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Engaging UK repair–maintain–improve practitioners in improved building performance

Niamh Murtagh (Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, UCL, London, UK)
Alice M. Owen (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Kate Simpson (Imperial College London, London, UK)

International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation

ISSN: 2398-4708

Article publication date: 5 October 2021

Issue publication date: 8 March 2023




To improve building performance and meet statutory carbon reduction targets, a radical transformation of existing UK building stock is needed. Much previous research on building performance has focussed on large-scale construction. However, retrofit of existing housing stock – which will contribute the majority of the requisite efficiency improvement – is carried out by practitioners in the repair–maintain–improve (RMI) subsector. These practitioners are the sole traders and micro-firms who constitute two-fifths of employment in the construction sector. The study aims to examine the factors influencing these practitioners in RMI work to understand how better to engage them with improved building performance.


A total of 31 semi-structured interviews were conducted with RMI professionals from around the UK and analysed using template analysis.


The analysis identified capabilities of the practitioners who influence building performance, including knowledge and co-ordination of people and resources; opportunities including state action and customer demand; and motivations including pride in work, customer care and satisfaction, maintaining a viable business and working relationships.

Research limitations/implications

The participants were a small, mixed group in terms of firm size and specialisation. The qualitative approach adopted provided detailed insights but does not make claims for statistical generalisability or representativeness of the findings. Future work could look to extend the findings with a statistically representative survey.

Practical implications

For a successful transition to high standards of building performance, modelling is not enough. Initiatives are needed to address the multiple factors which determine engagement in energy-efficient retrofit: capacities, opportunities and motivations. The desire of RMI practitioners to meet customer expectations could be used to develop pragmatic building performance evaluation, guided by householder satisfaction criteria.


The study examined the attitudes and experiences of an under-researched sector who are essential to the delivery of improved building performance. This study makes a novel contribution by applying an established psychological model of behaviour change, the capability, opportunity, motivation – behaviour model, for the first time in this domain.



The authors would like to acknowledge funding from University Centre Scunthorpe as part of the Association of Colleges Scholarship project under the HEFCE Catalyst fund, and the work of Aaron Flannagan on interview scripts and data collection; and funding from the Sainsbury’s Charitable Trusts’ Climate Collaboration and the UKRI through the UK Energy Research Centre’s flexible fund project “GLIDER”.


Murtagh, N., Owen, A.M. and Simpson, K. (2023), "Engaging UK repair–maintain–improve practitioners in improved building performance", International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation, Vol. 41 No. 1, pp. 11-24.



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