User perspectives in purpose built low energy housing

  • Project dates: 2016–2017
  • Funding: $40,000

Project Summary

International policy is firmly moving towards technology rich, low and near zero energy homes, yet our understanding of how these technologies will be integrated into household life are limited. How do different household types (e.g. elderly, large family, rental, or low income households) experience and use ‘smart’ technologies? Are these homes thermally comfortable, easy and affordable to operate? And how can we encourage demand for low energy housing, bringing it out of the ‘niche’ and into the mainstream?

The project will map diverse user experiences of purpose built low energy housing, and extend our understanding of the impact on energy outcomes of the relationship between users, building design, precinct design, and the application of technology and methods of assessment and validation for such research.

The project will draw on theoretical concepts developed by the partner universities including ‘identity and low energy housing’ as lead by Sheffield Hallam, the ‘Value Proposition’ of low carbon living explored by UniSA and RMIT, and the role of precinct design in shaping the experience of low energy home users, as explored by RMIT, UniSA and Liverpool John Moores. Partner universities are contributing theoretically and methodologically, as well as providing access to case study low energy homes and precincts to deliver collaborative research outcomes. The research will explore issues including thermal comfort, energy use, energy generation and storage, technology operation, affective dimensions of low carbon living, user guide materials, and feedback mechanisms.

The project is designed to address key aspects of the Science and Research Priority for Energy, including:

  1. New clean energy sources and storage technologies that are efficient, cost-effective and reliable.
  2. Australian electricity grids that readily integrate and more efficiently transmit energy from all sources including low– and zero–carbon sources.

The project is also designed to address key aspects of the Priority for Environmental Change, including:

  1. Resilient urban, rural and regional infrastructure

Improving the energy productivity and utilisation of renewable energy sources in the built environment is key to reducing the carbon impact of local energy networks and transitioning to a more sustainable and resilient economy. The 5th IPCC Assessment Report found buildings account for 32 per cent of global final energy use (IPCC 2014). Purpose built low energy buildings utilising renewable energy sources and energy storage may be an important part of the solution, subject to a positive householder experience.

Through increasing our understanding of the interactions between buildings, technologies, people and precinct design, the outcomes of this project will contribute to the more efficient use of energy, advances in the application of renewable energy and storage technologies, a more resilient urban infrastructure, and an improved quality of life for households. It will also contribute to an increased understanding of market demand for low energy housing, and the potential mainstreaming of low and zero carbon technologies for housing.

Project outcomes

The project outcomes are designed to inform urban developers and policy makers on actions that will result in improved energy and carbon residential performance, therefore it is critically important to the project to have organisations responsible for urban sustainable development policies actively involved in the research and utilising the research findings.

This study will provide new insights to the building sector and policy makers on transitioning low energy housing from a niche product to the mainstream.

Both the ATN and UA teams have a strong track record of supporting external partners to improve policy development and delivery in relation to low energy housing and precincts. The Australian experience includes direct engagement and support to the Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency, the Australian Greenhouse Office, Renewal SA, Department of Health and Human Services (Victoria), Moreland Energy Foundation, Victorian Planning Authority, and Energy Consumers Australia.

The project outputs will be used to build on these relationships and influence policy through provision of international perspectives on low energy housing.

The project is designed to deliver:

  • An enhanced methodology for studying the user experience of low energy homes and low carbon living.
  • A comparative extension and testing of SHU’s ‘Inside the eco-home’ at Australian locations.
  • A comparative extension of UniSA’s ‘Value Proposition of Low Carbon Living: User Perspective’ in UK.
  • Jointly authored journal and conference articles drawing on data from across the two countries.
  • Opportunities for staff and student exchange.
  • Industry and government engagement events in various cities including Melbourne and Adelaide.

Major milestones planned:

  • UK researchers visit to Australia in October/November 2016
    • Data collected and processed by December 2016
    • Joint journal publication submitted by March 2017
    • Conference paper presented at ECEEE Summer Study, June 2017
  • Australian researchers visit to UK in May/June 2017
    • Data collected and processed by July 2017

Joint journal publication submitted by September 2017

The project, through developing enhanced methodologies, and by establishing a track record of joint research and publications, will support a future funding application for the continuation of the study to various sources including, but not limited to: the Australian Research Council, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the British Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Horizon 2020, and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The research team will also explore the potential to seek funding from a range of UK and Australian research charities and foundations to further this work program.

Key People

Lead researchers

Buildings and precincts adapted for future climate change

Dr Stephen Berry

University of South Australia

Buildings and precincts adapted for future climate change

Dr David Whaley

University of South Australia

Professor Ralph Horne

Professor Ralph Horne

Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation

Dr Larissa Nicholls

Dr Larissa Nicholls

Research Fellow

Buildings and precincts adapted for future climate change

Prof Barry Goodchild

Sheffield Hallam University

Buildings and precincts adapted for future climate change

Ms Aimee Ambrose

Energy Policy

Buildings and precincts adapted for future climate change

Dr John Morrissey

Liverpool John Moores University