Building Monitoring and Preservation: Impacting Homebuilders and Households
Submitting InstitutionPlymouth University
Unit of AssessmentArchitecture, Built Environment and Planning
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Engineering: Civil Engineering
Built Environment and Design: Building, Other Built Environment and Design
Summary of the impact
This study presents the impact of research by Plymouth's Environmental
Building Group (EBG) and Centre for Earthen Architecture (CEA) on industry
and regulatory bodies. These interconnected groups research the
manufacture, construction, preservation and performance (thermal, hygral
and acoustic) of new and old buildings of diverse construction, including
earth, straw-bale and hemp-lime. EBG/CEA research has impacted the energy
consumption of 690+ homeowners (21st Century Living; DECC/Eden) and
contributed to national standards for construction and conservation
(BRE/DEBA/English Heritage). Industry partnerships/projects include: Zero
Carbon House, Kevin McCabe Ltd; Carfrae Sustainable Design; Hukseflux;
Cornish Lime Company.
In 1992, following a 60-year decline in earth-building and loss of
skills/buildings, Plymouth University established the CEA. This initiated
research into the performance of earth (particularly cob) as a building
material in the light of new Building Regulations/certification. CEA field
and laboratory research is supported by and contributes to the work and
guidance of key organisations: DEBA (Devon Earth Builders Association),
English Heritage, CRATerre (International Organisation for Earth
Buildings), DHBT (Devon Historic Building Trust), BRE (Building Research
Establishment) and ICOMOS-ISCEAH (International Scientific Committee on
Earthen Architectural History). Initial work investigated cob's
composition, structural performance, failure, repair and maintenance.
Presently, key researchers (Watson, Mackie, Brocklebank, Bradbury), work
in a broader context, with heat, moisture, legislation, sustainability and
culture, exemplified in the ongoing international Cordiale project on
managing landscape change producing a series of online tools influencing
the building related choices that construction professionals and occupants
The EBG was established by the CEA to focus on the wider field of
sustainable construction (degrees from 1995, accreditation in 1996).
Today, the EBG complements the CEA by looking at environmental issues in
the building industry. Initially researchers such as Goodhew and
Pilkington, focussed on earth walls to establish a methodology that can be
used to measure the in situ thermal properties of mass building materials.
This has expanded to a spectrum of (predominantly natural) materials, such
as straw bale and hemp-lime, as well as hygral and acoustic performance
establishing a series of numerical values that characterise the moisture
and sound insulation performance of natural materials.
A key line of research uses thermography to assess the thermal
performance of buildings in situ, (The Telegraph, March 2006). Based on
findings that characterised the relationship between viewing thermal
images and occupant behaviour, the work has impacted the domestic energy
consumption of 690+ homeowners: 61 homes were assessed in the 21st Century
Living project with Homebase and the Eden Project, while `Cornwall
Together' with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has
added 620. EBG thermography expertise benefits industry/academia further
through a presence on the International Standard Organisation's ISO 9869-1
TC 163 on thermal performance/energy use in buildings.
EBG has also developed thermal probes for measuring materials in situ.
Working with Dutch instrument manufacturer, Hukseflux sophisticated
prototypes are being tested through a programme of measurements in real
buildings [1, 2, 3]. Further work has developed moisture probes,
specifically designed for monitoring the conditions in straw bale walls.
Again, these have been tested in live building environments establishing
the technique as a valid approach to inter-wall moisture monitoring for
contractors and building owners alike. Research has supported the Zero
Carbon House design, Kevin McCabe Ltd, and Carfrae Sustainable Design has
been launched by EBG staff for best practice sustainable construction .
Finally, since 2008 a project on internal insulating renders has
investigated the combined effects of heat and moisture transfer,
specifically in the context of renovation of the existing building stock
in the Southwest. This research has led to Cornish Lime changing the
composition of its products.
References to the research
All are in field-leading, archived, peer-reviewed, international academic
journals with Impact Factor.
1. Carfrae, J.; de Wilde, P.; Goodhew, S.; Walker, P.*; and Littlewood,
J.* (2010). A cost effective probe for the long term monitoring of straw
bale buildings. Building and Environment, 46 (01), 156-164.
International, peer-reviewed journal, ISI Impact Factor 2.400.
