Understanding energy use and power relationships in low-income communities

Socioeconomic factors play an important but largely hidden role in home-energy consumption. Most studies have targeted single-family, affluent households, and as a result, energy monitoring systems do not address the needs of renters and low-income individuals. This project examined class, poverty and tenancy issues with respect to energy use.

Start date: 9/30/2013
End date: 3/31/2014

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Thirty-five percent of the U.S. population rents homes (National Multifamily Housing Council, 2012), and 32 percent of households earn less than $30,000 per year (U.S. Census, 2012). Though median energy use for home heating and cooling is the same as that in more affluent households, low-income households must spend a greater percentage of their income on energy. 

Renters lack full autonomy over their homes due to tenancy issues, and class and poverty issues affect the autonomy of individuals with respect to energy use. Exactly how autonomy and tenants’ relationships with other stakeholders affect their use of energy was not well understood, and details about energy use in low-income households were relatively unknown in HCI. Dillahunt’s work on this project, as well as past work, has helped to fill this open area of research.

For more information and links to related publications, please visit Tawanna Dillahunt’s research page or read the paper developed from this research.


This project was provided partial support from Google, Action Housing, Trek Development, IBM, and from the following National Science Foundation grant:

HCC-Medium: StepGreen: Mobilizing Social Networks and Context Awareness to Motivate Reduced Energy, National Science Foundation: $506,000

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…"