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The PROMETHEUS approach covers a range of common weather variables.

New buildings will be safer in the heat thanks to climate change study

New buildings should be safer in hot weather, thanks to research led by the University of Exeter.

By predicting the future weather conditions in 35 locations across the UK, the research could influence building design to keep people cooler at home, work or school.

A team from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Energy and the Environment led the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded PROMETHEUS project, which aims to help designers create new buildings that are suited to the changing local climate.

The project was inspired by the need to end the flawed practice of modelling buildings using historic weather data, which could render new schools, hospitals and care homes unfit for purpose within 40 years. The current standard test reference year and design summer year are calculated only using data up to 2004 for 14 locations and fail to offer an accurate representation of even the current UK climate.

The project has now been cited in the Government report Low Carbon Construction Plan – Government response to the Low Carbon Construction Innovation & Growth Team. The team believes this will help persuade the building industry and its regulators of the need to respond to the challenges presented by climate change.

Dr David Coley, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Energy and the Environment led the report. He said: “Estimates of overheating and energy use in buildings will be dramatically wrong if buildings continue to be modelled using weather data that ignores climate change.

Dr Tristan Kershaw, Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Energy and the Environment added: “One of the contributing factors to the 35,000 deaths across Europe in the heat wave of 2003 was the inability of buildings to moderate the hot weather. Given that the risk of these extreme temperatures is set to increase, we must design buildings that keep people safe.”

The team devised a methodology for creating probabilistic future weather files that are compatible with the majority of building thermal modelling software. Using these files, the impact of different levels of climate change on the built environment and building occupants was investigated. The files are now being distributed by leading building simulation software company Integrated Environmental Solutions.

The team applied data on predicted future climate change to a thermal model of a school and examined 252 building design and weather scenario combinations. They discovered a direct link between rises in external temperatures due to climate change and increases in internal temperatures of buildings.

They developed a set of techniques to predict the response of any building design to any reasonable amount of climate change. The building industry and its regulators can follow this process to measure the resilience to climate change of a particular design and to set minimum performance standards within building regulations.

Dr Matt Eames, Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Energy and the Environment said: “We can’t expect to get away with average temperature rises of two degrees. We should plan for four degrees, which means that maximum temperatures just 40 years from now could be in excess of anything we have experienced. It is vital that issues of adaptation become more prominent in the consciousness of the building industry when thinking about climate change, alongside the ongoing importance of mitigation.”

The PROMETHEUS approach covers a range of common weather variables, such as mean temperatures and wind speed, and carbon emissions scenarios on hourly time steps for the years 2030, 2050 and 2080. PROMETHEUS has guided the design of the UK’s first zero-carbon school, Montgomery Primary School in Devon and the refurbishment of a 1960s office building for Cornwall Council and tested the methodology of several other buildings.

PROMETHEUS is a partnership involving Jacobs Engineering UK, the Met Office, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, Building Research Establishment, Department for Children, Schools and Families and Integrated Environmental Solutions.

Date: 4 October 2011

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