Poachers turned gamekeepers? How one firm of architects is moving Passivhaus forwards

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The news that Architype, fed up with developers’ lack of interest in Passivhaus, are to build homes themselves  is  not only a very interesting development but also, we think, a very smart idea. Developers are in the business to turn a profit, and if makes more financial sense for them to build to lower energy efficiency standards then that’s the most obvious course of action for them. It means that the new-build housing market is dictated by cost cutting and maximum cost efficiency rather than thinking about the bigger picture, the future or the end user. But for multiple reasons; for the sake of the environment, for better living environments, to alleviate fuel poverty both now, and in the future, we should be building to the highest standards possible.

The demand for Passivhaus (or at least code 6)  needs to be there from the end user to encourage developers to build to that standard, but clearly it isn’t yet and so why developers won’t cater to a demand that is not yet high enough. Does this make the situation is a bit chicken and egg? There is after all, in the South East in particular, a housing shortage and so prospective homeowners will buy what’s available and unless they are buying off-plan and putting in demands for Passivhaus to the developer, that desire may not be filtering through.

There is also an awareness problem with Passivhaus in that it’s not yet big enough in the public consciousness – homeowners won’t demand what they’re unaware of.

By taking ownership of the problem Architype are not only creating a new revenue stream for themselves but are doing everyone involved in Passivhaus a favour by creating both awareness and availability of Passivhaus homes.

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Outwitting inflation

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It was recently in the press that the cost of energy has gone up by a staggering 63% in the last 5 years. Aside from the fact that it couldn’t have come at a worse time with the recession and household budgets being increasingly squeezed, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

Unless you happen to live in a Passivhaus that is. With energy efficient technologies advancing all the time and providing better returns, it’s making increasingly sense to retrofit period properties to be low energy and build to Passivhaus standard.  Making a period property airtight and installing energy efficient technologies such as MVHR, solar panels and PV cells can significantly reduce energy bills, and by going fully Passiv this can be by as much as 90%. For a new build, it seems (to us at least!) like a bit of a no brainer to build as low energy as you possibly can

So as fuel prices continue to rocket, that return on your investment will be repaid in record time.

Where to draw the line – setting standards in retrofits

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We are responsible for the technical design and construction on the UK’s first two officially certified Passivhaus retrofits, projects that were exciting and which presented huge challenges to solve the energy efficiency problems each property presented. We’re extremely proud of what we achieved so it may come as a surprise to find that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend attempting to achieve Passivhaus standard in a retrofit. Why is this?

The main reason is cost:  Passivhaus is an extremely rigorous standard (for example total air leakage at Princedale Road had to be reduced to an area no larger than the size of a £2 coin) and so for the average retrofit, the cost savings to be made by going Passivhaus just don’t stack up. A building must be in need of complete and total renovation for it to make financial sense.

However, there are still plenty of innovative and cost effective ways to reduce the energy burden on a house and make it as low energy as possible, from triple glazed windows and solar thermal systems – we even make insulated furniture to maximise heat retention whilst retaining as much internal floor space as possible which, in a typical Victorian property for example and as properties start to move to the European model of sale per m2, is an important consideration!

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