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Unravelling the unintended consequences of home energy improvements

Rajat Gupta (Low Carbon Building Group, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Laura Barnfield (Low Carbon Building Group, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)

International Journal of Energy Sector Management

ISSN: 1750-6220

Article publication date: 28 October 2014

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to, using a systematic mixed-methods based monitoring and evaluation approach, investigate the unintended consequences of physical and technical home improvements on energy use, indoor environmental conditions and occupant behaviour in community-led retrofits. The study is part of a UK Research Council funded research project on evaluating the impacts and effectiveness of low carbon communities on energy behaviours.

Design/methodology/approach

A graduated measurement, monitoring and evaluation framework has been developed and applied to gather quantitative and qualitative data on energy use and behaviours has been developed and applied to 88 households across the UK. A mixed-methods approach is used, including occupant interviews, questionnaires, activity diaries and continuous physical monitoring of energy use, environmental conditions and low-carbon technologies.

Findings

The study has uncovered a number of unintended consequences associated with home energy improvements, both beneficial and detrimental, including improved comfort levels in retrofitted dwellings and reduction in energy use but also an increased likelihood of overheating following fabric improvements, potential under-performance of low-carbon systems due to lack of understanding and inadequate installation and commissioning, along with adaptive energy behaviours leading to increased energy use and a widening gap between predicted and actual savings.

Research limitations/implications

Although 63 case study households are involved, it is difficult to provide statistical analysis from the emerging findings.

Practical implications

This paper demonstrates the unintended consequences of home energy improvements. It aims to bring awareness of these issues to various sectors and stakeholders involved in delivering community retrofit programmes or the National Green Deal programme.

Originality/value

The paper fulfils an identified need to study the impacts of home energy improvements within existing homes through a robust, comprehensive M&E approach.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to the Research Council UK’s Energy & Communities Programme for financially supporting this project under Grant reference: RES-628-25-0012. The authors would also like to acknowledge the EVALOC research team, in particular Tara Hipwood. In addition to this, thanks must go to the EVALOC case study communities and individual households for their support and continued interest in participation within the research project.

Citation

Gupta, R. and Barnfield, L. (2014), "Unravelling the unintended consequences of home energy improvements", International Journal of Energy Sector Management, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 506-526. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJESM-11-2013-0006

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited