This article argues that energy efficiency and universal design in housing are largely incompatible because the former has an engineering approach whereas the latter has a sociological approach. The authors view energy efficiency as a product (a noun) and universal design as a process (a verb) and infer that this is a problem because one has measurable outcomes (energy efficiency) and the other has not (universal design). The article is useful inasmuch as it puts energy efficiency and universal design into the same sentence. The article has some interesting and explanatory graphs and comparisons that are worth a look.
Abstract: Policy and societal objectives indicate a large need for housing renovations that both accommodate lifelong living and significantly increase energy efficiency. However, these two areas of research are not yet examined in conjunction and this paper hypothesizes this as a missed opportunity to create better renovation concepts. The paper outlines a comparative review on research in Energy Efficiency and Universal Design in order to find the similarities and differences in both depth and breadth of knowledge. Scientific literature in the two fields reveals a disparate depth of knowledge in areas of theory, research approach, and degree of implementation in society. Universal Design and Energy Efficiency are part of a trajectory of expanding scope towards greater sustainability and, although social urgency has been a driver of the research intensity and approach in both fields, in energy efficiency there is an engineering, problem solving approach while Universal Design has a more sociological, user-focused one. These different approaches are reflected in the way home owners in Energy Efficiency research are viewed as consumers and decision makers whose drivers are studied, while Universal Design treats home owners as informants in the design process and studies their needs. There is an inherent difficulty in directly merging Universal Design and Energy Efficiency at a conceptual level because Energy Efficiency is understood as a set of measures, i.e. a product, while Universal Design is part of a (design) process. The conceptual difference is apparent in their implementation as well. Internationally energy efficiency in housing has been largely imposed through legislation, while legislation directly mandating Universal Design is either non-existent or it has an explicit focus on accessibility. However, Energy Efficiency and Universal Design can be complementary concepts and, even though it is more complex than expected, the combination offers possibilities to advance knowledge in both fields.
Article by Ermal Kapedani, Jasmien Herssens and Griet Verbeeck. Faculty of Architecture and Art, Hasselt University, Belgium.