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Funded PhD Opportunity

Passive House Strategies, using Ireland as an exemplar.

Subject: Architecture, Built Environment and Planning



To expand our understanding of  the cost optimality criteria for Passive House / nZEB Commercial buildings into a broader multi beneficial optimality assessment. Article 9 of the recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2010) requires that by December 31st,  2020, all new buildings are to be constructed to a near zero-energy standard, (nZEB); defined as ‘the point where the measures required to implement the standard are ‘cost optimal’….to achieve a balance between costs and energy performance….’. Such legislative definitions must be redefined every 5 years and so a detailed study now, of how this definition might be expanded and better understood is apposite.

Background research questions include the choice of the most appropriate energy software would help such understanding. This might include utilizing Passivhaus software (PHPP), as it directly addresses the larger elements of commercial energy usage including air leakage, ventilation and electrical energy. A review of international best practice will be a key element of the research - in particular investigating initiatives such as the Israeli government mandating of a fabric first approach rather than that the ‘services hardware’ response to creating such buildings. This reflects the alignment of expected life of the building (50 – 100 years), compared with building services (15 to 20 years). The passive elements of fabric, air tightness, surface volume ratios, orientation and passive ventilation are key tenets of the passive house methodology.


(a) Review of current commercial buildings, across a range of three non-domestic building types: (1) Educational buildings (2) Offices and (3) Health Care Facilities. Research questions would include: (i) Are the current cost optimality models accurate and fit for purpose? (ii)   Can such models be customised to better reflect building use and energy profile ? (iii)   Is there an optimal balance between services and fabric across building types ?

(b) Identification of energy profiles, pertinent to such buildings across SBEMie/NEAP and PHPP allowing assessment of the true veracity of the near Zero Energy Building nomenclature and the key influencers of the cost optimality approach.

(c) Critique of regulatory specifications, across the island of Ireland, using NEAP and PHPP software, to identify areas of performance/benefit accruing but not captured by current cost optimality models.

(d) Analysis of one building, to assess post occupancy experience potentially using the BUS methodology and end user patterns of use against design predictive energy use using NEAP and PHPP, to give direction as to whether the nZEB cost optimality model is fit for purpose

(e) Proposals for a revised nZEB specification where Passivhaus criteria form a baseline to a broader range of cost optimality considerations related to IAQ and operational efficiencies. nZEB targets lack standards critical to greater occupant comfort and health, the whole therefore never aspires to be greater than the sum of the parts. It is this perception gap which this study wishes to address and in so doing, deepen our perception of the design strategies and optimal performance criteria non-domestic nZEB buildings in the 21st century, ought to operate within.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Clearly defined research proposal detailing background, research questions, aims and methodology


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
13 March to 21 March 2019


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Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact supervisor

Dr Shane Colclough

Other supervisors

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