38:5, 481-490 To link to this article:

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BUILDING RESEARCH & INFORMATION (2010) 38(5), 481– 490


Post-occupancy assessment: building design, governance and household consumption David J. Hendrickson1 and Hannah K.Wittman2

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Department of Geography, Faculty of the Environment, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6 E-mail: david__ [email protected]


Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6 E-mail: [email protected]

Can post-occupancy assessment assess drivers of household consumption? A mixed-methods approach was used to investigate household consumption patterns in three housing types in Vancouver, Canada. An analysis of eight multiunit, residential household settings was conducted that included high-performance green residential buildings, cohousing buildings, and typical multi-residential buildings. A post-occupancy assessment survey instrument quantified household solid waste, recycling, and storage relationships, and triangulated results with qualitative interviews and site observations. Findings suggest that both the type of housing development and the building governance structure influence household consumption levels, in particular with regard to waste-reduction strategies and storage issues. Of the studied building types, co-housing appears to have the most potential to reduce household consumption through innovative management practices and the sharing of resources. Keywords: co-housing, consumption, governance, households, housing, post-occupancy assessment, solid waste Une e´valuation apre`s occupation permet-elle d’e´valuer les facteurs de consommation des me´nages? Une approche a` me´thodes mixtes est utilise´e pour e´tudier les habitudes de consommation des me´nages dans trois types de logements a` Vancouver, au Canada. Une analyse portant sur huit ensembles re´sidentiels a` logements multiples a e´te´ mene´e, comprenant des baˆtiments verts re´sidentiels hautes performances, des immeubles en co-habitat et des immeubles classiques a` habitations multiples. Un instrument d’enqueˆte permettant une e´valuation apre`s occupation a quantifie´ les de´chets solides des me´nages, le recyclage et les relations de stockage, et a triangule´ les re´sultats avec des entretiens qualitatifs et les observations sur site. Les re´sultats obtenus sugge`rent que le type d’ensemble d’habitation aussi bien que la structure de gouvernance des immeubles influent sur les niveaux de consommation des me´nages, s’agissant en particulier des strate´gies de re´duction des de´chets et des proble`mes de stockage. Parmi les types de baˆtiments e´tudie´s, il semble que le co-habitat offre le plus de possibilite´s de re´duction de la consommation des me´nages par des pratiques de gestion innovantes et le partage des ressources. Mots cle´s: co-habitat, consommation, gouvernance, me´nages, logement, e´valuation apre`s occupation, de´chets solides

Introduction Accurate estimates of current household consumption practices are limited across residential categories, as occupants do not often have access to monitoring

systems that track resource usage and its effect on the home environment. Unfortunately, without access to effective indicators of resource use, user consumption issues too often become ‘out of sight and out of

Building Research & Information ISSN 0961-3218 print ⁄ISSN 1466-4321 online # 2010 Taylor & Francis http: ⁄ ⁄ ⁄journals DOI: 10.1080/09613218.2010.494377

Hendrickson and Wittman

mind’, even in buildings that have specifically been designed to be ‘green’.

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An innovative post-occupancy assessment (POA) tool was developed and applied to eight multi-unit, residential household settings in Metro Vancouver, Canada, resulting in the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. The POA tool assesses how building management and governance, social connectivity, and the surrounding neighbourhood affect occupant resource consumption. This mixed-methods approach considers building performance and user feedback to investigate household consumption in three housing types, with particular attention being paid to the measurement of solid waste disposal (garbage/rubbish, recycling and compost) and storage management. The study’s orienting questions are: .

Can POA identify occupant household consumption patterns?


Do occupants consume and behave differently in the three housing types?


What design responses can shift household resource consumption patterns?

