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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Energy Efficiency in Low Income Tropical Housing: A Study into Improving Thermal Comfort in Low Income Housing Designs in Thailand through the Effective Incorporation of Passive Design Strategies

As part of the University of Cambridge’s Energy and Low Income Tropical Housing (ELITH) project, this research investigation focused on identifying and analysing potential areas for improving the thermal performance of low income, government-provided housing designs in Bangkok, Thailand. In a country that experiences hot and humid temperatures throughout the year, buildings need to be adaptable to the climate in order to improve the thermal comfort of inhabitants.

The current housing typologies include a prevalence of high density, low-rise condominiums with a large brick and concrete composition. As an initial step, the performance of the building was determined according to adaptive comfort standards using the software IES VE. The results from the baseline model were analysed according to the adaptive comfort CIBSE TM52 guideline and were observed to exceed the acceptable limits of what is deemed appropriate for naturally ventilated buildings. The main sources of the low thermal performance were identified as resulting from: thermal storage effects, the lack of sufficient natural ventilation through the living zones heat gains through the roof.
Based on these findings five representative passive design parameters were selected to be analysed for sensitivity in order to understand the influence of passive design strategies on thermal comfort within these buildings. Theses parameters are external wall material; shading of windows; the presence of a balcony; the openable area of the windows and the incorporation of insulation into the roof. Once the baseline conditions were identified the software SimLab2.2 and RStudio were used to carry out the sensitivity analysis. These results indicated that roof material and the presence of a balcony have the greatest influence on the system. Incorporating insulation into the roof reduced the mean number of days of overheating by 21.43%. Removing the balcony increased the number of days of overheating by 19.94% due to significant reductions in internal ventilation.

The conclusions to this study show that in low income, naturally ventilated buildings in Thailand the incorporation of measures to reduce heat gain in the roof and the maximisation of ventilation through the living areas should be prioritised in the planning and design stages of low income housing projects.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.