Taking Passivhaus to the next level at Ecobuild 2016

The UK Passivhaus movement has strengthened its position versus other sustainability goals in the housing sector in recent months.

Jon Bootland, Chief Executive of the Passivhaus Trust, explains how increasing numbers of housebuilders are embracing the gold standard of energy efficient design, and are learning from the experts at Ecobuild.

There has been a massive change in the political landscape over the last year, characterised by the removal of various initiatives such as the Zero Carbon Homes target and the winding down of the Code for Sustainable Homes and retrofit programmes.

Despite this sustainability remains high on the agenda and very much an expected norm. However for many there is a desire to go beyond the norm and build to exceptional standards and Passivhaus offers one route for anyone that wants to go beyond minimum building efficiency.

Passivhaus has grown exponentially over the last six years from the first certified scheme in 2009 to over 500 projects currently, including increasing numbers of multi-unit housing developments. Coordinated by the Passivhaus Trust which has facilitated strong support from UK manufacturers, the initiative has grown organically in the UK rather than being driven by Government, which could mean that it is more sustainable than other programmes in the current environment.

Medium sized housebuilders – such as Citu, which is making its first steps towards Passivhaus with its 107-home low carbon development on site currently at Little Kelham near Sheffield – are showing the way forward, and it is only a matter of time before one of the top 10 housebuilders builds their first Passivhaus scheme. With Ecobuild having been a crucial vehicle for promulgating the concept and bringing it to wide acceptance in the UK, next year’s event will be key for taking Passivhaus to the next level.

Over the last five years Passivhaus has evolved from one-off self-build projects to medium-sized affordable housing developments such as the 30-house Greenhauses social housing project in Sulgrave Gardens, west London, and a privately owned ‘cohousing’ scheme in Lancaster offering 41 dwellings.

With a focus on tackling fuel poverty using ultra-efficient building design and high performance products, these types of schemes will be crucial to broadening the acceptance and achievements of Passivhaus in providing affordable comfort for residents and value for clients.

However, the next stage is to go for even bigger numbers. This is exemplified by schemes such as Camden Council’s plan for a 400-unit development, and even more impressive, Norwich City Council who are looking at a total of over 1000 units on several sites across the city with a mix of private sale and social rent.

A large amount of the work done so far in larger developments has been for social housing, or for a mix of social and private ownership. However, housing associations now have to offer a certain portion of private for sale and rental properties in order to afford to build their social housing requirement, almost functioning as a normal developer in some respects albeit on a smaller scale.

They are also financially constrained in terms of having to reduce rents progressively over the next five years, so are not investing in Passivhaus as merely a ‘nice to have’.

Their focus on reducing energy bills alongside achieving a healthy environment for users has driven a focus on Passivhaus standards because of its low fuel costs, avoidance of condensation and damp, and good air quality from the essential MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery). With the standard requiring a space heating requirement of only 15 kWh/m2.yr, buildings can be objectively verified as providing around 90% less heating energy costs than a standard house.

In addition to one-off custom builds and larger developments is a new type of Passivhaus housing scheme we are just beginning to see; premium value individual schemes which tap into combined demand for low energy with high end living.

Grosvenor Britain and Ireland has just completed its first Passivhaus-certified retrofit, a mews terrace house in London’s Mayfair offering 80% energy use reduction which is a first in London’s private rented sector. The firm is focusing on a similar model for other developments, offsetting the challenges such as working in Conservation areas with the value attached to such projects, and the Passivhaus brand, by tenants.

Sharing knowledge at Ecobuild

The Trust has been closely involved with Ecobuild since it launched in 2010, and have had a strong presence at both the exhibition and conference. Our seminars have always enjoyed packed-out attendances, which has been a consistent demonstration of how Ecobuild has managed to attract a very broad group of visitors interested in Passivhaus over the years.

For the first time in 2016 we will be having a pavilion within the exhibition which will gather some of our 250 member companies including suppliers of the high quality insulation, glazing, ventilation, fabric, services and whole systems that contribute to Passivhaus schemes, providing useful technical help and advice to everyone from self-builders to major housebuilders. Suppliers of products and services so far confirmed to attend include Insulated Floors, Daylight & Ventilation Solutions, Warmcel, Ecology Building Society and Accredited Passivhaus Design.

We will also be on hand to explain how we support clients such as via our Passive House Planning Package software to help customers to calculate building performance. Passivhaus projects are challenging, and learning from the experts at Ecobuild can be crucial in moving your own project forward.

For further information about Ecobuild 2016 please visit www.ecobuild.co.uk