A variety of housing models were used as the unit of analysis for household accommodation units within multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), where units may have an individual entrance in and out of the MURBs, but connect to a common hallway, foyer, and main entrance. The study focuses on housing types in three building categories: high-performance green developments certified by LEED or REAP,1 cohousing developments, and typical MURBs (Table 1). Co-housing developments are privately owned units that share some common amenities to form an intentional community. Some meals and social activities are often planned in co-housing routines that can

potentially lower environmental impact. Meltzer (2005), Williams (2003), Marcus and Dovey (1991), and Fromm (1991) document how co-housing promotes strong social networks, economies of scale to pool resources, and the sharing of space, goods, and services. Williams (2003) reports that co-housing households in the United States reduce consumption of space by 31%; electricity usage by 57%, and goods and services by 8% compared with where occupants previously lived. Meltzer (2005) found a reduction in the ownership of cars, freezers, and gardening and repair tools by pooling some resources compared with where occupants previously lived. Residents also reduced their ownership of washing machines, tumble dryers, and freezers by 25% once they moved into co-housing communities because many residents made use of common laundry and kitchen facilities.

Post-occupancy assessment (POA) Post-occupancy evaluation (POE) has been well established in using occupant feedback to help evaluate building performance since the 1980s, but it has been primarily applied in commercial, rather than residential, contexts. While many aspects such as energy use, design layout, storage facilities, thermal comfort, ventilation, lighting, acoustics, and spatial considerations can be quantifiably assessed in a POE, qualitative considerations such as community well-being and trust levels with one’s neighbours tend to be overlooked in POE approaches when assessing household consumption practices (Preiser and Vischer, 2005). Community design principles towards smart growth and compact neighbourhoods emphasize the importance of social connectivity and communication in influencing resident behaviours, including consumption practices (Calthorpe et al., 1991; Duany and Plater-Zyberk, 1998; Bothwell et al., 1998). The importance of participatory decision-making in

Table 1 Housing types and number of units Housing type

Number of units


High-performance green developments Site 1 (LEED NC Certi¢ed Building) Site 2 (REAP Silver Certi¢ed Building)

67 55

Concrete,16-storey, mixed use Wood-framed, four-storey, residential

Co-housing developments Site 3 Site 4

22 19

Wood-framed, four-storey, residential Wood-framed, four-storey, mixed use

Typical developments Site 5 Site 6 Site 7 Site 8

80 77 68 74

Wood-framed, four-storey, residential Wood-framed, four-storey, residential Concrete,15-storey, mixed use Concrete, nine-storey, mixed use


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Table 2 Survey response rates and interviews Building type

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Green Site 1 Site 6 Subtotal

Total number of surveys sent

Number Number of of surveys surveys returned (%) opened

Number of interviews conducted

67 55 122

65 55 120

19 (29%) 16 (29%) 35 (29%)

7 6 13

Co-housing Site 3 18 Site 5 22 Subtotal 40

17 21 38

13 (76%) 12 (57%) 25 (67%)

6 8 14

12 (16%) 6 (12%) 16 (21%) 15 (19%) 49 (17%)

4 2 4 5 15

Typical Site 2 Site 4 Site 7 Site 8 Subtotal

74 51 77 79 281

73 50 77 79 279




109 (24.94%)


building design has also been noted by architects (e.g. Sanoff, 1999). Building on the need to integrate evaluation of physical and social building processes that affect household consumption, a POA instrument was developed for this study that goes beyond the measurement and evaluation of physical building performance to characterize and assess how organizational governance, social connectivity, building management, and communications and relationships with the surrounding neighbourhood affect occupant consumption. This POA instrument differs from most POE applications by focusing on residential housing scenarios, governance and social connectivity. Based on community design principles, the instrument analyses opportunities to organize households more effectively to mitigate occupant consumption (Mcintosh et al., 2010). It does this by providing context and qualitative measurements through detailed occupant interviews and site observations. POA is used here specifically to measure how governance, neighbour interactions, management practices, and the urban form connect and influence occupant consumption levels.

