Helping to lead the application of Passivhaus in the UK

The prospects and the future of Passivhaus are global and expanding daily. Having been involved since 2011 in this discipline, it is exciting and encouraging to see and hear of the exponential growth of both it’s recognition and application.

I realise that there are still fears of change, misconceptions, resistance and lack of regulation within the UK. These are temporary limitations to the possibility of this ‘world leading standard of construction’ becoming the default within both new construction and renovation markets.

Chris Herring, in his recent blog on the 2018 International Passivhaus Conference in Munich picked up on Simone Kreutzer’s comment (of IG Passivhaus Sverige)– we need to “start speaking the language of the common people”. 

I appreciate, that for the quotidian society, the jargon of “airtightness”; “MVHR”; “thermal  cold bridges”; “psi values”; “solar thermal gain” give the impression of an intricate, expensive and somewhat out-of-reach phenomenon. Within the UK market Passivhaus has tended to be perceived as a complex science for the elite and even misunderstood as Huf house or a style of architecture. In my own experience, having presented and lectured the topic, unless we are relaying to the converted, then we have a responsibility to “change our way of speaking”. Communication is all, and technical language won’t do it.  There is a need to inspire and evoke enthusiasm and understanding; a need to indicate and facilitate the viability and possibility for change with confidence and conviction; to alleviate fear and install acceptance. In line with Chris and Simon – the language is the key.

Until we acquire the backing of our government through regulation it is unlikely that we can find much support from housing developers to apply Passivhaus principles to new build. I have approached several major players, endeavouring to open a dialogue for the integration of Passivhaus within their housing schemes. Government policy is such that at least 200,000 new homes are to be built annually, yet there is no requirement for these to be designed to the standards of Passivhaus construction.

In addition to new build Passivhaus, limited building land and extensive quantities of old building stock indicate that we are likely to have individual and complex technical challenges to address with renovation. These are often affiliated with restrictions of local vernacular essential to the historic context, enforced  by conservation areas; AONB; historic boundaries and green belt. The challenges of upgrading our existing housing stock; old disused buildings and post war terraces requires lateral thinking, bespoke approaches and great deals of enthusiasm and support.

Executing a self build EnerPhit at the Barge has thrown me into parallel roles as project manager; architect; client and Passivhaus designer. This has given me significant experience in managing groups, correlating technical packages, communicating this on site and exploring methods and application through construction. I have been heavily involved in programming and costing and worked very hard to form good working relations with everyone on the team. I believe it is essential to take on board all opinions and offer time and respect for the viewpoints of others, recognising their specialisms.

Spanish Passivhaus pioneer, Micheel Wassouf, ”the best marketing campaign is the buildings that have been built.” Having buildings on the ground that are in harmony with the planet and people is a strong tool in the process of understanding. Experiencing Passivhaus is essential and is to be encouraged. This is one of the foremost reasons for me pursuing the EnerPhit at the Barge. How surprised friends and colleagues are when they hear that the Barge energy demand will drop from 300 Kwh/m2a to 1/10th of this and when they visit and experience the lack of draughts; comfort; warmth; fresh air; inside outside spaces, I am confident they will be inspired.

I have spent the last 7 years of my architectural career discerning the practical, technical and theoretical concepts and application of Passivhaus. There are always advancements in  products, new ideas and pioneering approaches to construction, which I endeavour to understand and embrace. There are challenges in application, particularly in renovation of old buildings and I have explored methodology to overcome some quite complex details requiring both airtightness and thermal bridge free design.

Being self employed for most of my working life has ensured strong time management skills, target planning and focus. I have had to be diverse and think laterally to manage alone. I am able to tackle most problems and call on resources and contacts if needed to determine solutions. The principles and discipline of Passivhaus are well ingrained into my thought process. 

Preparation, awareness of potential limitations and thoroughness all assist planning and development and have been the mainstay of my approach to work. This together with delegation, sharing and appreciation of knowledge, communication and coordination, in my view, facilitate change and progress.

I am familiar with presentation, formation of working groups and liaising with those of relevant authority. Architecture, although creative and inspiring, by it’s very nature of challenging boundaries, requires strong negotiation skills. This is particularly true in the case of authorities and regulators within planning and local councils. I have always endeavoured to work with them to achieve positive results, giving clear attention to detail and policy to put forward a tangible case.

On qualifying as CPHD I took every opportunity to prepare and speak to working groups and prospective clients about Passivhaus. There were always questions over comparison to the now obsolete Code for Sustainable Homes, to Building Regulations, to Carbon Zero all of which required visual aids, power-points, facts and graphs to endorse the theory. As the awareness and exposure increases there are still many avenues to pursue to extend  knowledge. I have prepared presentations and blogs to inform and publicise knowledge on the Barge and intend to participate in the Openhaus days, encouraging the sharing of knowledge and practical issues associated with the reality of construction.

We have the opportunity to expand our dialogue to be inclusive of the younger generations. The message we portray must continue to inspire and captivate our youths who are already discerning and conscientious, concerned for the future and our resources on this planet. 

Future schools, hospitals, offices and public buildings are also taking the plunge with Passivhaus and we can support and promote such an approach, recognising  these landmarks of sustainable design. They not only conserve energy, but offer vastly superior environments for health and wellbeing.

Every day is a day of evolution in and around Passivhaus for me.  It’s application as an ethos permits advancement and improvement even at a micro level where the overall Passivhaus Certification is not on the radar.