The buildings in which we live must play a critical role in UK decarbonisation, but they are also homes. This means they have different meanings and value to different people which can evolve over time. Our Living Well in Low Carbon Homes team is unearthing new insights and evidence to support the transformation of the UK building stock as we progress towards net zero.

The Design

The Living Well in Low Carbon Homes research team are taking an original approach to understanding the views and experiences of low carbon home residents by speaking to them on multiple occasions over time. Initial interviews with people before they moved into their new homes enabled us to explore their expectations of the developments and plans for life there. We are currently in the final stages of interviewing the same residents after their first few months of living in the homes, to consider how their experiences compare to their earlier expectations.

Speaking to low carbon home residents at different time points (what is called a qualitative longitudinal design) has several key benefits:

  • We can consider how views change over time in relation to lived experiences, offering a more dynamic perspective
  • We can explore residents’ experience of seasonal variations in their homes, particularly heating, energy generation and comfort, providing a more comprehensive picture than a one-off interview could enable
  • We can have ongoing dialogue with developers as we feedback insights from resident interviews, which can be utilised to inform future building design and rollout.

We are also interviewing key stakeholders – such as architects, registered social landlords and property developers – involved in our five project case sites. This provides opportunity to:

  • Explore motivations behind the developments (including low carbon aims)
  • Consider how these stakeholders imagine future residents and how this influences the design of low carbon homes.
  • Understand, how and why certain design decisions have been taken, including those regarding specific energy system configurations, in addition to the imagined behavioural changes that occupants are expected to make.

Insights and next steps

From our stakeholder interviews we have found mixed views regarding what level of information should be provided to residents about the operation of their low carbon homes and the associated technologies.

Some stakeholders suggested that residents were uninterested in information about energy. In pre-occupancy interviews, information provision was not a prominent concern for our participants, yet post-occupancy, several participants expressed a desire for more information about how their homes operated, and a willingness to use this information to try and adapt their energy use to use resources most efficiently.  This indicates a change over time in relation to lived experience, which could be easily addressed by developers providing additional information to residents.  

Low carbon homes hold multiple potential benefits for people, at both household and societal scales. However, unless people can live well within them, there is a risk that these opportunities will be lost. By engaging with residents over time, our research helps to highlight the experiences of residents. Our next step is to interview residents again after 12 months of living in their new low carbon home, providing a longer-term perspective, which encompasses seasonal variations in domestic life and energy use.

Throughout this process we will continue to have regular contact with developers to ensure key insights from residents are communicated and can inform the design and development of the homes of the future.

Dr Fiona Shirani is a Research Associate based in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University where her research interests include how life events and relationships to others impact everyday energy use, as well as experiences of energy vulnerability.