Methods From March to June 2008, the authors designed and administered a POA survey in Metro Vancouver to assess the differences in resource consumption across a range of housing development types. The following factors were controlled for: age, gender, tenancy, number of residents per dwelling, and amount of

time living in the building. Respondents rated their dwelling using Likert scales (where 1 ¼ unsatisfactory and 7 ¼ very satisfactory) regarding the building design, image, cleanliness, storage, and living facilities; their perceived health in the building; thermal comfort; ventilation; lighting, noise; and spatial perceptions about their unit and building. Open-ended questions asked respondents to describe their daily routines, personal consumption patterns and social activities, solid waste and food-purchasing behaviours, social connections, and perceived liveability in their unit and building. The survey took approximately 10 – 15 minutes to complete (see Appendix A). Neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver were scanned for similar building models within the three building categories. Ideally, all case sites would be located in the same neighbourhood, with similar units, but trade-offs were made to obtain an appropriate sample within the scope, time, and geographical constraints of the study. Typical multi-unit residential units (non-green and non-co-housing) were selected, based on building age, number of units, owner-occupied tenancy, and proximity to ‘green’ and cohousing developments under investigation. In one neighbourhood in North Vancouver, examples of all three housing types were located within an eight-block radius. In the second site, two typical buildings and one green building were located within a one-block radius on the University of British Columbia (UBC) University Endowment Lands. The final two buildings in the study sample were located within a one-block radius in Burnaby, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. MURBs present different assessment challenges from commercial buildings. Contacting residents in their private homes is problematic given the need to gain building access, find times when households are home to deliver and collect surveys, and respect privacy and property laws. For the present study, property managers were contacted for permission to approach building strata councils regarding plans to survey occupants.2 Consenting strata councils provided mailing lists of their residents, and respondents were then asked to sign a consent form and provide contact information for the survey and schedule a follow-up interview. The person asked to fill in the survey was over 18 years of age, responsible for paying household bills, and could be either male or female. In cases where adults were mutually responsible for paying bills, the household self-selected who responded to the survey. The participant sample was limited to owner-residents who had lived in their dwellings for a minimum of six months. All questionnaires were pre-coded to track subsequent mailings, and second and third 483

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mailings included similar letters and information. A questionnaire in simplified Mandarin accompanied the second mailing in hopes of attracting nonEnglish-speaking Chinese immigrants. After each interview, the personal information was stripped for each respondent, manually entered into a spreadsheet, and double-checked for errors. The questionnaire was mailed to 437 households (n ¼ 437) and 109 owner-occupants responded for a response rate of 24.9%. Six questionnaires were undeliverable and returned. The POE literature records a 20 –25% response rate for cold postal sampling for similar types of studies (Stø et al., 2004, City of North Vancouver, 2008). After calculating summary statistics, a multiple regression analysis using STATA software investigated relationships between the housing types and dependent variables including: solid waste (bags of garbage thrown out, bags of materials collected for recycling, whether kitchen wasted was composted, and the reason for composting or not composting), and storage capacity (space layout and storage capacity). A research assistant performed linear, ordered logit, probit, logit, or multinomial logit regressions as required by each case. Ordered logit was used to investigate statistical significance because it imposed more structure on the statistical model, such as with location, space, and storage variables. Probit modelling was more appropriate when it was assumed that categories reflected an underlying normal distribution of the dependent variable, even with only two categories, such as asking whether households composted kitchen waste (yes/no). In-depth follow-up interviews were conducted with a sample (n ¼ 42) from the eight sites. In the absence of socio-economic and demographic household census data (most buildings did not exist before the last 2001 Census), a purposeful, stratified sample provided a measure of confidence for comparing the three building categories. Criteria for maximizing variable differences in the stratified sample included sex, race/ethnicity, housing type, and site location. In a subsequent content analysis of the qualitative interviews, a predetermined coding strategy first defined a preliminary set of code families. Once codes were organized into predetermined code families that shared similar characteristics, Glaser’s (1992) grounded theory approach was applied to establish relationships between code families to formulate a code hierarchy, where evidence and ideas are grouped into broader themes or dimensions that can be related or compared. The research was interpreted using a holistic, flexible, and inductive approach to develop emergent theoretical concepts. This iterative process was undertaken twice to allow for multiple codes to emerge through axial coding (Crang, 2005; Strauss, 1987). 484

Memo writing helped unify coding strategies with theoretical notes, commentaries, revision dates, and personal reflections to identify linkages between relationships and actions of household occupants and their environments. An observational protocol also provided a useful way of organizing observations at each case site when conducting a walk-through of the landscaped grounds, underground parking garage, common garbage and recycling area, interior foyer, main entrance, stairs, and elevator(s). Finally, the quantitative results were triangulated with the qualitative code hierarchies and field site observation notes to cross-verify, corroborate, and validate the data.

