Dr Wolfgang Feist describes how better energy efficiency opens a path to making us less dependent on fossil fuels and we have that knowledge now.
Interview with Dr Wolfgang Feist
Dr Feist explains that his early research in the 1970s was addressing how to deliver the growing demand for energy in the world. When examining what the energy was used for, the surprising result was that most of it was wasted. So improving energy efficiency was the clear route forward. If you consider the services you need then you can design a building in a way that it uses far less energy. Scientifically speaking this is quite easy to do; the bigger challenge is getting that through to the market.
The Passivhaus Standard is Very High Energy Efficiency
By improving the building’s envelope you reduce the energy losses you normally have, so that you only need a very low amount of heat to keep it warm or cooling to keep it cool. This is in the range of a tenth of what we used to need in the past. It not only reduces the amount of energy you need but it also improves the comfort in the building, too. With a far higher quality of building envelope, another benefit is that it lasts longer. And, as it's simpler, it becomes easier to maintain.
Passivhaus Principles Can Be Widely Used
Dr Feist explains that a building that meets the Passivhaus standard can be of any style and for an purpose (offices, swimming halls, schools and dwellings etc.). It also lends itself to any kind of material: masonry, timber construction, load bearing structures with concrete, whatever you want.
Old Habits Die Hard in The Construction Industry
As a very conservative industry, the construction industry tends to do what they have always done and that means it's not easy. However, change is becoming more rapid. The key is that they must decide they want to learn this new way of doing things.
Energy Will Only Get More Expensive
Our energy problems are not in the future, they are happening right now. Over the last ten years the cost of energy has risen significantly and that is set to continue – fuel poverty already exists. Also, the consequences of using fossil fuels on such a large scale mean that we have a growing amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the earth's atmosphere. We need to change the way we use energy. Using less energy will in turn burn less fossil fuel and thus reduce CO2 emissions. Currently, around the world, over 80% of our energy still comes from fossil fuels.
The Passivhaus Standard is a World Standard
Dr Feist says that the Passivhaus standard is a world standard, but it is a method of doing things. Therefore what works in one country cannot necessarily be transposed to another. It’s a method of how to design a building compatible to the climate in which you reside.
Passive House Principles
In the UK's situation, insulation is the most important factor. It must be in such a way that it avoids thermal bridging. Then the building must be airtight, which is something they have not been in the past. Improved windows have a very high influence on the energy balance of building, too. Due to the airtightness, a ventilation system is also necessary. So the four factors are insulation, airtightness, good windows and ventilation.
Passivhaus Standard Certification
It is well documented what a building is that meets the Passivhaus standard. That's why certification allows you to know that the building meets the criteria. In the UK the Passivhaus Trust has a list of certifiers. If you come to sell a house, this certification becomes a quality and performance guarantee.
A Future Worth Living
Through his research at the Passivhaus Institute Dr Feist is creating better components, such as more efficient windows. He's motivated by seeing new projects realised. Recently he has been working with the city of Frankfurt to build the world's first Passivhaus hospital. The government and European Commission are seeing the huge benefits and encouraging this advance. Dr Feist also helps organisations around the world to gain members and knowledge.
How World Governments Can Play Their Part in Driving Forward Energy Efficiency
The most important stride could be made by governments creating an environment where innovation is accepted. Incentives can also play a part and they don't have to involve money. Dr Feist details an example in Italy where truly energy efficient house builders are allowed to build on a bigger proportion of the land they own. That way it doesn't cost the taxpayer any money, but it does provide investors with an incentive to build energy efficient homes. Governments can also circulate literature about how to improve efficiency in new construction and in refurbishment of existing buildings.
Timing is Everything When Retrofitting Existing Housing
The best time to improve the energy efficiency of a house is when something needs to be done anyway. As our existing housing is not static, but in a cycle, there will come a time when repairs etc. are necessary. This is the time to improve energy efficiency… when the scaffolding would be going up anyway. Dr Feist stresses the importance of going for the best products, too. This is because the job may not be done again for many years.
A Path Away From Fossil Fuels
Based on the physics there is no need to use energy to create comfortable temperatures in buildings. Energy savings could be reduced further, not to zero but to almost zero. However, there is a certain amount of renewable energy available and with the advances of Passivhaus they reduce energy consumption to 1/10 of what it has been in the past. Therefore the required energy is low enough that it will be available from regional sources anywhere in the world without a big problem. So in the end there is no need to go much further than that but of course it could happen.
We Need Your Input
It may be early days but we want your feedback on the House Planning Help Podcast. What are you enjoying? How could we improve? What would you like to know more about? Your answers will help shape future episodes. We would also like to create video tutorials during a house build, if that is content that will be useful to you. Have your say now!