The Passivhaus standard is a simple high-quality, fabric-first approach to building that reduces energy bills and provides the best indoor comfort. Self-builders take time to plan and build the best home they can, and are often more open to innovate, with long-term benefits in sight.
Here are a few tips for successfully self-building to the rewarding low-energy standard:
1. Do your research: take advantage of the many free guidance and best practice documents available, ranging from the benefits of building to Passivhaus, to how to put those dreams into reality and successfully deliver a project. You can never plan enough! Learn about the Passivhaus criteria and methodology. Become familiar with what the certification process entails and how deliver quality assurance and building performance. The best way to learn about the benefits is via first-hand experience. The annual Passivhaus open days, in November, is an international site visit event where Passivhaus projects open their doors to the public to share their experiences and facilitate the learning of Passivhaus benefits.
Passivhaus goes Personal combines a short video, booklet and useful links to help start your Passivhaus project.
2. Early bird: the most successful and cost-effective way of achieving Passivhaus is by incorporating it into your designs as early as possible. Simple measures such as building orientation, building form and window placements can all help to optimise the design’s performance to meet the Passivhaus criteria. The best outcomes are usually from an iterative design, so allow sufficient time for the development process.
3. Find the right team: Passivhaus is often passionately described as a team sport. Although it is highly recommended that you have at least one prominent member of the team experienced and skilled in delivering the Passivhaus standard – it is equally, if not more, important to have people that share the same project ambitions. They must aspire to create sustainable, low-energy architecture, contribute to a collaborative team, take pride in their work and be willing to pursue a challenge. An on-site Passivhaus champion, who is responsible particularly for airtightness and workmanship quality, can greatly help. There are now several CEPH training courses available across the country, along with UK masterclasses and conferences. These events provide a great opportunity to network and find the right people and products.
Hall of fame
Here, i-build digs through its archive and revisits those who have built outstanding examples of Passivhaus perfection.
1. The Maryville Passivhaus, Scotland
Back in the June issue, homeowner Ian Sweetland talked i-build through his Scottish timber-frame self-build home. Ian and his wife both had previous knowledge of Passivhaus standards and building from time the two had spent in Germany, which partly motivated their build. Maryville is designed to the Passivhaus standard; hence the total annual energy demand must be less than 120kWh/(m²a). To achieve this target, the spatial planning of the build maximises passive solar heat gain.
2. Ostro, Scotland
Mhairi Grant and Martin McCrae’s development of their new Scottish home, ‘Ostro’, provided the perfect opportunity to realise their ambitions for moving out of the city, creating more space for living and working, and pursuing their passion for Passivhaus principles. The couple knew they wanted to design an airtight building that was vapour-open and breathable, in line with Passivhaus principles.
3. Self-build home, East Sussex
When John Churchett wanted some additional living space for his growing daughter, he decided to start from scratch and build his own home. The objective was to build an energy-efficient home with year-round comfort combined with minimal running costs. The building was therefore designed following Passivhaus principles requiring exceptional thermal performance from the building fabric combined with very high airtightness performance.
4. Self-build, Hackney
When Architect, Bernard Tulkens, bought his home in Hackney, there was a piece of land at the bottom of his garden accessed by a gate. From the outset, Bernard knew it was an ideal infill plot for a self-build scheme. The scheme has achieved a certified Passivhaus build status and boasts a quirky, contemporary design. The property is now the home of Bernard’s in-laws who have brought a lifelong interest in antiques into the modernist space to create a stunningly eclectic home.
5. Self-build, Devon
This two-storey, 200m² structure replaces an earlier dwelling on the Bampton site where Gale & Snowden is the specialist architectural consultant and Passivhaus designer responsible for the specification process. In addition to the ducted central ventilation system, which constantly harvests warmth from extracted stale air, the new home uses a holistic set of measures in order to keep energy usage within the tightly controlled Passivhaus parameters.