Pre- and post-pandemic occupancy schedules

Occupation schedules inform designers (architects and engineers) on the way of living and working of inhabitants. Such schedules are developed based on questionnaires and give a general idea of when a house is occupied, and, at the same time, for which period thermal or visual analysis should be performed. A detailed survey allows cutting energy expenses and can influence building design. It is possible that in the hottest months a house is not occupied since the entire family is on holidays and there is no need to design ventilation for temperature peaks in August.

Prepandemic domestic space had a certain mode of occupation in Portugal that has changed. A study by a team of scientists from the University of Minho [1] shows that during weekdays, inhabitants tend to leave their houses between 8 and 9 AM when the occupation drops from 80% to 15%. Occupancy has a small peak around lunchtime, reaching about 20%. Inhabitants used to return to their homes between 5 and 9 PM. The early afternoon hours are spent between the living room and kitchen, while the morning hours in the bedroom. The weekends and holidays paint a different picture. Most people stay at home until early afternoon, mostly in their bedrooms or living rooms. They usually get back to their houses around 5 PM and spend most of the time in the living room.

Home or office?

This kind of occupancy is most likely the past. The pandemic of SARS-Cov-2 that began in 2020 brought significant changes in the way that we work. The home office, in Portugal known as teletrabalho, has become a new model of work. Thousands of firms, organizations, and public administration have shifted to work remotely in virtual spaces. Livingrooms and kitchens equipped with new desks and table lamps have become temporary (?) working spaces. Such modality of work has already been exercised for several years, mostly by young companies, especially in the field of IT. And it most likely is going to stay with us for a longer period of time. The lease for large office spaces is typically a long-term contract, which is why we are still seeing many of these places under the label of large companies. But as soon as the leases finish these spaces are most likely going to get empty. Companies are already announcing to their employees that there is no coming back to full-time work at the office — it would be a hybrid between the home office and a traditional one. According to a survey by Hays Portugal from 2020, most employees (+90%) are in favour of such a solution, since they are looking for the flexibility of working hours and can save their commuting time. Occupancy schedules need to be revised with a clear division of work and leisure areas. At the same time, space design and performance need to be adjusted. Houses have not been thought for office work — for the last seventy years, they simply have been becoming more comfortable and cosy. On the other hand, extensive research has been done in the field of ergonomy of workspace, adequate daylight, air quality, and thermal comfort, all of which boost productivity and ensure the well-being of the workers.

Future occupancy schedules focus not only on the formal flexibility of space but also on thermal and visual ones. The pandemic occupancy schedules in the times of lockdowns have not been analyzed yet, although we know that shared spaces of the house become offices and the private ones keep their original function. From the point of view of thermal and visual comfort, that was the best solution since the operational temperature and amount of daylight in a living room and in the office space are the closest.

On the 25th of March, the Portuguese government approved the law (Decreto-Lei 79-A/2020) that encourages the home office until the end of 2021. This is one of the first far-reaching signals that might trigger significant changes in the way we design domestic spaces.

We, at Dosta Tec, analyze occupation in close relation with actual space use and propose solutions for building performance to ensure thermal and visual comfort and at the same time enhance energy efficiency. Flexibility and modularity, both in space and energy design, takes into consideration the future use of the building and possible change of a function.

Adrian Krężlik


[1] BARBOSA J. A. et al., “Occupancy Patterns and Building Performance — Developing occupancy patterns for Portuguese residential buildings.”, (2016).

Image credits: Jeremy Levine, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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