Energy and Low Income Tropical Housing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


This research programme is intended to identify, and then begin to propagate, methods of reducing the energy consumption of low-income housing in tropical countries. The topic of 'energy efficient', 'sustainable' or 'eco' housing has attracted huge interest in Europe and rich countries generally since about 1990. This has lead to new designs, materials, publications and regulations. However for tropical housing, whose energy usage is not dominated by winter heating, very little has been done to make them more energy-sustainable. Now however the consequences of its often-poor design are beginning to bite. Living standards and populations are rising yet resources like land, timber and fuels are shrinking. The cost of housing and of energy imports is therefore rising, infrastructure is over-stretched, deforestation continues, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise dangerously.

Starting with recent European experience, tropical vernacular architecture and building physics, many designs will be assessed, short-listed ones analysed in greater detail and a few selected for more detailed testing and dissemination/demonstration.

Energy is used in creating houses and again in occupying them. The programme is therefore divided into separate studies of how good design can reduce 'use' energy and reduce 'embodied' energy. Energy savings in turn generate cost savings (of particular interest to the poor) and greenhouse gas savings (of global benefit).

Included within the study of reducing use energy will be a specific examination of low-cost ways of improving (indoor) thermal comfort and combating occasional heat crises. Global warming and rapid urbanization are both likely to exacerbate overheating. One of the four tropical partners (Thailand) has a particularly severe humid-tropical climate. The programme will concentrate on how good building design can achieve 'passive' cooling or reduce the energy needed for 'active' cooling.

Within the study of embodied energy, the programme will identify scope for reducing the energy intensity of building materials by changes in their method of production. This is particularly needed in Africa, where two of the partners are located. So there the programme will conclude with piloting the training of artisanal manufacturers in less energy-intensive methods of producing building materials. Local builders will also be trained in better methods of their assembly and of being more sparing in their use of materials. Thus for example walling can be made less energy-intensive both by changes in architecture, by innovations in brick-making and by use of interlocking rather than cement to assemble them. The artisanal training has the objective of substantially reducing the cost and the embodied energy in low-cost housing. This in turn can improve access to housing and increase employment in building.

Three other channels for improving energy efficiency in housing will be explored, namely the updating of Building Codes which are sometimes applicable to cheap housing, the updating of architectural education and improving the 'sustainability' understanding of policy makers in the housing sector.

The project partnership comprises two institutions in moderately prosperous East Asian countries, two in much poorer East African countries and two in UK with long-term involvement in technologies for international development. Five institutions are universities, one is a building research agency. The active partners have skills in housing construction, architecture, town planning, engineering and policy formulation.

Planned Impact

The focus of this research is low-income housing in the (humid tropics) - a category of building that houses over 1 billion people in 3 continents, some of them very poor. Anything that lowers the cost or increases the security of supply of such dwellings makes a contribution to poverty alleviation. Reducing the energy required to construct or operate houses has, in the context of rising energy prices, a role in reducing costs. The research aims to identify and confirm premium ways of achieving such a reduction.

Improvements to the energy-efficiency of creating and then occupying low-income housing requires action be taken by (usually artisanal) builders, building material producers (often SMEs) and perhaps regulators. Knowledge of suitable techniques needs to be transmitted to architects and some other professionals, housing ministries, designers/suppliers of equipment to materials producers and ultimately to householders who commission builders or even self-build.

Within the time and financial constraints of any research programme, only a small number of innovations can be taken forward to thorough testing, refinement and then dissemination. The programme is designed to identify and test the most promising ones.

Dissemination is covered within the programme by four specific sub-programmes. These cover respectively the updating of professionals and policy-makers via workshops and networking, the education of architects, advice to existing regional programmes reviewing building regulations and the piloting of training SME artisans (builders and material suppliers). Through these channels the project findings can increase their scale of benefit. One planned output - an analysis of the changing need for indoor space cooling and of the feasibility of providing it by cheap low-energy means - is mainly of long-term significance, and is therefore best delivered by publications. A web site of findings will be maintained beyond the end of the project. All partners plan to publish their findings.

The principal immediate beneficiaries of a successful research and dissemination are householders. However, and as listed in the 'Pathways to Impact' attachment, there are employment benefits all along the housing supply chain from brick-maker to built-environment consultant, national benefits from reduced fuel imports and global benefits from reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from this large, growing and (otherwise) increasingly energy-intensive economic sector.
Description There is scope for significantly reducing embodied energy in African housing via use of:
- mortarless masonry
- compressed stabilised soil
- crenellated wall plans to compensate for high slenderness ratios
- 2-storey construction employing waffle flooring

In urban SE Asia (following European experience) there is scope for
- reducing usage of steel, concrete & other high-energy materials,
- minimising carbon/energy embodied in 'site works',
- optimising building heights (esp in urban China).
Recently-abandoned vernacular dwelling designs offer pointers to some materials savings.