Research limitations An area of potential bias may be that people who opt for co-housing may be more positively predisposed toward changing their behaviour and want to reduce waste. While residents may have wanted to appear helpful, it is possible that some residents may have responded less than honestly in their surveys or interviews. Incomplete or missing data can also bias the findings, as can assigning scores to missing data (Babbie, 2001). For this reason, summary statistical mean scores were calculated twice, once with average scores for each variable substituted for a non-response, and then again substituted with blanks and missing responses, but without zeros. The unaltered analysis was scrutinized with the averaged analysis for anomalies, but no substantial deviations were found.

Research ¢ndings Demographics

Households are complex social units, consisting of single adults, numerous unrelated housemates, nuclear families, and/or extended family members. The household analysis considered the reference person’s age, sex, ethnicity, number of household members, amount of time living in the unit, and reasons why occupants moved in. Of those responding to the survey, 46% lived in typical developments, 23% lived in green developments, and 31% lived in co-housing developments. The majority (91%) lived in their unit for longer than six months and 53% were women. Caucasians consisted of 70% of household heads, 50% lived alone (m ¼ 1.65), and 72% had household members over 18 years of age living at home (m ¼ 1.31). Green and typical households were more likely to consist of singles or couples (rather than nuclear or extended families, for example) (Table 3).

Solid waste and waste recovery

Solid waste behaviours were determined by asking the reference person to report the volume of household

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Table 3 Household size by building type and gender of respondent Number of additional household members (beyond the survey respondent)





0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total

15 16 12 2 2 2 1 50

8 8 4 5 0 0 0 25

11 13 8 2 0 0 0 34

34 37 24 9 2 2 1 109

Male Female Responses left blank Total

23 23 4 50

11 14 0 25

15 19 0 34

49 53 4 109

solid waste disposed each week (number of plastic grocery bags). Recycling behaviours were determined by having respondents calculate the volume of material diverted from household disposal into recycling receptacles each week (number of plastic grocery bags). Open-ended questions asked respondents about ideas and barriers they experienced toward reducing their waste. Conditional probabilities indicated that when typical were compared with green households, the green households had a 17% higher probability of having just one bag per week, and were 17.4% less likely to throw away more than two bags. People in cohousing had a 49% higher probability of declaring just one bag, had a 52% lower probability of disposing of only two to three bags, and were 11% less likely to report four to five bags of garbage. Overall, there was a difference in the quantity of garbage produced per week between green and typical households when controlled for the number of family members (but not statistically significant) and an even larger difference when comparing co-housing with typical households (statistically significant) (Table 4). In order to evaluate relationships between recycling behaviours and housing types, an ordered logit regression controlled for household size that compared waste generation with recycling rates (Table 5). The ordered logit model of predicted probability indicated that when compared with typical households (the control group), co-housing households were 44% more likely to report recycling ‘a lot more’, rather than ‘less’ or ‘a similar amount’, compared with when in their previous home. Recycling results indicated household size influenced waste-recovery volume, yet results were not

