Leeds Sustainability Institute

Improving the energy efficiency of homes

Research on the domestic energy performance gap, resulting in lower fuel bills and fewer carbon emissions in new builds and retrofits.

Improving the energy efficiency of homes

the challenge

Energy consumption in homes is responsible for around 15% of the UK’s carbon emissions so, as the UK moves towards a zero-carbon economy, it is imperative to understand what we can do to reduce energy use in homes.

As a leading centre of research in the UK, the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI) is undertaking internationally significant and powerful research on the energy efficiency of buildings.

As a result of changes to regulation, this work has reduced carbon emissions and is further contributing to lower fuel bills and further reductions in greenhouse gases.

The approach

For 30 years the institute has been undertaking experiments to define the energy efficiency of buildings.

Through advances in research methods such as co-heating the thermal performance and characteristics of buildings are better understood. The co-heating test is an energy balance experiment which establishes how much heat energy is lost during heating and from this the cost of heating a building can be determined.

Their research has supported house builders and owners to understand the performance of homes in the UK. This helped the UK Government and the building industry understand that there is a performance gap in all types of buildings, meaning they are not as efficient as they should be.

The LSI’s research seeks understand why and by how much these homes and buildings aren’t performing to their expected standards.

28 mil

Only a hundred thousand or so new homes are built each year, so the LSI is now focussing on the existing 28 million homes in the UK, which don’t benefit from new standards of insulation and energy efficiency and need their own bespoke retrofits.

Retrofit means improving the energy efficiency of existing homes, and this is one of the major challenges facing the UK over the next few decades.

The LSI has been investigating which retrofits are most effective and are informing the next round of retrofit policy updates. They are also looking at ways of making retrofits in homes safer, ensuring that when insulation and new heating and ventilation systems are installed, they do not lead to problems with damp or overheating.

In addition, the LSI is challenging the way that the Government models the performance of homes and buildings, interrogating and testing the assumptions they are using to make predictions more accurate.

Another focus is on the user perception of new low carbon heating technologies which are being introduced to UK homes to reduce the carbon intensity of heat in the first place.

There are lots of challenges around implementing new technology into homes. Not just whether people will accept them but also, will they use their homes in the correct way to make the most of these new technologies.

Some new technologies such as heat pumps mean that people will have to get rid of their gas boilers, radiators and think of a whole new way of heating their homes.

In addition, the LSI is looking at the impact of switching to hydrogen heating in homes to see if there are issues around indoor air quality and moisture loads, and whether people are worried, or using the energy in a different way, because it’s a different fuel.

The impact

A major impact of the work undertaken has been the amendment of Building Regulations, introducing mechanisms to reduce heat loss in homes. The work of the group, through their research recognised previously unknown heat loss through the cavity between party walls, which separates adjoining properties. This heat loss mechanism is as a result of the research is now formally recognised.

When building a house developers now have to insulate walls between adjoining properties. Previously, heat could have escape through and between the party walls, to the external environment.

Research by Leeds Sustainability Institute has benefited homeowners through lower fuel bills, domestic construction-related businesses by creating new markets, policymakers by providing new insights and the environment via lowering carbon emissions.

It has influenced Government policy to help them in their goal to achieve not just zero carbon but to tackle fuel poverty in the UK.

  • Bell, M., Smith, M. and Miles-Shenton, D. (2005) Condensation risk — impact of improvements to Part L and Robust Details on Part C. Report Number 7 -Final report on project Field work. IN Oreszczyn, T. Mumovic, D, Davies, Ridley, I. Bell, M., Smith, M., Miles-Shenton, D. (2011) Condensation risk — impact of improvements to Part L and robust details on Part C: Final report: BD2414. Communities and Local Government, HMSO, London. [ISBN: 978 1 4098 2882 2 UK] 
  • Lowe, R.J., Wingfield, J. Bell, M. and Bell, J.M. (2007). Evidence for heat losses via party wall cavities in masonry construction. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, Vol 28 No. 2 (2007) pp.161-181
  • Bell, M., Black, M., Davies, H., Partington, R., Ross, D., Pannell, R. And Adams, D. (2010) Carbon compliance for tomorrow's new homes: A review of the modelling tool and assumptions. — Topic 4: Closing the Gap Between Designed and Built Performance. Report number ZCHD130210, Zero Carbon Hub, London. 
  • Wingfield, J., Bell, M., Miles-Shenton, D., South, T. and Lowe, R.J. (2011). Evaluating the impact of an enhanced energy performance standard on load-bearing masonry domestic construction: Understanding the gap between designed and real performance: lessons from Stamford Brook. Communities and Local Government, HMSO, London. [ISBN: 978 1 4098 2891 4] 
  • Johnston, D., and Miles-Shenton, D., and Farmer, D., (2015) Quantifying the domestic building fabric 'performance gap'. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 36 (5). 614 - 627
  • Gorse C, Glew D, Johnston D, Fylan F, Miles-Shenton D, Smith M, Brooke-Peat M, Farmer D, Stafford A, Fletcher M (2017) Core cities Green Deal monitoring project, Leeds, Department of Energy and Climate Change.  
  • Engineering, computing and sustainability
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