Research and development

Willmott Dixon invests around £1 million each year in research and development

New technology used in these projects is being adopted on our current sites across the UK, such as the Eurban timber build system which eliminates site waste. We also developed new design ideas such as the ‘window chimney’ that we use on schools.

R&D is essential to the success of our industry, and we aim to be at the forefront with investing and developing the use of new technologies.

Measuring social return on investment

We are funding research which is helping us develop a better understanding of impact our community investment work is having. We are working with a Loughborough University research student at who is leading this joint research venture as part their Engineering Doctorate programme.

The aim of this project is to develop a suite of tools for measuring the effectiveness of corporate and social responsibility investments and activities.

Improving the energy performance of our site cabins

In 2012, in conjunction with WYSE Power, we installed energy monitoring equipment on one of our sites in Birmingham, so that we could see the energy consumption and carbon emissions of our cabins.

The energy monitoring equipment generated occupancy profiles for the site cabin inside and outside operating hours. The learning from this project has helped to calculate potential savings through improved site cabin specification. It has also helped us develop communications to help and encourage site teams to reduce the amount of energy they consume.

A new tool for life cycle costing and analysis

As part of the department for Business Innovation and Skills’ Technology Strategy Board Programme we worked with partners to develop an IT tool called IMPACT. The aim of IMPACT was to improve decision making around materials selection, and enable whole life costing and life cycle analysis to be undertaken on building designs in the virtual environment.

IMPACT takes quantity information from the BIM and multiplies this by environmental impact and/or cost ‘rates’ to produce an overall impact and cost for the whole (or a selected part) of the design.

IMPACT is now commercially available, and many of our employees are now benefitting from it. More information about the IMPACT project can be found at:

As-built performance

There is growing evidence of a big gap between the theoretical thermal performance of a building, and its actual in-use performance. Studies have shown that buildings can be as much as 200% less energy efficient than their design would suggest.

As a founding member of the Zero Carbon Hub, we recommended that homes built from 2020 onwards should meet or perform better than their designed performance.

So here at Willmott Dixon we're investing significant sums of money into research into this 'performance gap'. We have two people working full-time on the issue and we are also sponsoring a PhD student who is developing a low-cost approach to providing as-built performance feedback.

Oakfield Primary School/Building performance monitoring

An eighteen month long study into the energy performance of our first Sunesis school is enabling us to make improvements to future Sunesis school designs.

2014 saw us complete an 18 month study into the energy performance of Oakfield Primary School in Rugby.

The single-storey steel portal frame structure achieved an EPC rating of ‘A’ when it opened in 2012, and we wanted to know if our first school was living up to that rating. We monitored energy usage via sub-meters.

Energy monitoring work started in November 2012 with metering validation and BMS checks, followed by regular monthly monitoring of all main meter and sub-meter usage for electrical energy, heat and water. Monthly reports were produced to compare usage with overall design targets and identify any areas of energy usage that could be further optimised. Initial user feedback discussions on design and functionality of the school have also been completed with the head teacher.

What we found was that energy usage was 8.3% below design usage and budget cost. However, there were still areas where energy savings could be made. These findings are now incorporated into our standard Sunesis designs.

Making a case for the Government for improving household energy efficiency

In 2014 we part-funded and contributed to pioneering research into the financial benefits of an making the UK’s housing stock more energy efficient. The resultant report, called ‘Building the Future’, makes a compelling case to the Government to treat energy efficiency as a major infrastructure priority, alongside road and rail-building programmes, because it clearly demonstrates that such investment would yield a massive financial return to the UK Treasury.

The social case for the Government to invest in making homes more energy efficient is indisputable: on average 25,000 people die of the cold each year. The environmental case is also clear: the UK has committed to reducing its greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990), and over a quarter of the UK’s emissions come from our homes. However, the key barrier cited by Government has always been the cost.

‘Building the Future’, demonstrates that a more ambitious home energy efficiency programme would deliver high value for money. It would increase UK GDP by £13.9bn a year by 2013 – around £3.20 for every £1 invested by the Government. The treasury itself would receive £1.27 in tax revenue for every £1 invested. On top of this would be the reduced burden on the NHS (cold homes are thought to cost the NHS around £1.3bn a year).

Bicester Eco-town Process Improvement Toolkit (BEPIT)

In 2013, in partnership with A2Dominon, Innovate UK, Bioregional Development Group and Loughborough University, we embarked on a 3 year project to research the ‘performance gap’ in energy-efficient new homes. The study is using the North West Bicester construction site (the UK's first eco-town) to identify issues, develop solutions and test new approaches.

Despite technological innovations to respond to Code Levels 5 and 6, houses on large scale developments continue to fall short of design intent. This project aims to shrink the gap by re-thinking design, build and procurement processes. It will deploy a novel combination of mapping methodologies to highlight and resolve process failures in technologically innovative build systems.

Data gathered through this research will inform the creation of a suite of tools and tactics to deliver Code 5+ housing at speed, with volume, to cost and with low defects. This research project will study the first 393 planning-approved homes of the Bicester eco-town development, targeting true zero carbon (unregulated emissions and no allowable solutions), and scaling to 5,000 homes by 2026.