2. Goodhew, S. and Griffiths, R. (2005). Sustainable earth walls to meet
the building regulations. Energy and Buildings. Vol. 37 (5) pp. 451-459.
International, peer-reviewed journal, ISI Impact Factor 2.386.
3. de Wilde, P.; Griffiths, R. and Goodhew, S. (2008). Validation of data
analysis routines for a thermal probe apparatus using numerical data sets.
Building Simulation. An International Journal. vol 1 (1) , pp.
36-46. International, peer-reviewed journal, ISI Impact Factor 0.815.
4. Keefe, L.; Watson, L.; and Griffiths, R. (2001). A proposed diagnostic
survey procedure for cob walls. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil
Engineers Structures & Buildings, 146 (1) pp. 57-65. ISI Impact Factor
5. Pilkington, B.; Griffiths, R.; Goodhew, S.; de Wilde, P. (2010). In
situ thermal conductivity measurements of building materials with a
thermal probe, ASTM Journal of Testing and Evaluation, v.38 (3).
International, multi-disciplinary journal for applied science and
engineering, ISI Impact Factor 0.349
6. Pilkington, B.; Griffiths, R.; Goodhew, S.; de Wilde, P. (2008).
Thermal probe technology for buildings: the transition from laboratory to
field measurements. ASCE Journal of Architectural Engineering, v14
(4) pp.111-118. International, peer-reviewed journal for civil
engineering, ISI Impact Factor 0.183
* All authors are/were Plymouth University staff except:
Professor Peter Walker, University of Bath
Dr John Littlewood, Cardiff School of Art & Design (WIRAD)
Details of the impact
Building preservation and monitoring research by the CEA and EBG is
having significant impact on professional bodies, charities, individual
homeowners and industry.
Work at Plymouth has helped instil confidence in cob as an exemplary,
sustainable form of construction and has allowed the material to reach a
wider audience, impacting industry and homeowners in the Southwest.
Plymouth is known nationally for the CEA and Plymouth's research on earth
building, presented at various national and international conferences, is
cited in guidance documents, making a strong contribution to the standards
produced by bodies such as the BRE  and DEBA . Additionally, Prof.
Goodhew of the EBG is a member of the International Standard
Organisation's ISO 9869-1 TC 163 (a working group which feeds into the
main ISO panel on Thermal performance and energy use in the built
environment) impacting international thermography standards that detail
what is required to ensure materials/products/processes/services are safe
and fit for purpose and which are used by both industry and academia. Due
to Plymouth's membership on the panel there is now a Part 3 to the
ISO/DIS9869-3 detailing the use of thermal probes . Researchers from
Plymouth helped start up a thermographic thread focused upon methodologies
to improve build quality before practical completion stage at Ecological
Built Environment Research and Enterprise (EBERE) at the Wales Institute
for Research in Arts and Design (WIRAD) .
Whilst the work with industry detailed below inevitably impacts
homeowners, this can be measured directly in two projects with the Eden
Project, a Cornish charity/social enterprise::
More than 690 households have been impacted by thermography research in
relation to their domestic energy consumption. Thermography research at
Plymouth has had national coverage, with key images by Goodhew supplied to
the Telegraph often showing up in the context of thermography of
buildings . This work led to collaborations with a number of social
housing groups, e.g. Sovereign Homes, and the community-facing, 21st
Century Living Project, a collaboration with the EBG, Homebase, EST, and
the Eden Project. This initiative influenced the lives of 61 households in
England using thermography as a tool to change their behaviour in relation
to domestic energy use . Work under the `Cornwall Together' scheme led
by the Eden Project and supported by the DECC (January-March 2013) has
provided 200 further homeowners with custom thermography of their own
homes, which is being contrasted to control groups that were given general
thermographic images (sample size 200 households) or generic advice
(sample size again 200 households). Comprehensive walkthrough thermography
was conducted for 20 homes, yielding a total of 620 households impacted
The research has also had a demonstrable impact on industry in the
Staff supported and enabled the design of a Zero Carbon House, Keppel
Gate, Ottery St. Mary (builder: Kevin McCabe Ltd.) through soil testing by
Clark and thermal monitoring by Goodhew, and the company confirms that the
research `has had a significant impact on the work of Kevin McCabe Ltd ,
allowing us to expand and improve the services we offer' .
