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Mon June 21 2021

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University develops tool to test resilience of buildings to climate change

11 Sep 13 Researchers at Heriot-Watt University have developed a diagnostic tool to test the performance of buildings against predicted climate change.

The scientists and engineers at the university warn that building designers need to anticipate rising temperatures due to climate change to avoid homes, workplaces and other buildings going into ‘meltdown’ in the future.

Using 2009 climate projections, which suggest significant rises in UK temperatures over the next 70 years, the new diagnostic tool allows building professionals to identify the risk of buildings overheating and becoming unfit for use, and to test low carbon solutions to reduce the risk.

Big cities and conurbations, particularly London, are vulnerable to ‘urban heat island’ effects, where the city experiences significantly higher temperatures than surrounding areas because of a greater retention of heat from the urban environment.  To counter these effects,

The Heriot-Watt researchers believe that existing buildings need to be adapted and new buildings designed to counter climate change and combat ‘urban heat island’ effects.

Dr David Jenkins of the Low Carbon Future (LCF) project research team at Heriot-Watt said: ‘’It’s widely recognised that climate change is going to have a major effect on our environment.  As external temperatures rise so will the temperatures within our homes, schools, offices and other buildings.

‘’Although climate change information is available it can come in a complex format and be time intensive to analyse. This can make it difficult to consider in building design.  The LCF tool simplifies the process, allowing building teams to test current and future designs and climate change adaptations in a realistic timeframe and useable format.’’

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The LCF risk assessment tool is the result of a three-year research project that examined the risk of buildings overheating or existing cooling systems failing in a future climate.  It modelled the performance of a number of buildings, in the housing, office and school sectors, against the projected climate in 2030, 2050 and 2080, for London and Edinburgh.  Without adaptations, the risk of these buildings overheating was found to be significant and, in the case of the office, air conditioning usage was projected to rise considerably.

Dr Jenkins said: “To combat the impact of climate change there needs to be a change in the way we design buildings. Unless we integrate adaptation into this process, we are likely to see an increase in the frequency of naturally ventilated buildings overheating and mechanically cooled, air conditioned, buildings using more energy, which in turn hinders our attempts to reduce carbon emissions.

“The industry needs to recognise and understand the issues of climate change and start planning to make adaptations not only in the workplace, but in our homes and other buildings. Academic research also needs to be more aware of how to integrate new ideas into existing building design, and be sensitive to the concerns of those practitioners putting these ideas into practice.

“Our research suggests that a range of simple measures from increased shading above windows to improved natural ventilation strategies can go a long way in making buildings more comfortable and better designed for the future.’’

The Low Carbon Future risk assessment tool can be applied to the simulation results of any building and plans are being made to extend its use.

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