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Smart Homes Make For Angry Roommates

Researchers in the U.K. discover a dark side to smart meters: roommate hell.

Smart Homes Make For Angry Roommates
[Top Photo: Flickr user Brandon O'Connor]

If you’ve ever come home to a roommate’s dread passive-aggressive note tacked to the refrigerator door, you might not want to move into a smart home. Researchers have discovered that the smarter your home, the angrier roommates get at one another for wasting utilities.

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According to research conducted by academics at the University of Nottingham, smart meters that allow housemates to track energy usage and how much it is costing the household in detail end up causing more fights than they resolve.

Flickr user Missy S.

In the study, more than 500 volunteers were randomly placed in one of two theoretical scenarios. In the first, volunteers were asked to split an energy bill equally among three housemates they didn’t know, even though some housemates used more energy during the month than others. In the other, everyone in the apartment paid an equal part of the bill and used an equal part of the electricity.

In both scenarios, participants were shown one of three types of smart meters that allowed them to track their housemates’ energy usage to varying degrees. Not so surprisingly, the more data people had on their housemates’ energy usage, the angrier they were about the perceived freeloading.

But it also went the other way: if participants were shown a meter that revealed less information about their own energy habits, they were more likely to be fearful and feel guilty about how much energy they may or may not be using. That also made them more forgiving of other housemates’ perceived excesses.

“We were interested in how these displays influenced emotions and the interactions that people had around them,” says Dr. Caroline Leygue from the University’s Horizon Digital Economy Research department. “If people saw that someone used more than their fair share of energy, depending on the display they felt more anger, or guilt and fear–not the intended consequence of installing an energy display!”

There’s a lot to recommend smart meters, of course: once people understand what they actually do and get used to them, 61% of people actually prefer smart meters to help them regulate their home’s energy usage. But if you’ve already got a tenuous relationship with your roommates, introducing a smart meter into the equation might just be the last straw.

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You can read the full study here.