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By Professor Nick Pidgeon & Professor Karen Henwood, Cardiff University

Active Buildings, the energy-efficient homes at Neath Wenham Place development which generate and store their energy, are an exciting innovation that has the potential to help residents lower their energy bills while also helping the environment.

At the same time, they should improve the quality of life and wellbeing of occupants by providing greater levels of in-home comfort. However, we already know that to achieve the full benefits of the Active Building concept design will depend not only on the new energy technologies and systems installed, but will also have to be fundamentally led by user needs.

Understanding how residents interact with new energy technologies

The Active Building Centre’s social sciences team based in the School of Social Sciences and School of Psychology at Cardiff University, are experts in exploring materials users’ needs and energy vulnerabilities, and how energy technologies shape people’s routines and practices in the home and in everyday life. As well as taking the material qualities of needs seriously, our approach is one that remains highly sensitive to the rich texture of lived experiences afforded by actors’ sense-making, along with the ways in which they unfold in and through time and place.

Our research will be attentive to the multiple social, cultural and psychological changes associated with the system-wide transition to low carbon energy, and any differences in how they will manifest locally, by using cutting-edge social science methodologies, including in-depth interviews and multi-sensory techniques designed to be highly engaging for the members of the public who are involved.

Our research approach and methods will enable us to work together with residents at the Neath development to gather new data and insights on their experiences of living in these new Active Homes. It should help us to understand how residents interact with the heating and other novel systems installed in an Active Home and map how they interpret and understand the novel ways of generating and using energy that these homes offer them.

This new knowledge should help current and future residents on this site to get the best from their Active Homes, building designers of the future as they seek to optimise the concept of an Active Home, and social landlords across Wales as they seek to meet their aspiration to make the homes of the future fully fit for the 21st Century.