Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering


Creating a test facility that simulates building energy to monitor and measure energy use under real climatic conditions

Artist's impression of SIMPod

Project overview

For many years it has been known that there is a performance gap between modelled and monitored energy use. This arises from model outputs not reflecting reality; be it occupant behaviour, construction practice, or the physics of some materials.


Tel: 07736 678586

There is also evidence that it is not just physical parameters that are the cause. Recent work indicates that there may also be a calculation gap in how researchers and design engineers model a building's energy performance.

This project is in response to an urgent drive to reduce differences and improve energy use prediction. SIMPod will provide a highly controlled test facility that will allow researchers to:

  • verify thermal models and codes
  • to test new technologies (e.g. phase change materials)
  • field test new materials and controls
  • to validate new ways of modelling
  • allow building performance modellers to test remotely via the internet

Funding body



  • Project leader: Professor David Coley
  • Principal investigator: Dr Francis Moran


The project will develop an initial concept for the design of a scale size, cube-type structure that can monitor and measure all aspects of its energy use.

The SIMPod concept is based on a modular frame onto which a demountable floor, roof and walls are fitted.

Input from the wider research community, software model companies, architects, design engineers and material manufacturers through a series of sandpits/workshops will help the project team advance the prototype design. The first event, Building Energy Performance @ Scale, took place in October 2015.

Suggestions and shared knowledge from the first workshop will contribute to the completion of the prototype design. A design performance specification will permit procurement tendering.

At the same time, simulation models of predicted performance will be constructed to reflect an initial research experiment. The team will visit research facilities worldwide where similar work is taking place. Researchers in the UK will be invited to participate and benefit from recent work in this field.


This project will develop a test instrument that has the ability to replace and interchange the walls, floor and roof. This will allow the same instrument to be used for different experiments, giving increased functionality and longevity.

The initial design envisages an internal structural frame on to which are fixed modular components to form the floor, walls and roof. The SIMPod unit will be to scale, approximately a 2.4-3.1m cube. There may be a need to construct the pod in a controlled environment and transport it to a test location. This will limit the pod width to 3.1m for road movement in the UK.

The individual SIMPod will connect together to make larger and more complex building shapes for future experiments. A structural frame test instruments to 3 stories should be achievable.

Completion of the first prototype will generate a design guide to promote replication. This will be freely available online to encourage and support building more SIMPods. It will include:

  • design details for the structural support frame
  • construction details and fixing methods of modular panels
  • sensor schedule and specification and protocols for placing and fixing sensors
  • commissioning, data handling and data recording allowing SIMPod outputs to be compared worldwide

An initial experiment for the SIMPod will be developed. This will shape the senor specification and data logging methods. This is likely to be straightforward and limited in nature for the prototype. The envelope construction will most likely be homogenous, with only one face of the SIMPod subject to testing. This is to prove the concept before introducing real-world complexity. The next step will be the assembly of the SIMPod.

The SIMPod will be constructed using contractors to supply the frame and modular panels that will make up the walls, floor and roof. The procurement process will be key as there is a need to marry up site construction with data sensor installation and commissioning. A “plug and play” approach for each of the pod's components is envisaged.

Once the SIMPod is commissioned, the first investigation will be the analysis of the steady state performance of the SIMPod in a controlled internal environment before deployment to the field for its first experiment.

Future development

The first prototype SIMPod experiment will run for six months and will shape future SIMPods. Our ultimate aim is to place SIMPods around the world in as many climates as possible with walls etc. reflecting local building practices. This should help fill the gap between laboratory studies and those using real buildings - the latter having serious issues of repeatability, cost of monitoring and the behaviour of occupants.

Following the construction of the first SIMPod it is hoped to absorb and share lessons learnt to continually develop the pod functionality and effectiveness as a research tool.

Project outcomes

1) A scale building energy use test instrument that can be reconfigured to meet research demands.
2) A platform to test and develop materials, components and controls in field conditions.
3) A vehicle to validate software models.
4) Remote access to permit manipulation of all pod controls and utilisation of all data collected.
5) Proof of concept for an affordable and replicable test instrument that meets recognised performance standards.

The project will also facilitate non-academic impact promoting collaboration with UK companies in testing their ideas at all stages of product development. Additionally, much of the data collected will be openly available for other researchers to use. This will allow academia, architects and engineering companies to educate and test the abilities of their students, staff and codes. Thus it will, with no extra cost, perform a key CPD role.