For SE Asian housing, because of air-conditioning soon becoming a norm, operational energy is dominant over embodied energy. Low-carbon-footprint cooling requires
- reducing solar gain by shading/reflection/insulation and reducing glazing
- substitution of district cooling for dwelling cooling and related measures to reduce urban heat-island effects
- maximising natural ventilation and use of mechl ventilation
- introduction of building-energy labelling (initially voluntary)
- rooftop & courtyard vegetation (+ rooftop PV capacity)

In E Africa, operational energy is dominated by cooking and is little influenced by building design. However maintaining cooking etc as 'outdoor' activities can reduce requirement for indoor floor area. For middle-class urban housing with access to mains activity (i.e. outside the scope of this programme) electrical usage is rising but AC is still uncommon.
Exploitation Route Further interaction with city-planning authorities & developers (China), National Housing Agencies (Thailand & Tanzania)
Sectors Construction

Description Nat Housing strategy influenced in Tanzania & Thailand. Architectural practice (for 'sustainability') influenced in Uganda. Town-planning strategies influenced in China.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Construction
Impact Types Economic

Policy & public services

Title Datasets on building materials 
Description Data on experimentation with walling techniques in Uganda and Tanzania over 6 years. See docs W60/1 to /8 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Title Housing and energy surveys 
Description Housing surveys - mainly concerned with operational energy - in China, Thailand and Uganda. Data and questionnaires. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Generally influencing housing policy and design, esp in e Asia 
Description KMUTT - Energy & Low-income Tropical Housing 
Organisation King Mongkut University of Technology Thonburi
Country Thailand 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Management of ELITH programme. Guidance re European experience with energy labelling of buildings. Cooling studies.
Collaborator Contribution Research into cooling of buildings (AC systems, reducing solar gain, natural lighting). Development of voluntary building-energy labelling process for Thailand. Liaison with National Housing Corporation re sustainable-dwellings design..
Impact ELITH session of biannual Thai Conference on Energy & Environment in 2014. ELITH Dissemination Workshop due Bangkok March 2016. Disciplines - engineering, architecture, housing policy
Start Year 2013
Description (Concluding) Presentation workshop re ELITH findings relevant to East Africa held in Kampala, April 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentations by Ugandan, UK and Chinese ELITH partners (Tanzanian partners, although scheduled, were unable to attend & present for Tanzanian govt reasons). Attendance was particularly by architects (& national architecture association officers), by NGOs active in housing and by commercial companies involved with building materials. 15 papers available from web site below.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description ....../ELITH Large web site created 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Web site (address below) has URL below.
Main sections are: About/Partners/Activities; Embodied Energy; Operational Energy; Urban-scale Energy; Processes and Policy; Gallery; Publications (Selected pubs, all pubs, data sets, proceedings, Project video
Over 1000 papers/reports listed and mostly also mounted on site.
(Access to this site were initially (Jan 2017) impeded by search engines sending enquirers to a draft site (since closed) at Cambridge University)
Site visit counter is being installed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description 1-week course in sustainable building delivered in Dar es Salaam and then in Kampala 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Training of African partners and others (construction & housing professionals) in sustainable architecture and building-energy analysis. Specialist (Prof Sandy Halliday of Gaia consultants, Edinburgh etc) recruited to develop missing skills of African partners and promote the concept of sustainability (low carbon/energy footprint) in house construction. Lectures. Site visits. Tutorials.
URLs of course:;
NB these were entered under URL below but rejected
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Conference organised with Thai partner in Bangkok: Sustainable Energy & Environment ('SEE 2014') including 10 ELITH papers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Biannual 3-day conference organised by Thai partner (KMUTT) was given a stream for presentation of ELITH findings. 8 papers predented by KMUTT, 1 by Warwick+UNNC (China), 1 by Warwick+Cambridge
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Development of Architectural education in E Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Consultations and visits to establish (a) the need for a more 'sustainability-focussed' architecture syllabus in E Africa and (b) the content of such syllabus. Architects were visited and surveyed, existing courses in E Africa were analysed. Proposals discussed with Architecture associations and with UN Habitat Nairobi. Some training given by UK and Chinese architects/town planners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
Description Workshop to present ELITH contract findings, Bangkok, March 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two days of presentations of contract findings by members of 3 partners of ELITH consortium (Thai, China, UK). 5 of the papers published at URL below. One junior govt minister and chair of Thai Housing Corporation attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016