There are 29 million homes in the UK which consume 14 percent of the UK's energy consumption. Building new energy-efficient homes and retrofitting existing ones is therefore a priority for meeting the UK 2050 Net Zero Target. What steps are needed to reach that target was recently discussed at the fourth International STEAM Conference held at Birmingham City University. Under the theme of Sustainability, the authors Dr Ghasson Shabha, Senior Lecturer in Facilities Management, and Paul Laycock, Deputy Head of College at Built Environment, collaborated on a talk called ‘A Qualitative Assessment of the Impact of Smart Homes on the UK 2050 Net Zero Carbon Emission Target’.
In order to meet the target Shabha believes it is essential to retrofit existing homes and to build new ones with Smart technology built in. "An average three-bedroom house produces five tonnes of carbon a year and is almost completely reliant on fossil fuels" he told delegates, adding "When you consider that the British population will grow by five million in the next 20 years it makes it essential that both existing homes and new ones are environmentally friendly."
A novel board game
A novel way for young people and communities to learn about retrofitting was highlighted by a delegate, Claudia Carter, Professor of Environmental Governance and Planning at Birmingham City University, who co-created the climate action boardgame CLIMANIA. An engagement, educational and discussion tool aimed at informing the public of the role of the built environment in the climate emergency, the game specifically focuses on urban planning and retrofit.
Carter said "The Climate Action Game project was a co-design and research project concepted in light of COP26. We worked with thirteen young people aged 14-18 from Balsall Health, Birmingham, in a co-design process to develop this game. The project aimed to stimulate awareness and knowledge amongst young people in a fun and engaging way to realise the impact of the built environment on climate change."
New strategy for smart home building
When it comes to building new homes, delegates were shown a picture of a Modern Smart Home incorporating meters and sensors to record, monitor and optimise water, heat, and energy. Smart technologies like water and electricity meters are already widely available, but as some firms charge for them, the uptake has been limited. Other technologies such as Smart plug-ins, which can control lighting, and Smart built-in water heaters which use 15W instead of 600W to boil water are also available but currently are not being fitted as standard into new homes.
"We need a government-led strategy to develop Smart homes which incorporates education, training and address issues like compatibility, connectivity, interoperability and standardization" of devices and wireless platform said Shabha. "This will really help the widespread adoption of smart homes and make the technologies easier to use and affordable for the wider homeowners. BCU research has shown that half of all homeowners are very supportive of Smart technology but the elderly in particular need support to make the transition, issues like safety and security being a priority for them."
Delegates attending the conference also heard about an innovative arts project developed by Warick University called Acting on Climate. It explores the climate crisis with young people across the UK and beyond through creative approaches including performance, film, and visual arts.
BCU runs The Centre For Future Homes, a research group consisting of Birmingham City University academics, focused on helping organisations to measure and improve their building outputs. More information can be found at The Centre For Future Homes.
The free to print-and-play board game files for CLIMANIA can be downloaded on their website.