statistically significant, possibly due to household type or socio-economic class (Ojeda-Benitas et al., 2003). Results revealed that 39% of the co-housing households were more likely to recycle more than four bags of household waste than typical households. In summary, co-housing households recovered a higher percentage of household waste in relation to the other housing types. One co-housing development, for example, routinely achieved 75 – 90% resource recovery compared with the national average and saved the building CAN$400/year in disposal fees. The POA analysis also explored why co-housing residents behaved differently from both typical and green housing development residents. Interviews and site visits unveiled a ‘residential champion’ in one cohousing development that developed a comprehensive recycling system for the building that source-separated 20 different materials. There was also a high level of awareness amongst interviewed residents who viewed waste as a resource rather than something to be thrown away. North Americans are accustomed to co-mingling recyclables at their residences rather than source separating. Co-mingling, or mixing together various materials designated for recycling, adds convenience but increases contamination rates and overall processing costs (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 2005). Source-separation, on the other hand, separates materials at the point of waste generation, or in this case by the household. A co-housing respondent (number 19) summed up the household waste separation paradox: The addiction model is to put everything into one container and the solution is going to [be] never put anything in one container. And for North Americans, we’re used to having it as easy as possible and that means one bin for all. MURB infrastructure design often limits a resident’s ability to separate materials for recycling within a building due to space constraints, poor ventilation, and fire hazards. Tote receptacles for mixing plastics numbers 2, 4, and 5, mixed paper, cardboard, and sometimes glass are usually located in underground parking areas next to the garbage dumpster/bins. Some co-housing and typical residents reported a lack of adequate collection space in their units, and most residents across all three housing types were not willing to deviate from standard collection items due to a lack of knowledge and the time involved in returning non-standardized items to appropriate venues. Refundable cans and bottles that contained deposits were an exception. 485

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Table 4 Solid waste rates Number of garbage bags disposed weekly (per household)



2 ^3


6 or more



0 0% 0 0% 1 4.35%

10 31.6% 22 44.9% 17 73.9%

17 53.1% 18 36.7% 4 17.4%

4 12.5% 7 14.3% 1 4.35%

1 3.13% 2 4.08% 0 0%

32 100% 49 100% 23 100%

Green Co-housing Members in the household n

Number of garbage bags disposed (controlled for the number of household members)

^0.706∗ (0.452) ^ 2.521∗∗∗ (0.664) 0.870∗∗∗ (0.180) 104

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Note: Standard errors are given in parentheses ∗ p , 0.10, ∗ ∗ p , 0.05, and ∗ ∗ ∗ p , 0.01.

Table 5 Recycling rates Number of bags for recycling weekly (per household)




4 ^5

6 or more








1 3.13% 5 10.42% 0

19 59.38% 20 41.67% 3 13.64%

10 31.25% 15 31.25% 12 54.55%

2 6.25% 8 16.67% 7 31.82%

32 100% 48 100% 22 100%

Members in Household N

Number of bags for recycling (controlled for the number of household members)

0.316 (0.432) 1.787∗∗∗ (0.530) 0.073 (0.167) 102

Note: Standard errors are given in parentheses ∗ p , 0.10, ∗ ∗ p , 0.05, and ∗ ∗ ∗ p , 0.01.


Household compost is the kitchen produce, or organic matter, intentionally collected for aerobic decomposition. Compost behaviours were determined by asking respondents whether they composted kitchen waste, and if so where they distributed the contents. Interviews and observations also determined whether the household’s kitchen sink contained a garborator (food waste disposal units) and how often it was used. Garborators are routinely installed in the kitchen sink drain in North American kitchens to grind up food scraps, but they expend electricity and contaminate water supplies. Occupants were also asked to identify any barriers they encountered toward composting. Most organic waste is landfilled in Metro Vancouver due to household culture and the limited capacity of sewage treatment plants or other large composting facilities to process household food waste. However, all of the co-housing, 30% of green, and 7% of typical households reported composting kitchen organic matter (Table 6). Both green and co-housing households reported a higher predicted probability of 486

Table 6 Respondents that compost Building type

Respondents who compost (%)

Probit model for the probability of respondents who compost

Co-housing Green

100 30

0 0.231∗∗ (0.092) 0.067∗∗∗

(Baseline average for typical) n


(0.073) 77

Note: Standard errors are given in parentheses ∗ p , 0.10, ∗ ∗ p , 0.05, and ∗∗∗ p , 0.01.

