Terms and definitions on affordable and sustainable housing *

Indoor Thermal Comfort

Area: Design, planning and building

Improving indoor thermal comfort is a widely agreed motivate for housing retrofit (Femenías et al., 2018; Outcault et al., 2022; Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Low carbon retrofit of existing social housing tends to be driven by cost, the use of eco-friendly products, and energy savings (Sojkova et al., 2019). Energy savings are particularly important in colder climates where households require larger energy loads for space heating and thermal comfort and are therefore at greater risk of fuel (energy) poverty (Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Femenías et al.’s (2018) extensive literature review on property owners’ attitudes to energy efficiency argues that renovations are typically motivated by other needs, referred to by Outcault et al (2022) as ‘non-energy impacts’ (NEIs). While lists of NEIs are inconsistent in the literature, categories related to “weatherization retrofit” (Outcault et al., 2022, p.3) refer to comfort, modernity, health, safety, education, and better indoor air quality (Amann, 2006; Bergman & Foxon, 2020; Broers et al., 2022; Outcault et al., 2022). In poorly maintained social housing, however, the desire to improve indoor air quality and thermal comfort will have an impact on energy consumption. Occupants will, for example, use extra heating to feel comfortable in a damp, mouldy, or cold home. (Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018).   There are three main technical improvements to low carbon retrofit: (1) enhancing the building fabrics thermal properties; (2) improving systems efficiency; and (3) renewable energy integration (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In order for the Passivehaus Institut’s EnerPHit Retrofit Plan to meet Passivhaus standards for indoor air quality, homes must achieve high levels of air tightness complemented by a mechanical ventilation system including heat recovery (MVHR). Specifically, “airtightness of a building must achieve an air change per hour rate of less than 0.6 at 50 Pa of pressure (n50), and have ventilation provided by either a balanced mechanical heat recovery ventilation or demand-controlled ventilation systems” (McCarron et al., 2019, p.297). This airtightness concept is revered for saving energy, avoiding structural damage, and contributing to thermal comfort (Bastian et al., 2022) while requiring no natural ventilation such as open windows. Mechanical HVAC units alter indoor air temperature, air movement, ventilation, noise levels, and humidity (Outcault et al., 2022). But despite known benefits to physical health and clean air, this may not lead to optimum user-comfort. This is because social housing residents have unique housing needs that differ from homeowners (Sunikka-Blank et al., 2018) and cannot be predicted without resident engagement, as residents are experts in the way they live and use their homes (Boess, 2022; Gianfrate et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2014).   Post Occupancy Evaluation after retrofit has found that social housing residents are often unfamiliar with mechanical systems and their sustainable benefits, especially when retrofit occurs without resident input (Garnier et al., 2020). This can lead to misuse, overheating, the prebound effect, and the rebound effect where affordable energy bills lead to excessive heating—at times 25-26°C (Zoonnekindt, 2019)—contributing to performance gaps as high as five times the predicted energy consumption (Traynor, 2019). Other households considered mechanical systems to be bulky, ugly, and noisy, prompting removal, lack of use, and at times emotional distress (Lowe et al., 2018). DREEAM’s Berlin pilot site found one household blocking mechanical ventilation with tissue paper because they considered the air too cold and residents “haven’t been informed about the positive impact of a well working ventilation on their health and on the energy efficiency of the heating in their apartment” (Zoonnekindt, 2019). DREEAM continued the project with Green Neighbours (Zoonnekindt, 2019), an innovative engagement program co-designed with and for residents to better inform mechanical systems usage. However, literature shows (Boess, 2022; Gianfrate et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2014) that informing residents on how to use mechanical systems is unlikely to change use-habits or adequately combat performance gaps. In order to change residents’ energy behaviours, resident stakeholders should be integrated in retrofit decision-making.

Created on 20-09-2022

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)


* This vocabulary consists of definitions of key terms related to the combined research conducted by the 15 early-stage researchers. Each term has multiple definitions, each connected to one of the three main research areas: Design, Construction and Planning; Community Involvement; and Policy and Funding.

The joint construction of this vocabulary allows the researchers' projects to be interwoven. As such, the vocabulary is a tool for conducting transdisciplinary research on affordable and sustainable housing.

Entries are reviewed by RE-DWELL researchers and supervisors. The vocabulary is updated regularly.