Are energy efficiency and universal design incompatible? Potentially. Energy efficiency has an engineering approach and universal design has a sociological approach. This is what makes them incompatible according to researchers in Belgium. Energy efficiency is a measurable product whereas universal design is a process. So how can they both be addressed in home renovations? This was the topic of a conference paper in 2016.
Thinking has moved on and we now talk about sustainability from both perspectives and the importance of having both. However, this paper brings the concepts into the same conversation and highlights areas of potential conflict. The paper has some interesting and explanatory graphs and comparisons that are worth a look especially for academics and theorists.
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 is by Ermal Kapedani, Jasmien Herssens and Griet Verbeeck. Faculty of Architecture and Art, Hasselt University, Belgium.