composting than typical households. Non-composters usually relied on a garborator or lacked compost facilities in units (e.g. worm composting) or buildings (Figure 1). Non-composters in green and typical buildings felt they were too busy, or admitted not wanting to

Post-occupancy assessment

respondents to rank their home’s storage capacity using a Likert scale as well as posing open-ended questions during interviews. Green and typical households rated storage capacity much higher than co-housing households, probably because the co-housing developments did not have underground storage lockers. Storage space increases the cost of total marketable floor space in a building, but can also foster a culture of accumulation. A co-housing member (number 21) reflected:

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Figure 1 Reasons for not composting (typical and green)

compost because kitchen scraps were too smelly or messy. Interview findings suggested that maintaining adequate facilities is a trigger toward cultivating procompost behaviour. Besides expending energy, from a behavioural aspect garborators conceal the volume of kitchen waste generated on a daily basis. Most households collected materials for recycling or composting in their kitchens or closets and periodically transferred items to common building receptacles. Maximizing resource recovery techniques in the home requires adaptable storage areas to accommodate new recycling regulations. For example, many green unit kitchens installed receptacles designated for collecting recyclables, but some occupants, such as a green respondent (number 4), questioned their efficacy: in one of the cupboards, they have one with a slide out, ah, two quite large bins. It took up the whole cupboard. I could see it as a family but for one person it was just too much. Took up too much space. So I took it out and I just keep it [recycling containers] under the sink. Storage

Households are accumulating more possessions than ever, but are also running out of places to store items, even though houses are larger than in previous generations. In the United States, the self-storage industry has increased its market share by 740% between 1985 and 2007, where nearly one in ten households rent self-storage space (Self Storage Association, 2008). Home size is a prime criterion in assessing a home’s environmental impact, since additional space correlates with using more construction materials, energy consumption, home de´cor, and furnishings (Wilson and Boehland, 2010). Storage is defined as designated storage space for personal belongings within the unit, building, or in basement storage lockers. Storage was determined by asking

For me personally I think it’s [lack of storage] great because you don’t accumulate things. And the idea of storage, I think I’d rather have places for people rather than things, because when you have things in storage you don’t even know what you’ve got there half the time and then what’s the point? Although there are some difficulties for people who are much more outdoorsy and then have a lot of other kinds of equipment. While storage space may act as a liability from a resource conservation perspective, storage lockers can also provide occupants greater flexibility to downsize to smaller homes; this is an important consideration within a Canadian context because most residents prefer to live in single-family dwellings rather than condominiums. A co-housing respondent (number 20) stated: Moving from a larger place to a smaller place, I got rid of all kinds of stuff. I have a large family and I just invited them to dinner one time and they just [took] things that I didn’t want, and then a lot of things that I sent to my daughter in Calgary. . . . I still had stuff that I wanted to keep. So I got the [closet designers] in and they designed and did a nice job. So that gave me a lot more space. There are ways to increase storage options without increasing floor space, including private-sector initiatives that design effective storage areas in kitchens, closets, and bathrooms with furniture and shelf modifications. Further investigation and market research is needed, however, to explore ways to maximize storage options without increasing a building’s footprint.

Discussion Several themes impacting household consumption levels emerged from the POA study that demonstrated significant variations among household waste and storage behaviours and building governance and management across the housing types. Surveyed cohousing communities that coupled a green building 487

