At the first of Connected Places Catapult’s Housing Breakfast events, Neal Hudson described the statistical falsehood of the housing ‘crisis’, Jemma Mouland, from the Centre for Ageing Better, challenged our preconceptions of homes for an ageing population and Nigel Walley made us aware of our right to access data that is associated with our homes. During the event, I talked about the climate crisis and the resulting design challenges. All four of us had two things in common; we are all using digital technologies to analyse, interpret, resolve and communicate substantial problems facing housing, and, our work, though in different areas, places the home occupant at the centre of better quality design.
Turning up the heat with modern design practices
As we push design further up the path of best practice, we are coming across situations where the best result is a sweet spot between several conflicting factors. One example is that in fine-tuning the energy conservation of home heating (eg insulation, air-tightness and thermal breaks) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we have made them unbearable during warmer months. New apartments, in particular, are just too hot.
Now imagine this problem in a near future with warmer summers, an ageing population (less able to adapt body temperature), flexible working (homes occupied during warmer hours), policy-driven decentralised heating systems introducing hot water pipes and systems in corridors, brownfield sites next to sources of noise where open windows have a long-term health risk and higher density buildings where large vent areas are a safety risk. We’re throwing more heat into our homes and letting less out.
We, environmental engineers, have had to dramatically adapt the way we operate. We’ve become coders developing in-house tools to provide the architects with several relevant solutions that altogether work for energy conservation, avoid overheating, provide sufficient daylight and fresh air, and manage noise.
The same pattern of consolidated solutions is apparent in some of our tools. Healthy Cities Parametric Tool (H-Cities) pulls together external variables such as air quality, wind flow, noise levels, sunlight and shading – elements that determine human comfort and safety in the built environment – to one 3D data-rich and visualised platform. Another tool we are developing for a prototype home at Building Research Establishment (BRE) pre-tests multiple permutations of prefab architectural components against energy, daylight and overheating standards for any site location.
Fixing homes for the future with digital tools
Without these digital tools (and a design consultancy team reskilled as coders) we would waste precious time flip-flopping from one iteration to another. Instead, these tools help us refocus our time on the issues that matter most: providing a better quality of life in homes, in our communities, and our cities.
It doesn’t end there. In a collaboration with Loughborough University to validate the thermal models we use to predict the risk of discomfort, we found significant discrepancies from actual measured temperatures in homes. We hope that soon, machine-learning will use available measured data from home thermostats to provide perfect prediction and that we will be able to upload this into the Future Home Standard, an efficiency target that will be measured by IoT devices rather than design requirements as has been the case in the past. Watch this (virtual) space!
Marie-Louise Schembri is Project Director at Hilson Moran. You can follow Hilson Moran on Twitter here @HilsonMoran.
This blog is one in a series and is part of our new Future of Housing programme. Find out more about our work in this area by visiting our new Future of Housing knowledge hub.
Our Future of Housing blog series is intended as a platform for open debate. Views expressed are not necessarily those of Connected Places Catapult.