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Low Energy Housing Innovations and the role of Intermediaries (LEHII)

How have innovations in whole house retrofits and zero carbon new build houses developed in the UK? What role do intermediaries play in facilitating and governing transitions to low energy housing?

Housing and buildings theme icon
Start date: 1 May, 2015 - End date: 1 January, 2018


The building industry and the built environment are one of the largest contributors to energy and materials use worldwide and buildings throughout their lifecycle account for circa 40% of the total energy use in Europe and the UK. As both building stock renewal and renovation rates are very slow, the sector has been argued to need rapid system level innovation. The research project focuses on building and housing sector innovation in the UK that also delivers increased energy demand reduction potential. It pays particular attention to systemic innovation by focusing on whole house retrofits and zero carbon new built houses. System-level innovations in residential buildings comprise groups of interrelated technologies (e.g. thermal insulation, low energy windows, minimal air leakage, heat recovery, heat pumps, passive solar etc.) and interconnecting services, such as a combination of a new technology and maintenance offered to consumers and/or consumer oriented services. The projects takes a sociotechnical approach to innovation processes and pays particular attention to drivers and barriers, and the impact of intermediary actors in the overall transition.


(1) to generate deeper knowledge on innovation-based change processes and their drivers and barriers from a sociotechnical perspective and (2) to pay particular attention to the influence of intermediating actors and policy changes in these processes. In addition, the project aims (3) to provide policy-relevant knowledge on how to promote sustainable transition in the housing and building sector.

Research questions

  1. How have low energy housing niches developed in the UK? What is their current status (emergent, early stage diffusion, diffusion)? What key drivers and barriers exist and how is the development of these niches conditioned by the surrounding political, institutional and industrial regime(s) and landscape?
  2. What is the impact of intermediaries in low energy housing transitions at niche and regime levels? What drivers, barriers and other conditioning factors do the intermediaries influence, when and how? What is the role of intermediation in the establishment and governance of low energy housing transitions?
  3. What actions could be taken to establish stronger intermediary organisations/networks and to improve their performance?


The project uses qualitative method and data triangulation to deliver insights into the transition towards low energy housing. It combines systematic literature review, documents analysis and interviews with more specific case studies of innovative examples of zero carbon new build and whole house retrofits.

Case studies

Retrofit cases:

Southampton Street

The Nook

Wichelo Place

New build cases:

Grantham Road

Hartington Road

One Brighton

Project publications