Sally Blackwell is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Sustainability investigating the role of ‘middle actors’ in the socio-technical transition to better performing housing. Middle actors include people such as builders, tradespeople, home performance advisors or architects and designers. Sally has a background in developing and delivering programmes to improve the performance of existing housing and has working for central government, in the community sector and as a consultant. Her research is supported by an Energy Cultures scholarship.

The first time someone talked to me about home performance I remember being puzzled. I was trying to reconcile two terms that didn’t seem to belong together. Performance to me was something a symphony orchestra does, it certainly wasn’t something I associated with good quality, energy efficient housing – a topic I thought I knew a bit about.

My understanding of a home (or house) was of something physical, but passive, that I lived in. I knew a fair amount about energy efficiency in the housing sector and about human behaviour and decision-making in relation to energy efficiency. But what I hadn’t considered was that a house could ‘perform’.


Perform is a verb, which implies action. According to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary ‘to perform’ means:

Sally Blackwell

Carry out, accomplish or fulfil (an action, task, or function)

And according to Wikipedia (source of all reputable knowledge), housing performance is:

a comprehensive whole-house approach to identifying and fixing comfort and energy efficiency problems in a home.

In my view this definition is useful but does not go far enough. I came up with the following working definition for the purposes of establishing a common understating amongst a group of collaborators.

Housing performance is the science and practice of building and improving homes to make them as comfortable, safe, resource efficient and durable as possible. 


As a nation I think we are beginning to appreciate the value of warm, dry homes and thanks to initiatives like EECA’s Warm Up New Zealand and Energy Spot, and the hard work of many others – like community organisations, researchers and businesses – we are starting to understand and embrace energy ef