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design with well-developed building governance structures generated less solid waste, threw out less waste, recycled, and composted more than other green and typical households. Reducing household consumption in co-housing units was stimulated by the social governance structures within the residential community that facilitated the adoption of green building design modifications and waste-disposal practices. However, building design itself can also affect household consumption patterns, despite a lack of feedback mechanisms to the development community (e.g. architects, engineers, and developers) about residential building design, retrofits, and waste-disposal practices. The POA model can offer appropriate qualitative and quantitative data to facilitate such feedback. Household waste recovery in MURBs is currently oriented toward a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy that is constrained by space limitations and competing regulations. Each recycling programme investigated was unique in location and collection format. But resource recovery rates were influenced by the number of different materials recovered, the volume of materials to be sorted, the types of materials to be source-separated, and the ability to transport materials to transfer stations or other locations. Good waste-recovery practices included cultivating a personal champion, providing multilingual signage, and encouraging behaviours and social norms to include: source-separation rather than co-mingling materials, orienting new residents to the building’s waste-recovery system, and maintaining on-going communication and feedback between management and occupants. Passing on recouped financial savings from reduced solid waste tippage fees can also reward pro-recycling behaviours (Jensen, 2008). For example, one of the co-housing buildings surveyed in this study spent CAN$23.75 per month per unit for municipal waste disposal compared with CAN$70 per month per unit at one typical building. On-site composting near gardens at the cohousing sites, or organic matter pick-up initiated at some UBC sites, helped facilitate higher recovery rates and provided tangible options to garborator use. Several respondents reported that used household goods and electronics often ended up in landfills, even though they were still of use. MURBs can disseminate information to households about donating items to charities or thrift stops and establish protocols for dispersing unwanted goods. Design limitations were also found to shift household resource consumption patterns. Reported recycling barriers included space limitations and a lack of pickup for materials with little commercial value, such as Styrofoam. Price fluctuations in the recycling market create sporadic uncertainty for commodities and produce difficult cost –benefit decisions for municipalities (Lavee et al., 2009). Finally, the fact that 488

designated recycling areas in MURBs compete with marketable floor space can create a false dichotomy between responsible environmental stewardship and increasing profit margins. Composting organic matter presents other waste challenges. Organic matter comprises one-third of municipal solid waste in British Columbia, yet rarely is it included in municipal curbside recycling programmes. For example, even though Vancouver has recently initiated a residential kitchen waste pick-up programme, MURBs are exempt from participating. Storage space design guidelines might acknowledge households willing to downsize. Green and typical developments designed storage areas more effectively than co-housing developments, but survey results were inconclusive regarding whether providing locker storage bins in underground basements is the most convenient, efficient, and cost-effective option. For example, in Vancouver, a POE study noted most MURB occupants who had in-suite storage considered it a major strength of their unit. The co-housing developments surveyed here address storage issues by allocating collective space to store some occupant items. For example, rather than designate individual parking stalls, occupants park in a vacant stall. This allows for more flexible underground parking configurations to accommodate some recreational equipment or recycling activities while complying with fire regulations. Since co-housing households are more likely to know each other (total units fewer than 22), higher levels of trust enable greater experimentation with collective space. The practice differs from green or typical households that require designated parking stalls. Finally, the governance of MURB households is pivotal toward shifting household consumption practices and influencing the occupant experience. The degree of a strata council’s level of engagement and sophistication can influence management practices and household policies, yet there remains little training, education, or incentives for stratas to model positive household behaviours.3 A green building respondent (number 11) explained why the strata plays such an essential role yet still has a limited extent of influence: I think that most of the stuff that happens occurs at the strata level in each building; measures that might change how the environmental footprint is managed or quantified would occur or need to occur for strata councils, because they’re usually the only people that actually care that much about managing the building. If you’re on the strata council it means you actually care

Post-occupancy assessment

and if you’re not on the strata council you’re pretty ambivalent.

occupant interaction, organization, and decisionmaking structures.

Of the study sites, the co-housing developments had the most sophisticated strata council due to their holistic approach toward reaching consensus and decisionmaking among residents. However, co-housing management differed from green or typical buildings because it focused on organizing households through pooling some resources and using economies of scale to reduce environmental impacts. Occupants were expected to join a committee that helped maintain the development because on-site managers were nonexistent and therefore maintenance fees were lower than typical or green buildings.

Applying a POA approach to investigate household consumption widens the scope of assessment boundaries in relation to housing types, occupant behaviours, preferences, and governance. Although it is complicated to assess empirically household consumption, POA has the potential to influence (i.e. reduce) household consumption through feedback and communication between occupants, management, and developers, along with more effective governance structures.

