Housing retrofit as an intervention in thermal comfort practices: Chinese and Dutch householder perspectives

F.J. de Feijter*, B.J.M. van Vliet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Contemporary packages of housing retrofit equipment are based on models of expected energy savings with regard to globally standardized thermal comfort levels. Previous research shows that the energy savings realised after a housing retrofit is substantially lower than expected. Attempts to reduce energy demand by physical re-design, utilising technical standards for thermal comfort as well as financial incentives, tend to ignore the role of retrofit interventions in the construction of everyday practices of thermal comfort making. Thermal comfort practices of heating, cooling and ventilation are moderated by specific householders’ motivations which constitute ‘wants’ and emerging ‘needs’ in the interaction with the housing retrofit equipment. This paper proposes that the interactions between the retrofitted buildings and the householders are the sum of material affordances, as signified by the design of the housing equipment on the one hand, and the practical affordances in practices-as-performances on the other. The study presents comfort practices in relation to recently retrofitted low-income housing estates in Beijing, Mianyang (Sichuan province, South-west China) and Amsterdam on the basis of 50 qualitative interviews with householders in each city. The paper concludes that the expected energy saving is counteracted by a poor match between conventional retrofit packages and householders’ considerations about their thermal comfort. To better reduce energy demand and to mitigate energy poverty, retrofit packages should provide adaptive thermal comfort as preferred by householders, rather than fixed or tightly specified thermal comfort. Such a perspective may support a more flexible and inclusive use of housing equipment as part of retrofit programs.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalEnergy Efficiency
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2020


  • Housing retrofit
  • Housing equipment
  • Affordances
  • Thermal comfort
  • Social practices
  • Energy saving
  • Amsterdam
  • Beijing
  • Mianyang

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