Name: Lisa Burrough
Role: Building Energy Scientist for Branz
Working hours: 37.5 hours each week
Salary band: $72,000-$100,000
Qualifications: Master of Building Science and Bachelor of Building Science with Honours from Victoria University, Wellington
Describe what you do.
I am doing a nationwide study on the efficiency and impact of heat pumps in New Zealand houses which involves monitoring energy use, temperature and relative humidity in the houses. I am the project manager and main researcher on this project.
Research projects like these usually take two to three years to complete.
The project involves installing monitoring equipment and surveying the houses to develop a good understanding of how heat pumps are being installed.
We work alongside a social scientist who interviews the occupants to discuss their experiences and get their opinions. We also work with a statistician to make sure our results are statistically representative.
It is important to keep up with what is going on internationally in this area which involves a lot of reading and writing.
I also present papers overseas and in New Zealand about our work and I am on the International Scientific Committee for the 2011 World Sustainable Building Conference.
Who do you work for?
I work for Branz, a principal supplier of independent and impartial research, testing and information solutions to the building industry.
I started off studying architecture. In my second year I became interested in building science and felt it fitted me better because I have a strong interest in data and analysis.
I got involved with Branz in my third year at university through a team project called Household Energy End-use Project (HEEP), a 12-year project monitoring energy use in 400 homes. That project finished in 2005. However, I continued working during university holidays for Branz, mostly on HEEP field work. Working while studying really helped me focus on the area of building science I wanted to work in.
I have worked full time at Branz since 2004, although I studied part- time for my Masters in 2008.
Tell us about a couple of your projects?
One, Active Cooling, involved surveying 1000 heat pump-users to monitor the uptake of heat pumps. This led to my current project, Key Energy Uses, a monitoring project focusing on heat pumps but also looking at entertainment appliances as these are seen as the two areas where electricity growth has been happening in homes since we finished HEEP.
What training or experience is important with this job?
A building science degree. A physics degree can also be useful because physics study covers topics such as how heat transfer works and how electricity works. Overall you must be genuinely interested in how buildings work and the social and environmental impact involved.
What is building science?
Building science sits between architecture, engineering and building research and aims to minimise the impact buildings have on the natural world by developing healthier, safer and more sustainably built environments.
What skills or qualities do you need?
You need to focus on the detail but you also need to be able to see the big picture to know how it is going to help the building industry.
You need to be practical and hands-on. I spend a lot of time doing field work but I am also in the lab calibrating equipment with the help of technicians.
You need good communication skills to interact with building occupants to find out how energy is used in houses.
Most enjoyable aspects of the job?
Seeing changes that improve the comfort and quality of houses in New Zealand, such as insulation and heating.
I enjoy the monitoring side of my work because it provides an opportunity to deal with real scenarios regarding how occupants use their homes.
I like being able to give people information about how their houses work and how improvements can be made. And I enjoy talking at seminars and conferences.
Most challenging part?
Change can be slow.
Why is your job significant?
Improvements in the quality of houses lead to improvements in quality of life for everyone.
Advice to someone interested in this work?
There are lots of options within building science. Start with a building science degree. The first year is quite general, allowing you to explore different areas. I focused on energy use and thermal comfort in houses but there is also wind, lighting design, sustainability, project management, acoustics, materials - the list is almost endless.
What keeps you at it?
I always want to see my projects through to the end; this is my third in eight years. Research often creates further questions and it is good to be able to move on to another project to answer some of those questions.