Fitness fanatics: the CIBSE Technical Symposium 2024

Making buildings fit for the future was the theme of the CIBSE Technical Symposium, which took place at Cardiff University last month. Alex Smith and Molly Tooher-Rudd report on the sold-out event, at which 86 peer-revewed building services papers were presented

Cardiff University welcomed the CIBSE Technical Symposium to Wales for the first time last month. The Grade II-listed home of the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA) was a handsome backdrop to a sold-out event at which 86 peer-reviewed papers on building services were presented to 196 delegates over two days.

CIBSE President Adrian Catchpole opened proceedings, saying that ‘leadership, driving innovation, demonstrating competency, and working in collaboration were at the heart of the Technical Symposium’. He told the auditorium that construction professionals need  to be driving change. ‘Our leadership is needed now if we are to have the impact required,’ he said. ‘As engineers, we must move the built environment from being a significant contributor to global emissions to being an exemplar of how to reduce them.’

Professor Graeme Maidment, of London South Bank University (LSBU), gave a keynote speech on the impact of cooling on UK carbon emissions. He revealed that 15% of UK electricity consumption (in 2021) was attributable to cooling buildings, according to government research

The winners of the prizes for best papers were both women: former Cardiff University student Shweta Salvankar won ‘Most significant contribution to the art and science of building services engineering’, while Aya Heggy, of LSBU, was recognised for ‘Most effective delivery of material’. The awards were presented by CIBSE technical director Anastasia Mylona, who completed her PhD at the WSA.

LSBU’s Aya Heggy won the award for ‘Most effective delivery of material

Both winning papers were in tune with the symposium theme – ‘Fit for 2050 – Delivering buildings and defining performance for a net zero built environment’ – and focused on challenges facing building services engineers in achieving better buildings.

Salvankar’s paper looked at how net zero carbon standards could be established in a region that lacks a carbon assessment framework. Her focus was on India, another paper – by Raed Alshammari, University of Reading, – had a similar theme, but looked at the development of a framework for net zero energy residential buildings in Saudi Arabia.

Heggy’s paper, ‘Bridging the gap: from disparate data to decarbonisation strategies in UK heat networks’, is particularly relevant as the government moves towards imposing mandatory performance standards for heat networks from 2025. She said a crucial first step in decarbonising heat networks was understanding what currently exists. ‘If we don’t know what we have, how can we do anything to improve it?’ she said.

Heat network papers were prominent at the symposium and included a presentation by Phil Jones, Building Low Carbon Solutions & DESNZ, on the new regulatory framework being developed by the government. This includes the Heat Network Technical Assurance Scheme, based on the CIBSE Heat Networks Code of Practice, to help heat network operators demonstrate compliance with new requirements.

Anastasia Mylona (right) with Shweta Salvankar, who won the ‘Most significant contribution’ award

Other subjects covered at the symposium included embodied carbon, indoor air quality, building simulation, the use of data in optimising performance, and heat pump technologies, particularly retrofits (see page 45 for Roger Hitchin’s paper on a UK-led project on retrofitting heat pumps in non-domestic properties.)

Professor Jo Patterson was part of the Cardiff University Low Carbon Built Environment Team, WSA, which won overall Building Performance Champion at the 2023 Building Performance Awards, for its work on retrofits. As well as taking part in the retrofit debate, Patterson presented posters on the university’s real-life retrofit experiences and delivered a paper on delivering whole-house retrofits. She said it is important to understand the limitations of homes – joists preventing MVHR installations, for example – and that flexible whole-house energy systems are required. High-quality design must be followed through to installation and beyond, Patterson added, and independent commissioning is essential: ‘You can’t mark your own work.’

How to spend £20,000 to cut carbon

Professor Jo Patterson

This year’s symposium debate, expertly chaired by Hywel Davies HonFCIBSE, asked five panellists how they would spend £20,000 on reducing carbon in their home.

Tony Day (LSBU) highlighted his own experience with a heat pump retrofit in an 18th-century property, which achieved six tonnes of carbon savings over the past year. He stressed the need for cost-effective measures. ‘The fabric-first approach must become cheaper, with a focus on airtightness.’

Ewan Jones (Aecom) said he’d spend £8,000 of the money on fabric upgrades ‘before getting a heat pump’. He said the answer depended on the individual’s  priorities, but he urged the audience to keep future-proofing in mind as they develop their designs. ‘For example, cooling. There’s a potential tidal wave of demand in the domestic sector,’ he said.

Marlena Swan (Loughborough University) criticised the piecemeal policy on retrofitting, advocating for one-stop shops to provide comprehensive advice. ‘There isn’t just one approach,’ she said.

Professor Jo Patterson (Cardiff University) broke down her spending plans into a shopping list. ‘I’d allocate £500 for data collection to inform planning; £500 for design to identify the best solutions; £1,000 on a new consumer unit; £9,000 on improving the worst windows and doors; £7,500 on PV panels; £1,000 on top-ups and repairs; and £500 on monitoring, to ensure that the changes have made a difference.’

Ted Pilbeam FCIBSE (Volker Fitzpatrick) offered prudent advice. ‘You don’t have to spend the money all at once. New tech may become available down the line that’s cheaper and more suitable; find out what works for you.’ The speakers called for cost-effective solutions, context-specific approaches, and comprehensive advice.

The WSA also won CIBSE Project of the Year – Residential category, and the 2024 winner, Bryn Bragl, another Welsh retrofit housing project, was represented at the symposium by Hoare Lea’s Ashley Bateson FCIBSE and Brogan Watkins, of Legal & General Investment Management.

Research papers from the Technical Symposium will be available at and some will be covered in detail in the Journal. For industry to meet its net zero goals it is important to disseminate as much of this peer-reviewed research as possible. 

For more information on the 2024 Technical Symposium and to register your interest for the 2025 Symposium at UCL London visit

  • The event’s gold sponsor was Eaton, and silver sponsors were Adey Commercial, Carrier, IES, Mitsubishi Electric, Strebel and Klima-Therm.