CASE STUDY: Life in an Active Home: research provides insights, with implications for other low carbon developments

A red-brick new-build home with a white sign and a green launch in front of it.Active Homes use a combination of innovative technologies to conserve, generate, store and release their own energy.

These and other low carbon homes hold many potential benefits at both household and societal scales.

However, resident satisfaction will be key to wider adoption. Unless people can live well within these homes, the opportunities may be lost.

This research highlighted how developers’ expectations of Active Home residents can influence design decisions. This, in turn, can influence residents’ experience in their homes.


About the research

The Living Well in Low Carbon Homes research team from Cardiff University took an original approach to understanding the views and experiences of Active Home residents.

They spoke to residents on multiple occasions: before they had moved in, a few months after, and after 12 months of living in their homes. This included seasonal variations in domestic life and energy use.

They also spoke with key stakeholders including architects, registered social landlords and property developers.

The research involved focus group discussions with existing local residents, business owners and community groups in the vicinity of a planned mixed use Active Home development (which would include public, business and retail space).


Stakeholder views

The stakeholders had mixed views about how residents were expected to live in their homes.

This influenced their views about how much information should be given to residents about the operation of their Active Homes and low carbon technologies.

A common theme amongst the stakeholders was that resident engagement with technology should be minimised.

Reasons for this included:

  • * experts being able to manage the technology most efficiently
  • * making things easier for residents by not burdening them with complex technology
  • * residents being uninterested or unable to understand the technology


Residents’ views

In post-occupancy interviews residents expressed a desire for more information about how their homes operated.

They showed a willingness to use this information to try and adapt their energy use to use resources most efficiently.

This appears to contradict some stakeholders’ perception of residents as uninterested or disengaged.

By talking with Active Home residents over time, the research revealed how learning how to live in an Active Home is a process.

In sites where residents had ongoing contact with developers, they said that they valued the ability to ask questions about their homes and technologies and seek advice.

Crucially, some developers recognised that learning to live in an Active Home was a process, highlighting a role for them in ongoing engagement and information sharing with residents.

The research also indicated a role for developers in providing residents with information beyond the operation of individual appliances or technologies, to provide a holistic picture of Active Home living.


The local communities

The focus group element of the research was conducted before completion of the mixed-use Active Home development.

It helped to identify information that it would be useful to communicate to potential residents and the wider public.

These research insights have had a role in informing future developments.

Active Home stakeholders have been positive about the value of the social science research input from the Living Well in Low Carbon Homes research team, describing it as positive, timely, extraordinarily helpful and insightful.


Find out more


Project report:  Living Well in Low Carbon Homes project report.


Research papers:


The Cardiff University project team members were:


The research was part of the Active Building Centre Research Programme, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.