Low-carbon building retrofit by adopting an integrated archetype and net-zero approach


This PhD opportunity emerges from the need to develop an archetype and low-carbon heating approach that delivers Scotland's net-zero targets considering the implications of the built heritage, the surrounding public and private space and the communities that depend on many of our existing built heritage.

Project background

Scotland and UK building owners and estate managers need to reach net zero carbon performance across their building stock with a no-regrets approach and within a set target timeline. The solution is often not straightforward which creates confusion and poor planning. This specific challenge occurs when dealing with existing buildings and the available technology solutions supported by the infrastructure nearby. Future proofing building improvements and thermal retrofits with low-carbon heating technology are considered the best approach, however, the problem faced by the industry is to know exactly the best approach to take considering the building type and reducing the required energy and carbon emissions whilst balancing occupants satisfaction levels and health conditions. All this without increasing the energy bills and capital/ maintenance costs.

This is an opportunity to analyse existing buildings innovatively by recognising the building typology, age, methods of construction, site constraints, nearby current and future infrastructure opportunities and the historical context they sit in. The research proposes to develop a method to characterise buildings and to find a common approach to retrofitting each typology by creating building archetypes linked to net zero evaluations. Relevant to the study is the role of low-carbon heating suitable for each archetype and the challenges we face in finding the best technology and the required infrastructure to meet demand.

Research questions

  1. What existing building type categorisation methods exist that correspond to a UK context?
  2. What is the definition of an archetype approach?
  3. Can existing retrofit methods be analysed and collected to categorise them by archetype which evaluates its performance and suitability?
  4. How do the net zero targets and low-carbon heating be applied to an archetype approach?
  5. Can the use of whole-life carbon boundaries and assessments provide an evaluation of the net zero potential of building archetypes?
  6. What are the synergies between monitoring results and best practice approaches within the context of building archetypes?


The research will develop a retrofit approach of varied domestic and non-domestic existing buildings to tackle poor energy efficiency to eventually lower energy demand and the associated carbon emissions. Such approaches need to be sympathetic to the building heritage and based on the suitability of materials and existing skills. The best retrofit methods often consider and adapt to fixed variables and constraints within the surrounding context, therefore, each building presents unique challenges.

This research will analyse the existing methods of building retrofit to provide assurances and replicability across building stakeholders such as building tenants, landlords, local authorities, conservation bodies, estate management teams and government. The replication of archetype approaches will be a focus of the research based on the archetype categorisation. This may result in best practice “Robust Details and low-carbon heating” based on past case studies, tests and performance evaluations such as monitoring, low-carbon heating technology application and the net-zero outcome for that particular building type. 

Further Information: 

Successful candidates will join the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment and the newly formed Net Zero Accelerator Centre as part of the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh and will involve close collaboration with Edinburgh’s Centre for Future Infrastructure (EFI).

This project has close links with industry partners in Scotland as well as local authorities and other government groups for the dissemination and outreach of results.

Interested applicants are welcome to contact Dr Julio Bros-Williamson by email for additional information (j.broswilliamson@ed.ac.uk). Applications should be submitted via the University’s online system. Please note that the position may be closed earlier if a suitable candidate is found. 

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity

Closing Date: 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


  • Undergraduate/ Postgraduate in a Built Environment and civil engineering related degree
  • Desirable experience in Scottish and UK building standards and construction practices
  • Preferably with an architectural technology or engineering background
  • Knowledge of existing building retrofit interventions and low-carbon heating technology
  • Knowledge of thermodynamic behaviour of buildings, energy efficiency and whole-life carbon accountancy.
  • Knowledge of the UK net-zero carbon targets, legislation and requirements.
  • UK construction industry awareness with a specific interest in existing buildings.

Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home/EU and International students


Informal Enquiries: