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4 year PhD Studentship in ‘Investigating the performance of solid walls with water-repellent surface treatments’

UCL Energy Institute

, Sunday, July 12, 2020 Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Solid-wall buildings account for around a quarter of the UK building stock. The heat loss associated with solid walls is among the highest across all wall constructions in the UK, but little has been done to improve their thermal performance; 91% of solid wall dwellings are yet to be insulated. The challenge of solid walls is that they rely on a moisture balance in the building structure, which is key to the durability of such buildings and the health of occupants. This moisture balance is likely to change both due to climate change and due to the interventions done to improve the energy efficiency of the wall, potentially leading to higher moisture accumulation in walls and affecting energy use, occupants’ health and comfort, and durability of buildings.

Supervisors: Dr Hector Altamirano ( and Dr Valentina Marincioni (, UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, & Joe Orsi, on behalf of industry sponsors Safeguard and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

The student will have the opportunity to work in the IEDE Environmental Laboratory and collaborate closely with Safeguard ( and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings ( (industrial sponsors) and with the organisations supporting the project, including Historic England.


A damp solid wall has poorer thermal performance than a dry wall, hence affecting its energy performance. Under future climate scenarios, the moisture content of solid walls is likely to increase, particularly due to higher rainfall intensity. Moreover, solid wall insulation changes the moisture balance of the existing wall; hygrothermal simulations often highlight the need for additional rainwater protection if internal wall insulation is to be installed.

Therefore, providing rainwater protection is often necessary for solid-wall buildings that are facing higher exposure to atmospheric agents. Traditional methods include incorporating additives (e.g. tallow or linseed oil) into limewash, perhaps in conjunction with rendering and bedding mortars, which might affect the aesthetic appearance of the building, e.g. if the building was not previously rendered. On the other hand, there is some evidence on the long-term effectiveness of modern colourless water-repellent surface treatments, which would allow preservation of the aesthetic appearance of the building. If effective, these surface treatments have the potential to be an enabling technology for the improvement of the energy performance of solid-walls.

Further details available HERE:

Studentship aims:

The research aims to investigate the long-term hygrothermal performance and effectiveness of solid walls with water-repellent surface treatments.

The research will address the following research questions:
1. What evidence already exists in relation to water-repellent surface treatments in traditional solid walls?
2. What is the influence of these treatments on the pore structure of material usually found in external walls of traditional buildings?
3. What is the influence of these treatments on the improvement of the thermal transmittance of solid walls?
4. What is the long-term hygrothermal performance of solid walls with water-repellent surface treatments?
5. What are the long-term adverse and positive effects on solid walls with water-repellent surface treatments?
a. What are the long-term harmful and positive effects on reapplying water repellents?
6. What is the influence of water-repellent surface treatments on the indoor air quality and energy performance of a solid-walled building?

Person specification

Seeking highly motivated applicants with good master’s degrees (min 2:1) in Science related qualifications, preferably engineering, physics or chemistry. Previous experience in, or knowledge of, energy retrofitting interventions, monitoring and modelling is preferable but not required.
Applicants must also meet:
- minimum language requirements of UCL:
- EPSRC eligibility criteria:

How to apply

Please submit a pre-application by email to the UCL ERBE Centre Manager () with Subject Reference: 4-year PhD in Investigating the performance of solid walls
The pre-application should include the following:
● A covering letter clearly stating your motivation, and stating your understanding of eligibility according to these guidelines:
● CV
● Names and addresses of two academic referees
● A copy of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s),

Application deadline: Sunday, 12 July 2020 23:59PM (UK Time)
Interview date: tbc

Following the interview, the successful candidate will be invited to make a formal application to the UCL Research Degree programme. For any further details regarding the project contact Dr Hector Altamirano or Dr Valentina Marincioni ;

Funding Notes

Studentship will cover UK fees and enhanced tax-free stipend of approx. £18,000 per year (for eligible applicants (View Website) for 4 years (start date September 2020), and a substantial budget for research, travel, and centre activities.

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