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FS22 - Assessing the environment and energy impact of occupant behaviour

Written by: CIC Start Online

"Assessing the environment and energy impact of occupant behaviour" by Glasgow School of Art, Robert Gordon University and Fyne Initiatives


Fyne Initiative’s Ltd. aims to develop low energy homes and lead the way for improved standards for affordable and social housing in the UK. Fyne Initiatives were the first developers in Scotland to have a home officially awarded full Passivhaus certification by the German Passivhaus Institute. The building was also the first social ‘affordable’ home in the UK to be Passivhaus certified. It was unveiled in April 2010, and is part of a development of 14 new low energy homes in Dunoon, named ‘Tigh-Na-Cladach’.

The Passivhaus standard was achieved by excellent air-tightness using a closed wall timber kit system, high insulation, draught proofing, highly efficient mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system (MVHR), triple glazing with insulated frames, and solar thermal panels. The challenge for Fyne Initiatives was to provide quality, affordable, low energy homes that would meet the needs of the local community of Dunoon. All the houses have been sold through shared equity to local residents, the majority of whom are first time buyers.

The Scottish government aims to cut carbon emissions by 42%, more than a third of 1990 levels, by 2020. One way of achieving this would be by making homes more energy efficient by moving towards more rigorous standards, such as Passivhaus, in line with Northern Europe. Passivhaus is well established throughout Europe and has been rigorously tested and proven by the European Union as the highest performing specification for low energy homes. It has been suggested as a possible standard for European Building Regulations by 2015. There is however, a need for a deeper understanding of the performance of such high standards in this country, if they are going to find widespread application in the affordable housing sector.

Having achieved a Passivhaus that is unique in the sense of being in the affordable sector, the next task of Fyne Initiatives is to monitor the environments and energy use in the now occupied Passivhaus home & the adjacent low energy homes to inform the procurement of future housing projects. There is a need for a deeper understanding of how users operate such homes. For instance, Passivhaus homes are designed so that windows can remain closed in winter to ensure heating and ventilation efficiency through MVHR systems. In practice, however, occupants might choose to open windows perhaps through force of habit from occupying a traditional house in the past, indoor drying of laundry, or because they consider the MVHR too noisy. The environmental and energy impacts of these issues are not well understood in the UK context. In addition, Passivhaus homes do not contain conventional heating systems such as perimeter water radiators or storage heaters. In conventional homes, dwellers sometimes use these to dry laundry, and there is evidence that this may impact energy use, and the indoor environment & air quality.

The impact of these issues in UK Passivhaus homes are not well understood. The development at Dunoon provides an opportunity to carry out a comparative POE. The goal of this feasibility study is to analyse patterns of window opening and MVHR switching by users; and
to assess the impact of these behaviours on heating, the effectiveness of MVHR, indoor environment & air quality, energy performance, and user comfort. It will also include observations on how occupants dry laundry. A concurrent study of these issues will be carried out in the Passivhaus home and two of the 13 adjacent houses that are low energy, but not of Passivhaus standard. The studies will then consider whether a culture change is required if the Passivhaus standard and UK's Zero Energy standard are to be effective in UK homes in general; and the affordable sector in particular.

The methodology for the POE will involve tasks to:
1. Observe physical characteristics of the houses and gather initial information.
2. Monitor window opening and MVHR switching patterns in different winter conditions using state loggers.
3. Measure temperature, air flow & air quality in different rooms in different winter conditions.
4. Observe laundry drying practices.
5. Consult and engage occupants through a questionnaire and interviews.
6. Calculate energy and CO2 impacts under different occupancy and winter conditions and compare with the SAP calculations.
7. Comparatively analyse the performance of the Passivhaus home and two of the adjacent low energy homes.
8. Scope further work on how Passivhaus strategies can be progressed for adoption in the UK affordable housing sector, and procurement of future ‘Fyne Initiatives' houses
9. Produce a final report.

This feasibility study is planned as a pilot for a bigger study across the UK. The results will be used as pilot findings to support the development and implementation of a strategy to conduct a UK wide comparative POE of Passivhaus homes. Once the environment and energy performance is determined through the study, the next step will develop a strategy for future delivery of affordable Passivhaus homes in Scotland and the UK.

Key words: new building, domestic buildings, Passivhaus, MVHR, post-occupancy evaluation, occupants' behaviour 


Dr Filbert Musau, The Glasgow School of Art

Porf. Gokay Deveci, Robert Gordon University

For Fyne Initiatives

The outputs of this study will be disseminated in due course.


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