Project Details


The housing sector is responsible for around 20% of the country's total carbon emissions and with 80% of the homes that will be occupied in 2050 already built, retrofitting the country's existing housing stock to improve energy efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions, is critical to achieving the UK's net-zero targets. Retrofitting existing houses is an infrastructure priority for the UK Government; it is also a significant design challenge. Changes in housing fabric are essential to ensure that new low carbon heating and cooling solutions work effectively. Poorly executed retrofit measures can lead to unintended negative consequences, including increased problems with damp and mould, and reduced indoor air quality (affecting human health). Poor design can also cause damage to building fabric and cultural heritage. Current retrofitting approaches also rely heavily on synthetic and non-renewable materials, such as plastics and foam insulation, which can have negative environmental impacts. In some cases, the embodied carbon emissions of retrofitting measures can even exceed the carbon savings from reduced energy use.

Using bio-based and non-extractive materials in retrofitting offer promising alternatives, but currently occupy a small market share. Bio-based materials are derived from renewable resources, such as crops, mycelium, cork and wood, and have the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact. Non-extractive materials are derived from a supply chain based on circular reuse and recycling of waste. Plant based materials, including timber, absorb atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis, forming a 'biogenic carbon store'. As well as environmental benefits, bio-based products and systems offer energy efficient, healthy, and sustainable improvements to existing homes. However, despite their comparatively lower embodied carbon, the use of bio-based materials, compared to a number of other European countries, remains under-utilised in the UK.

Our project, the Transforming Housing and Homes for Future Generations Green Transition Ecosystem (GTE), will lead innovation through co-design, in a regional partnership between the GW4 universities (Bath, Cardiff, Bristol, and Exeter) and businesses, local authorities, and council-built estates and community groups. We will work with householders, community groups, local authorities, social landlords, the construction industry, and other key stakeholders, to co-create a green transformation. Centred on a process of design research, through transdisciplinary working, cross-sectoral and community participation, we will design, test, implement and monitor innovative prototype solutions to improve the quality of energy inefficient low-rise council-built housing. We will also seek to create a legacy of positive behaviour change, supporting job creation, local and regional supply chains, and strengthen local delivery capacities. We will create design proposals for Beyond Net Zero liveable homes through remodelling housing built by councils between 1920-1940, which account for approximately 1.1 million of the homes still in use in the UK today.

We will work with two communities in Bristol and Swansea to develop and demonstrate possible solutions. Our design led process will include co-design, digital modelling, prototyping, and testing of alternative options. Our solutions will create delight through improving spatial quality, well-being, affordability and ease of construction. Our design research will also promote the transition to living well through co-design methodologies enabling positive behaviour change including attitudes towards natural materials and sustainable living, fostering diversity, and supporting green transition goals. Through educational and wider community engagement, in partnership with our communities and the Future Observatory, we will also further retrofitting design skills.
Effective start/end date1/10/2330/09/25

Collaborative partners

  • University of Bath (lead)
  • Alliance for Sustainable Building Products
  • Cardiff University
  • Mikhail Riches
  • Sevenoaks Modular Ltd
  • Swansea Council
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Exeter
  • We Can Make
  • Wood Knowledge Wales


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council


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