Energy house has a good measure on building performance data
24 October 2019
Richard Fitton, Energy House Research Lead, School of Built Environment, University of Salford
In 2011 the University of Salford opened the Salford Energy House. Originally developed in response to the retrofit agenda, the facility took a new approach to understanding the performance of energy efficiency improvements. The Energy House, the subject of a presentation at CABE’s buildeng South West 2019 Conference and Exhibition, consists of a large environmental chamber containing a full-scale Victorian end-terrace and a neighbouring building to replicate a next-door property. This proved to be a major change in the way products could be assessed, as it introduced research capabilities that were not possible in field trials.
The first major benefit is repeatability; close environmental control means that tests can be conducted under near identical conditions. In the field trials these can be undertaken in a large number of properties and run over a long period of time, generally at least once a year, due to the number of uncontrolled variables. The Salford Energy House can compress some of these tests into a matter of weeks. The second advantage is the level of detail in terms of data that can be gathered. A field trial may commonly include between five and ten sensors, gathering data on energy consumption and environmental conditions, while the Salford Energy House has more than 200 hard-wired sensors providing data on every aspect of the home. This kind of granularity provides a level of detail not possible in the field. The advantages to product manufacturers are clear in terms of cost, detail and time.
Over the past eight years the team has undertaken a large number of tests ranging from whole house retrofit to small energy efficiency products. Working with Saint Gobain, the Energy House was subjected to a deep retrofit, including external and internal wall insulation, high performance doors and glazing and a floor membrane, which saved 63% of heating energy. The extensive work on controls, carried out in partnership with the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers' Association (BEAMA) showed that low cost interventions such as wall thermostats and thermostatic radiator valves could potentially save up to 41% of heating demand on a typical UK winter’s day. Other tests have included curtains (2% savings), voltage optimisation (2% savings), and carpets (4%).
Trial and error
The Salford Energy House does not completely replace field trials. Issues such as human factors, different property archetypes and installation issues can only be picked up in the field. However, if we wish to understand the performance of a product or system, the Salford Energy House is a great place to start. If you cannot demonstrate a clear improvement here, a field trial may prove an expensive mistake.
The success of the Salford Energy House, as outlined at CABE’s buildeng South West Conference, has led to the £16m Energy House 2.0 Research Facility, a major project part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which will allow partners not only to test products, but whole buildings, which, given the move to offsite construction, could be invaluable in assessing new products as they come to market.
Opening in 2021, this will be another major step in the UK’s energy and buildings research infrastructure.