Thermal image of housing

Research informing practice – building performance in the real world

It is now no shock or surprise to those involved in commissioning, designing and constructing buildings that there is often a large performance gap between the designed and measured energy performance of buildings (and hence their CO2 emissions) and how it ‘performs’ in practice.

There are many reasons for the ‘gap’, extensively documented – for instance within the reasonably recent Zero Carbon Hub evidence review and final report with associated recommendations. There are also many (over 100!) evidenced unintended consequences, the majority negative, of designing only with energy efficiency in mind.

How to rectify?

With an ever rising pile of evidence for the gap, focus inevitably turns to how to rectify. Given that 45% of our CO2 emissions come from buildings, researchers in the Low Carbon Research Group at Oxford Brookes are determined to make things better. They have identified that these discrepancies arise from a variety of sources, including design intent, modelling tools, buildability, build process and quality, systems integration and commissioning, handover and operation, and crucially the understanding, comfort and motivation of occupants.

Oxford Brookes were involved in 8 (4 domestic, 4 non-domestic) of the 101 projects, from schools to apartments, supermarkets to offices, health centres to houses, incorporated in  Innovate UK’s Building Performance Evaluation programme (BPE) – a 4 year study into how real-world buildings perform. They’ve produced a handy quick skim read document showcasing examples of BPE findings from non-domestic and domestic new-build and retrofitted buildings. This document also points towards further useful publications including those setting out POE methods.

Systemic learning needed

Practitioners, researchers and professional bodies need to find ways to improve systemic industry (and policy) learning, to stop the same issues cropping up again and again. We need to ensure circular learning from POE to professional practice beyond the boundaries of individual projects.

There are efforts underway – the Soft Landings process (required within Government procurement – more information & a free guide) has circular learning embedded within it. The Zero Carbon Hub has demonstrated a pragmatic approach, devising a guide that has tear out sheets to be used during on-site toolbox talks.

We need to be doing more of this, taking this knowledge outside of the comparatively small world of energy, sustainability and climate change champions, and integrating it into the myriad of organisations and associated processes that form part of the building cycle.

Here to help

This is something our network is doing, drawing across tax-payer funded engineering research on climate adaptation and resilience of buildings and infrastructure. We are small, but would welcome approaches and/or suggestions to partner with professional institutions and industry formal and informal networks. So if you see any EPSRC research and have an idea for how it could be made useful evolving professional practice, then please get in touch.

In the interim, check out summaries of some of the latest research findings:

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