This is the message from Dr Kathryn Janda from the UK Energy Research Centre, writing in the Architectural Science Review.

Dr Janda has examined US studies on energy use in zero-energy homes. While overall, energy use is lower than in ‘normal’ homes, both communities have high consumers as well as low-energy users.

While measures can be taken in design and construction to lessen energy use, what will have an impact is making people aware of their usage.

Studies show that people cut back their energy use when given feedback, either by using real-time meters or by being given indirect information in the form of, for example, itemised bills.

While sustainability is integrated into many new buildings, few people outside architecture and engineering professions understand how buildings work.

The research suggests that the design of school buildings in particular could be used to enhance and expand areas of the curriculum – for example solar-operated shading devices could be used in maths, physics and science teaching.

Dr Janda said: “In the face of climate change, purely architectural solutions are necessary, but by themselves, not sufficient.

“The UK government has declared that new homes must be zero-carbon by 2016. Experience with ‘zero energy’ homes shows us that designers cannot do this alone. They will need to work with users to deliver comprehensive energy reductions.

“Preparing the public for this interactive role is a job in itself – and one that architects are well placed to deliver.”

Dr Janda appeals for the government to support research and teaching in this area to educate the public about sustainability and energy use in buildings.

Alison Brown

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