It has long been known that identical homes with identical numbers of occupants differ greatly in the amount they spend on energy. The University of Bath is now carrying out work to establish why this is.
Exeter City Council has worked with the University to recruit residents with suitable properties for the study, in which computer scientists, architects, engineers and psychologists have come together to develop a better understanding of how buildings and the habits of their occupants can be modified so that they consume less gas and electricity.
Leading the project, Professor David Coley from the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, said: “Energy use in homes has been subject to widespread study, but this project allows us to look at it from two perspectives, that of occupant behaviour, and of building performance. We’ll be able to clearly determine the most effective interventions, be those to behaviour or building materials, in order to reduce energy use in homes.”
The homes that are taking part in the study have sensors installed in them which give the research team data about how the building is being used. The sensors will tell the researchers the temperature of the building and its performance during different environmental conditions. The researchers are also monitoring the use of energy in the buildings, so will see how often electronic devices such as kettles or washing machines are used by inhabitants.
Dr Lizzi Gabe-Thomas, from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology, said: “For the first year we are simply gathering data on normal building use. We’re not asking people to watch their energy use - rather we want them to go about their normal, day-to-day life.
“In the second year we’ll explore a number of different ways of giving advice and feedback to people from the sensor data, to determine which work, how long they work for, and how lasting behaviour change can be achieved.”
The project will also provide a unique insight into the causes of fuel poverty with the development of an in-depth understanding of building energy use and the role of behaviour in this. From this knowledge, targeted interventions could be made to lift people out of fuel poverty.
Professor Coley said: “Our approach will aid councils in making assessments of ‘at-risk’ occupants and will allow them to better target services and resources to these homes and people.”
Speaking on behalf of Exeter City Council, Cllr Rob Hannaford, Lead Councillor for Housing and Customer Access said: “The council is keen to participate in this project which will allow better energy management and a greater understanding of fuel needs, reducing energy bills for our residents while contributing to carbon reduction. While we’ve recruited a large number of homes already, we’re still encouraging more council residents to join us in this exciting project.”
If you live in an Exeter City Council owned council home and wish to take part in this project, please contact Lizzi Gabe-Thomas at the University of Bath on 01225 383374. Homes must meet certain requirements which the project team will be happy to discuss with you.
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