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Acknowledgements Conclusions The post-occupancy assessment (POA) identified several different occupant household consumption patterns related to waste generation and recycling levels. Significant variations between building types suggest that resident behaviours, building governance and management as well as social networks play a significant role in influencing consumption patterns. Although people living in co-housing scored best in a number of areas (which could be attributed to strong building governance, a certain self-selection of inhabitants, and the implementation of a number of practical measures), a significant policy and practical challenge is how to reach people in other housing types in order to alter their expectations and behaviours. Clearly, a single approach is unlikely to work, and a more differentiated, sophisticated approach could be useful to establish other social networks and management for other building types. Empirically, establishing causality for consumption behaviours is problematic due to the amount of variables requiring evaluation. For example, most government departments do not track the gamut of interconnected issues included in a POA research programme that measures the relationship between housing types, solid waste and recycling, and storage capacity due to cost, time, or a lack of awareness. Nevertheless, monitoring standards for storage, waste, and recycling could include a periodical examination of technological building innovations in relation to household feedback to identify recommendations and best practices. An advantage of using POA in residential buildings in residential buildings is that it clearly relates building management and governance indicators to building performance. Until now, post-occupancy evaluation (POE) has usually focused on individual occupants’ physical needs and preferences in terms of building performance, without taking into consideration

The authors wish to thank the interview respondents and the journal referees. The authors also gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia, grant number # 0207-31. Thanks to the strata councils, management companies, and developers for their support throughout the research project; and to Adrian Leaman for questionnaire assistance, used under licence # Copyright: Building Use Studies Ltd, 2007. Special thanks are extended to Dr M. Roseland and research assistant Michele Battisti.

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Appendix A Survey question examples Garbage and recycling. .

How much garbage, not including recycling, do you throw out each week (an average garbage bag or recycling bag is one plastic supermarket shopping bag)? 1 bag 2–3 bags 4–5 bags 6 or more bags


How many bags of recycling do you put out, if any, each week? 0 – don’t recycle 1 bag of recycling 2–3 bags of recycling 4–5 bags of recycling 6 or more bags of recycling


Does your household recycle more or less than when in your previous home? A little more / A little less / A lot more / A lot less

Storage. .

Interview questions examples Garbage and recycling and compost. .

Is there a limit to the amount of garbage that you can throw out every week? Do you use a dumpster?


Do you have any ideas about how to reduce garbage?


Is your home designed with adequate recycling receptacle areas?


In which area or room(s) do you keep your recycling?


You indicated on the survey that (you compost/do not compost)


Are there any factors or conditions that might encourage your household to compost (or compost more?)

Endnotes 1

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – NC (New Construction) Rating System. Residential Environmental Assessment Program (REAP) is a residential green building certification system developed in 2005 by researchers at the University of British Columbia.


In British Columbia, MURBs are managed by the voluntary executive boards of building home-owner associations (known as the strata corporation). These boards, called strata councils, act as the managing body for the strata corporation, make daily decisions for the strata corporation to run smoothly, and operate within any restrictions created by the Strata Act, regulations, bylaws, or a majority vote of the owners. The strata council prepares an annual budget, which must be approved by a majority vote of the strata lot owners.


Examples of residential toolkits include: One Earth (2009) EcoStrata Guide for Metro Vancouver, Vancouver, BC (available at: (accessed on 30 March 2010); The Natural Step Canada, Light House and The David Suzuki Foundation (2009) Sustainability at Home: A Toolkit DecisionMaking Help for Your Everyday Choices, Vancouver, BC; and Natural Resources Canada (2009) Energy Starw Purchasing


Is there enough storage? (Likert scale) Comments about storage?

Storage. .

What kind of dwelling did you previously live in, an apt/ condo or house?


Why did you move out of your previous home?


Do you have access to storage in your building, such as a storage locker?


Does your residence have parking for your vehicle(s) at your residence? (Other hh [household] members?)


Does your residence have bike storage? Is it in a private or public area?

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