Passivhaus : has it’s time come?



Each year the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) awards the Stirling Prize to the ‘best’ architecture project in the UK (EU pre-2015). The award is arguably the most prestigious in the UK. Previous winners include: Foster + Partners ‘Gherkin’; Gateshead Millennium Bridge; and The Scottish Parliament. All of which have become iconic examples of British architecture.

This year’s prize goes to Mikhail Riches’ Goldsmith Street, a social housing project in Norwich built to ‘Passivhaus’ standard. The project, consisting of 105 super-efficient homes, is not only the first social-housing scheme to take this coveted prize; it is also the first Passivhaus project to win.

Passivhaus: Stirling Prize Winner
Photo: Tim Crocker / The Guardian

Including a passive, social-housing scheme in this list reflects the importance of low-carbon and sustainable design. We hope this will become more synonymous with good architecture in­­ our future.

Passivhaus is on the rise in the UK: currently there are around 270 certified projects in the UK, and 145 in development. The first certified Passivhaus in the UK was Y Foel, a home built in Wales in 2009. The first in Scotland, Tigh-Na-Cladach  (‘House by the Shore’), was also the first certified social-housing project in the UK. Built in 2010 in Dunoon, designed by Gokay Deveci, an architect and professor at Robert Gordon University; who has been at the forefront of many of low-energy and sustainable projects in the UK.

What is Passivhaus?

Passivhaus is a voluntary building standard, developed in Germany in the 1990s, to achieve very low-energy use buildings. The standard follows a ‘fabric-first’ approach, resulting in very low heat loss:

  • very high levels of insulation and high performance windows & insulated frames
  • airtight building fabric
  • ‘thermal bridge free’ construction
  • maximise passive gains – orientation, shading
  • typically a mechanical ventilation system with highly heat recovery (MVHR)
Passive Principles

Diagram: Passive Principles

Buildings are heated by orientating for maximum solar gain, however are also shaded to prevent summer overheating. MVHR allows a building to breathe, bringing in fresh air, which is heated (or cooled) by, but not mixed with, the interior air. This therefore results in a very low energy heating system combined with good indoor air quality.

Passivhaus allows 120kWh/m2/year for energy use, of which 15kWh/m2/year only, is allocated to heating. To put this in context, a typical building’s energy use is 360kWh/m2/year!

Local councils and others are beginning to understand the benefits of Passivhaus and other green building methods when applied to social housing. Being energy efficient, heating demand reduces 75%, significantly reducing running costs. For Councils, putting these standards into social housing schemes is a brilliant way to reduce fuel poverty amongst tenants; and is a more carbon friendly option – helping to bring the UK closer to its target of net-zero emissions.

Is Passiv-haus for you?

Whilst Passivhaus is a great design standard, if you are not aiming for Passivhaus certification, we still advocate a ‘fabric-first’ approach to get the most out of your building.  Not only for new build – we recommend also if you are extending or altering your property; as it will improve efficiency, increase comfort and help reduce energy bills.

With current world wide concern for the escalating climate crisis, coupled with widespread housing shortages, the time to address and improve our methods of building have never been more important. Both for us as individuals and our government. Hopefully Goldsmith Street is an indication that we can, and will, move in the right direction.