Passivhaus: German engineering for greener homes

Extending the Passivhaus methodology to all

I am currently studying to be a certified Passivhaus Designer. Whilst I am itching to get involved with my first Passivhaus I am very interested in the lessons we can learn from the methodology and how I can use this to the benefit of jobs where I’m not designing to the Passivhaus standard.

What is Passivhaus?

Passivhaus is a design and build methodology used to produce low-energy, superbly comfortable buildings. It was pioneered by German physicist Wolfgang Feist . In simple terms the high level of insulation, the super air tightness of the building and the rigorous attention to detail means that the heating demands can be as little as 10% of the heating required in a comparable building built to current UK standards.

There are thousands of Passivhaus on the continent, but in the UK there are only 100 or so newly built Passivhaus homes and a handful of retro-fits, which are existing buildings that have been upgraded to the Passivhaus standard. Passivhaus is a relatively new concept in the UK and build costs are said to be 10 to 15% higher than traditional build costs.

What can we learn from the Passivhaus methodology?

1.   More rigorous energy assessment

Passivhaus uses a planning/design tool that pulls together all the components of the building, enabling the designer to adjust the type, performance and/or cost of the components to achieve the optimum energy use of the building. It’s the most rigorous, accurate and detailed energy assessment tool  I have ever used and its wider use would significantly benefit any building job.

2.   Closer attention to detail and air tightness

A large part of the success of a low-energy home is to have well thought-through and detailed designs of the elements of the building where heat is lost. Passivhaus requires the architect to produce details for the junctions and for the structural elements that eliminate thermal bridges and do not compromise the air tightness of the building.

3.   Improved build quality

The third element is that of the build quality: the builder must understand and build to the architects’ details. A small number of builders are starting to build to these exacting standards, but the vast majority, whist not adverse to new methods of working, do not seems to know about or understand the physics behind these ‘new’ build methods.

4.   Better team working

The forth lesson is that all the team involved with the build (the client, architect, consultant and the builder) must work together. The team must understand the concept; know the reasons things are being done in a certain way, and work collectively to achieve the common goal. Not impossible, but not often achieved on a standard UK building job.

Interested in building a Passivhaus, in bringing your home up to Passivhaus standards or using the Passivhaus design methodology? Contact me for a free consultation.

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