Future Weather Files have been recommended for use by construction companies across the UK and are being implemented into the newest industry standards. But how have they been used and what impact have they really had?
According to the MET Office, April 2020 was the sunniest April on record since 1929 with warm and dry weather above average.
Many Britons were not expecting such a sudden change in weather (and many complained that the start of sunny weather seemed to coincide almost exactly with the start of lockdown!). That was however quite predictable. For years now we have all been witnessing a surge in extreme weather events all over the globe from heatwaves to forest fires and extended droughts, which many scientists see as a consequence of climate change.
Is it hot in here?
Weather, and especially temperature, is a key element to consider when planning a building. Until a few years ago the weather models used as industry standard in the UK were incomplete and did not take into account rapid changes in temperature or other extreme weather events. It should come as no surprise, then, that according to the UK Government Environmental Audit Committee, “at current temperatures, one in five of the UK’s homes overheats”.
Overheating in a building presents a variety of risks to the health and well-being of its occupants, particularly the most vulnerable groups - the elderly, children, and those with underlying health conditions. Additionally, links have been established between poor indoor air quality and lower workplace productivity. (not an excuse anymore now that most of us are working from home, unfortunately).
A breath of fresh air
In 2016, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, (CIBSE) published the revised Future Weather Files developed by Dr. Matt Eames, Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Exeter. Dr. Eames specializes in applying models to solve interdisciplinary challenges surrounding sustainability and impact of climate change on buildings. He worked on a new data selection method that ensured consistency across all locations and an updated baseline to account for recent changes in the climate. He also reworked the definition of extreme weather events, and introduced three new metrics to take into account the effect of thermal comfort in buildings.
Based on this work, he then created probabilistic Future Weather Files, which allow building engineers to stress test buildings and see how their design performs under potential climate change, and to do so very early on in the planning process. These have been marketed and recommended by CIBSE for use by construction companies across the UK.
They are now also being implemented into industry standards, including the draft London Plan, the CIBSE TM59 Design methodology for the assessment of overheating risk in homes, and the Building Bulletin 101, which provides guidance for thermal comfort in schools. CIBSE reports, “the treatment of overheating at design stage is fundamental in increasing the resilience of buildings in hot events, now and in the future”. Appropriate weather data is therefore a vital component of building design.
Measuring real-world impact
The excellent joint work of CIBSE and Dr. Matt Eames has been selected by the University of Exeter to form an Impact Case Study for the institution’s submission to the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. The REF – lovingly dubbed as 'The Olympics of UK Universities' – is a national assessment commissioned by the UK government roughly every six years to assess the excellence of the UK’s higher education institutions. The assessment is based on the quality of the research, the environment that supports it, and its impact beyond academia.
At the University of Exeter, we pride ourselves not only on the amazing work done by our academics, but also on the real-world impact their work has on shaping the lives of people both nationally and globally. We know Dr. Eames’ work has had an enormous impact on industry policies and best practices, on the environment and on the well-being of UK citizens and we want to demonstrate just that.