A company, Carfrae Sustainable Design (http://www.carfrae.com),
has been set up using EBG research as a basis for best practice: the
development and refinement of a low-cost monitoring system used to
indicate the moisture content of the interior of walls made from
non-food-crop materials has enabled Carfrae's clients (householders) to be
sure of the condition of one of the largest financial investments that
they will make. This monitoring system has been applied in 10
domestic-scale mixed use buildings.
Hukseflux, a Dutch instrument manufacturer, is using Plymouth research to
change and improve the design of its latest series of specialist thermal
probes for measurement of the thermal properties of buildings and building
elements. The research 'form[s] a significant part of Hukseflux's
progress, in terms of developing the company's existing products,
knowledge and understanding for new markets'. Currently, new innovative
'guarded' probes are undergoing testing at Plymouth within the
dissertation research of Rolf Engels (2012-2013), with initial results
being encouraging. And in the category of emerging impact, if proved
accurate, these will be made available globally by Hukseflux .
Cornish Lime, a local SME that supplies mortar, lime putty and related
products, has developed a new understanding of ` the difficult problem of
moisture transport...and the moisture and heat transfer effects of various
matrixes in the mix' and has changed the matrix of its Hempsulate product
for internal application on the basis of research carried out in
collaboration with Plymouth researchers, improving the product's
performance and thereby benefitting `the company, practitioners and
Sources to corroborate the impact
- BRE, 2008: Earth Masonry: Design & Construction Guidelines.
The BRE (Building Research Establishment) document was produced with the
support of the former Dept. of Trade and Industry and provides
guidelines for building inspectors to facilitate the use of earth
masonry in contemporary construction, focusing on new-build
applications. EBG research on 'The Thermal Characteristics of building
materials' is used and acknowledged.
- DEBA: "Cob Dwellings: Compliance with the Building Regulations 2000.
The 2008 Devon Model". Available at:
The DEBA (Devon Earth Buildings Association) document offers practical
guidance on how traditional cob can satisfy current Building Regulation
requirements with respect to low-rise residential properties. It makes
extensive use of EBG thermography
- Report of ISO/TC 163/SC 1/WG 16 "In-situ measurement of thermal
resistance and thermal transmittance of opaque building elements" to
ISO/TC 163/SC 1 for its meeting on 2013-09-12 in Stockholm, Sweden.
The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has now added a part 3 to
this particular standard. This addition had been made due to EBG's
research into probes and Prof. Goodhew's membership of the committee.
- Taylor, T.; Littlewood, J.; Goodhew, S.; Geens, A.; Counsell, J.;
Hooper, J.; Blanch, T.; and Sharp, D. In -construction testing of the
thermal performance of dwellings using thermography. In: Third
International Conference on Sustainability in Energy and Buildings 2011
(SEB'11), Marseille, France, 1-3 June 2011.
Daily Telegraph (25 Mar 2006) Red alert. Available at:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3348650/Red-alert.html (Accessed 10 January 2013).
An article about using thermal imaging to see energy loss in houses
including EBG images and an interview with Prof. Goodhew.
- 21st Century Living Project. Weblink: http://www.edenproject.com/whats-it-all-about/climate-and-environment/climate-revolution/21st-century-living-project
Summary and final report of the 21st Century Living Project.
- `Cornwall Together' project, funded through DECC. Overall £750k, UoP
£65k. Jan 2013-Apr 2013.
The final project report outlines the findings of the thermal imaging
research project `Cornwall Together', jointly undertaken by Plymouth
University and the Eden Project, which tested thermal imaging as a
motivational tool to engage householders and motivate behaviour change
- Letter of reference corroborating impact/new buildings: Owner and
Director, Kevin McCabe Ltd.
The letter confirms that EBG research has `had a significant impact on
the work of Kevin McCabe Ltd , allowing us to expand and improve the
services we offer'.
- Letter corroborating impact Owner and Director, Hukseflux.
The letter confirms that the research continues to form a significant
part of Hukseflux's progress, in terms of developing the company's
existing products, knowledge and understanding for new markets.
- Letter corroborating impact Managing Director of Cornish Lime Company
The letter confirms that work with the EBG has helped the company
understand the difficult problem of moisture transport when using
internally insulating plasters with resultant changes in the company's