UCL – Fully Funded PhD Studentship – Reducing Energy Consumption and Addressing Thermal Discomfort in Historic Buildings


  • Title: Reducing energy consumption and the unintended consequences of energy efficient intervention in historic buildings: understanding, assessing and addressing thermal discomfort
  • Supervisors: Dr Hector Altamirano, UCL; Dr Robyn Pender, Historic England
  • Stipend: £17,009 plus fees of £5,210 (2019-20) plus travel and laboratory activity funds
  • Start: Autumn 2019
  • Duration: 3.5 years
  • Funding: EPSRC; Historic England
  • Eligibility: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/eligibility/


Historic buildings are often perceived as energy-hungry. The opposite is arguably the case. Until the Industrial Revolution, energy was expensive and difficult to exploit. Acceptable indoor air conditions were delivered with little or no input from “building services” such as heating. Instead, walls and floors provided thermal buffering from exterior conditions; barriers like timber panelling prevented them drawing out occupant body heat.

These and other comfort and energy-saving features – and their underpinning knowledge – were largely lost as centralised energy encouraged development of building services like space heating and cooling. Thermometers completed a shift away from users’ understanding of complex sources of discomfort towards an air temperature emphasis.

Current built environment energy- and carbon-saving measures centre on air temperature, cutting the loss of conditioned air by reducing ventilation and increasing insulation. These retrofits can have serious negative impacts on traditional “greatcoat” buildings, which depend on different materials and systems to control moisture than modern “raincoat” construction. Maladaptation can lead to building fabric failure, increased energy use, and comfort and health issues.

Air temperature is easy to measure, but comfort and discomfort are subtle. This project aims to broaden understanding of causes of thermal discomfort, investigate innovative ways of assessing it, and quantify traditional approaches to remediation’s benefits.


  • summarise unintended consequences of current thermal-comfort criteria
  • identify influential thermal discomfort factors in historic buildings
  • develop innovative methodologies for quantifying building-user discomfort
  • quantify benefits of methodologies for energy and carbon reduction in historic buildings, including avoidance of unintended consequences for the building fabric.


1: Parameters including air movement, relative humidity, ambient humidity, conductive and radiant body heat loss, and user activity play a more important role in thermal comfort and discomfort than air temperature.

2: Traditional ways of managing thermal discomfort can reduce pressure on air heating and cooling systems, allowing reductions in energy use without negative impacts on building usability or building fabric.

3: Robust ways of assessing and handling real causes of thermal discomfort could achieve important reductions in consumption of energy and carbon in buildings.

Person specification

Applicants should have:

  • undergraduate degree (minimum 2:1) in a relevant discipline (engineering, physics, material science, architecture, conservation, heritage science)
  • demonstrable interest in the history of construction.
  • ability to use initiative, prioritise and manage complex research.
  • excellent communication skills (oral and written).
  • excellent attention to detail in working methods.

Would suit a candidate with a multidisciplinary background. Experience working with energy and buildings would be extremely helpful.

Application Procedure

Email pre-application to Athina Benia (bseer-phd-admin@ucl.ac.uk) with subject “EPSRC – Historic England”. Do not use UCL online admissions system. Including:

  • Covering letter, stating motivation and eligibility: www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/eligibility/ 
  • CV
  • Names and addresses of two academic referees
  • Copy of degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s),   
  • Research proposal (max. 2000 words), considering the research questions.

Email informal enquiries to Dr Hector Altamirano (h.altamirano-medina@ucl.ac.uk).

Deadline: 09.00 (BST) 22nd July 2019