UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Fully-funded PhD Studentship in ‘Ventilation and Moisture in Residential Buildings’

The UCL Energy Institute and UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering in partnership with Aereco, are seeking applications for a fully funded studentship.


12 June 2018

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Demand (LoLo CDT) and co-funded by Aereco, this project aims to investigate the relationship between hygrothermal properties and air exchange rates in dwellings, and the co-relationships with building geometry, archetype, age, ventilation provision, and retrofit measures.

The LoLo CDT provides world-class PhD training, including opportunities to work with leading researchers, placements with industry and a comprehensive skills and development programme. As a student joining the LoLo CDT at UCL you will join an active research group, in a unique student-focused environment with ample opportunities to engage with leading researchers, industry and policy makers.  In addition to the university doctoral training requirements, LoLo students take part in an exciting range of activities, ranging from residential events and group projects, to conferences and careers events.

Our four-year funded PhD programme combines a one year Master of Research (MRes) and three year doctorate (PhD). This structure builds a firm foundation of skills, knowledge and research experience, steadily progressing into world-leading research.

About the project

Title: “Development of a methodology for the assessment of air exchange rates in dwellings for large-scale studies”.

Supervisors: The project will be supervised by Dr Hector Altamirano, UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering and Ian Mawditt, an independent researcher, engaged on behalf of industry sponsor Aereco UK Ltd. The student will have the opportunity to work in the IEDE Environmental Laboratory and collaborate closely with Aereco UK Ltd. (industrial sponsor)

(Additional supervisory expertise will be identified once a candidate is selected and the project develops.)

Studentship: The studentship will cover home fees and enhanced tax free stipend of  approx. £18,000 per year (for eligible applicants for 4 years (start date September 2018), along with a substantial budget for research, travel, and centre activities. Applicants should meet the EPSRC eligibility criteria


There are many established techniques for measuring and characterising air exchange rates in buildings. Despite this, there is very little data available about ventilation rates in existing dwellings in the UK. Some of the reasons for this lack of information relates to the complexity, and therefore cost, as well as the practicalities of deploying established techniques, such as passive tracer gas measurements at scale.

Knowledge of air exchange rates in existing buildings is increasingly important, especially in the context of retrofit. Retrofit interventions to improve the energy efficiency of a dwelling (which could be limited to the replacement of windows with those that have improved energy efficiency) will most likely lead to a reduction in air exchange through infiltration. Whilst there are advantages in reducing the infiltration, both for energy and thermal comfort, it is important to ensure that retrofit measures do not negatively impact the overall background ventilation rates in the building. The ability to determine the correct ventilation strategy and ventilation rates, therefore, relies on having knowledge of existing air exchange rates, and the likely impact that retrofit measures will have on these rates.

The measurements of temperature and relative humidity are easier to collect from buildings, and therefore more readily available than air exchange rates measured with tracer gas. Until recently,  temperature and relative humidity data were predominantly available through specific programme monitoring in small numbers of homes. However many dwellings now contain ‘intelligent’ thermostats, especially in social housing. Some of these devices have the ability to record both temperature and relative humidity conditions. It is therefore conceivable that large-scale hygrothermal data will soon be available for dwellings. Provided both internal and external hygrothermal conditions are recorded, the resulting vapour pressure excess, i.e. moisture content rise above external levels, can be derived. Since vapour pressure excess is effectively a function of internal moisture generation and ventilation effectiveness, estimates of ventilation rate can theoretically be made using vapour pressure excess.

Project summary

This research will use vapour pressure excess to lead to the development of a matrix for likely air exchange rates across a range of typical moisture activities. Using moisture as a metric for indoor environments to control ventilation rates may offer simplified means for maintaining indoor air quality.

The field element will require detailed investigations in a sample of occupied dwellings, including deployment of tracer gas techniques, and the measurement of hygrothermal conditions. The results will help to identify if, by using readily available hygrothermal data (including re-analysis of existing data), it is possible to characterise air exchange rates and related ventilation effectivemess in dwellings on a UK- wide scale.

The research will address the following research questions:

  1. What evidence already exists in relation to air exchange rates and moisture conditions in existing dwellings?
  2. How closely does moisture data relate to air exchange rates and related ventilation effectiveness?
  3. Can we use moisture data, e.g. vapour pressure excess, to develop a metric for air exchange rates and/or to specify the required ventilation capacity?
  4. Where lie the critical relationships between hygrothermal conditions, and air movement? How much does occupant moisture generation and geometry influence the indoor environment?
  5. Can moisture-only metric be sufficient for controlling other pollutants in the home? This will require detailed evaluation through field measurements  or modelling to correlate moisture with, e.g. VOCs and other indoor pollutants.
  6. Personal specficiation of applicant (specific skills required)
  7. We are ideally seeking highly motivated applicants with good degrees (min 2:1) in Science related qualifications, preferably engineering or physics. Previous experience in, or knowledge of, energy retrofitting interventions, monitoring and modelling is preferable but not required.

How to apply

Your pre-application should be submitted by email direct to the LoLo Centre Manager (e.oroszlany@ucl.ac.uk). Application deadline: Thursday 28 June 2018  12:00 midnight (UK time)

Interview date: tbc
The application should include the following:

A covering letter clearly stating your motivation, and stating your understanding of eligibility according to these guidelines: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/eligibility/

  • CV
  • Names and addresses of two academic referees
  • A copy of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s),

Following the interview, the successful candidate will be invited to make a formal application to the UCL Research Degree programme. Further guidance will be provided. For any further details regarding the project contact Dr Hector Altamirano h.altamirano-medina@ucl.ac.uk; for further details about the LoLo CDT and our programme, please contact Dr Cliff Elwell, clifford.elwell@ucl.ac.uk.

About the UCL Energy Institute/EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Demand

The UCL Energy Institute delivers world-leading teaching, research and policy support in the fields of buildings, energy systems, people and energy, policy and law, smart energy and transport. These research themes are not mutually exclusive, and many researchers work across two or more themes, ensuring a truly interdisciplinary approach to energy research. Our approach blends expertise from across UCL, to make a truly interdisciplinary contribution to the development of a globally sustainable energy system.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Demand (LoLo CDT) is the premier centre for energy demand research in the built environment in the UK, bringing together two leading energy research universities, UCL and Loughborough University. LoLo focusses on lowering energy demand from our built stock, currently responsible for over 40% of UK emissions, and to addressing fuel affordability. We aim to undertake world class research addressing timely challenges and produce a new generation of multi-disciplinary thinkers and innovators capable of engineering a smart, low-energy future.