Innovation and Research
Design, fuelled by scientific enquiry and delivered with creative imagination
We are interested in understanding how the world around us works and how we can most effectively harness the potential of our surroundings to create healthy environments that work with nature rather than against it. By undertaking research work as a core activity of our business we are able to continually develop our skills and expertise in order to provide state of the art thinking to our projects.
Our expert team is involved in a range of cutting edge research work which is applied directly to live projects. We are able to apply our Building Physics and Biology expertise to enhance our projects and deliver added value to our Clients.
Our research work often attracts significant funding for our Clients’ projects which allows additional time and energy to be spent on the projects giving added depth and understanding.
Over the years we have undertaken a range of research work including designing to meet future climate change, in-depth monitoring of our buildings in use and producing a number of technical publications on low energy buildings and Permaculture design.
The research work that we undertake is focused to compliment our ecological design approach to building and landscape design. Innovative materials and systems are often tested on our own properties for assessment in terms of application and performance before being specified in projects.
The research work to date has covered the following aspects of design and construction:
Low Energy Design – our research work centres around ensuring that we know how our buildings work in theory and in practice. Our passive design approach requires an integrated way of viewing the performance of a building from the building fabric through to the mechanical and electrical systems. We extensively use our thermal modelling expertise using IES (Integrated Environmental Systems) dynamic software and PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package) as standard tools to model our buildings. We also possess a range of energy monitoring equipment including: weather, temperature and humidity sensors, thermal imaging camera.
Future Climate Ready – we have undertaken three separate Design for Future Climate Change research projects on live developments for our Clients. The work has been funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) who is funded by the UK Government. This cutting edge research work has enabled us to design buildings that will continue to perform in a climate changing world into the future up to and beyond 2080. A range of strategies can be successfully incorporated in the initial design of any development that will ensure the building will not fail as the climate changes as predicted. Strategies can also be sequenced into a project for implementation in the future. We have found that as long as the design has considered future weather at the outset that many adaption strategies are cost neutral and in some instances have indicated new design direction and cost savings into the future. We now apply future climate ready thinking to all our projects – see Climate Ready information sheet.
Materials – we are interested in the use of healthy natural materials that are low in embodied energy and that come from both sustainable and ethical sources. Over the years we have conducted extensive practical application tests on a range of low environmental impact materials including: earth plasters and renders, natural insulations, natural paints, oils, waxes and stains, glazing systems amongst others. We designed the displays at Construction Resources, the first ecological Building Centre in the UK in London, where many of these materials were showcased to the public for the first time. See Construction Resources. We have also undertaken research into phase change materials and their application to moderate internal temperatures in buildings.
Construction – we have tried and tested a number of ecological construction systems ranging from heavy thermal mass construction using earth such as Cob and Rammed earth to lightweight Twin Frame construction. We have run a number of practical Cob construction courses in the Forest of Deane building two Cob structures with the course participants. The timber Twin Frame system was developed to create a super-insulated system for walls and roofs that could be manufactured off site with minimal thermal bridging details and air tight detailing. The system has been patented and has been used successfully on a number of building projects including schools and housing – for examples see Oak Meadow and Torrington Early Years Centre
Healthy Buildings – we believe that buildings should enhance the health and well being of occupants and at the same time be in harmony with the wider environment. We employ Building Biology principles to all our designs – see Building Biology. In order to support our Healthy Building design approach we undertake research work to further the knowledge of Building Biology. Healthy Buildings research includes: non toxic material assessment, reduction in EMR (Electromagnetic Radiation), thermal comfort, moisture permeable materials, high quality ventilation. We have testing equipment for a range of Healthy Building measures including; Volatile Organic Compounds (e.g. measures the presence of Formaldehyde), lead, radon, moisture, water quality and air quality.
Use of plants – working with plant species specialists we have investigated the use of plants inside and around our buildings in a variety of ways to aid healthy internal environments, reduce overheating via shading and evapotranspiration, absorbing harmful VOCs, water treatment systems and food production. The integration of biological and manmade systems enable people to be designed into and become part of the ecology of an area.
Low Water Use – low water use design has been a feature of our research work and implementation strategies for many years. We have investigated a variety of low water use appliances, grey water filtration and rain water collection systems. Research and implementation of aquaculture systems for water treatment, nutrient recycling and food production plays an important role in our work.
Renewable Energy – our research work in renewable energies focuses on the integration of renewable energy systems so that they can be simplified, are appropriate for use and are easily controlled by the end users. Research work includes; application of thermal stores with multiple inputs and outputs for commercial, educational and domestic use, solar thermal and solar PV, biomass including kachelofen, Bio-digesters, and hydro electrical power.
Some of our research projects undertaken include:
- Extra Care 4 Exeter – government funding achieved for a care home project to research future climate change adaptation – funded by The Technology Strategy Board (TSB). The research work focused on using future climate weather files for 2030, 2050 and 2080. We ran dynamic weather simulations at early design stages which helped us to re-evaluate how care homes can be designed so that they do not overheat in the summer in the future, as the climate changes.
- Building Performance Evaluation – funding achieved to monitor the performance of 5 Passivhaus Certified flats as part for The Technology Strategy Boards (TSB) Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) programme
- PassivOffice at Devonshire Gate – government funding achieved for a new office development project to research future climate change adaptation– funded by The Technology Strategy Board (TSB)
- Swim 4 Exeter - government funding achieved for a new swimming pool to research future climate change adaptation – funded by The Technology Strategy Board (TSB)
- The Carbon Trust / BRE - Good Practice Guides 293 External Wall Insulation for Dwellings, funded by the BRE
- Westminster City Council design guide for increasing the energy efficiency of buildings in conservation areas
- EST / BRE survey of well insulated housing refurbishment projects
- Rugby City Council - external wall insulation research for housing
- BRE sustainable refurbishment - key note speaker for series of BRE Sustainable building events
- Cob building and earthen architecture research work and training courses
- Permaculture Design courses and research work
We are pleased to collaborate in research work with other like-minded organisations, institutions and individuals such as Exeter University, Exeter City and Westminster City. Our research work also takes us abroad where we have been pleased to build up international connections with other research organizations and businesses including Passivhaus Institute Germany, The Institute of Building Biology + Ecology Neubeuern (IBN) Germany, and LNEG Laboratório Nacional de Energia e Geologia Portugal.
Our work is regularly disseminated in various ways including written papers, public presentations and publications. Some of our research work can be downloaded below.
If you are interested in our research work or would like us to undertake research with you or for your project please do not hesitate to contact us. Please also contact us if you are interested in attending one of our workshops or courses.