Ben Adam-Smith shares what he's learnt from visiting 6 self build projects, each shortlisted for the UK Passivhaus Awards 2016.
Regen Media produced 6 video inserts for the ceremony and this gave Ben the opportunity to visit these homes. Now he reflects on each project and the key takeaways.
1. Passivhaus can quickly get under the skin of a building team.
What's interesting on this one is that Bill Butcher has been able to step back somewhat and let his team get on with it.
Foreman Jude Wilson says: “As we've been doing these big projects, it is evolving and becoming more natural. The processes that we're doing, we've learnt them, and so it's second nature just to get on and do it.”
2. Contractors who are new to Passivhaus can do it if they have the right attitude
On the Lime Tree Passivhaus project, they engaged a contractor who had never built to Passivhaus standard before. However, the contractor embraced it wholeheartedly, taking the entire team through the Certified Passivhaus Tradesperson course.
Architect Chris Parsons from Parson + Whittley says: “Choosing contractors to deliver Passivhaus is still difficult because there are very few that have got the experience but my mantra is have they got their attitude? Are they really interested in delivering the performance and understanding that that's delivered simply through close attention to detail and quality? So no, I don't think experience is the necessary factor, it's the right cultural approach.”
3. While a compact form is always a good idea, it is not essential to achieve Passivhaus standard
Tigh Na Croit is an ‘L' shaped bungalow, which is clearly not the most efficient form. However, this form is a response to the site. The bedrooms face east and the main living spaces face south, and thus there was a good architectural reason for going down this route.
Again, it's an illustration of how great architecture can be created that still complies with the Passivhaus standard.
4. Embracing simplicity pays dividends
Lansdowne Drive Passivhaus is a modest but striking Zinc clad building in the heart of East London. Architect Bernard Tulkens is also the client here and, as such, could do things that he never gets a chance to do! He wanted the building to be flexible and with a simple palette of materials.
Bernard says: “When you realise that by reducing the elements you use, not having to choose finishes, you avoid a whole set of traps. I thought, why, if I'm building a building for myself would I start lining up a timber construction with plasterboard and worry about shadow-gaps or skirting boards or recessed lighting. No. I just decided that timber was going to be nice enough as a finish.”
Simplicity, as we've heard many times before, can really come up trumps.
5. Determination is fundamental to building your own home
Chiswick Eco Lodge was a 7-year project! Right from the word go they were up against it. The plot was a garage infill and, as such, demanded that a large proportion of this house would be underground. What's more, everything that came onto site had to negotiate a tree (with a Tree Preservation Order on it)! They also had a 3-year battle with planning.
All that said and done, they achieved a remarkable contemporary urban dwelling which slots beautifully into its streetscape.
6. A shell-only contractor can simplify the build process
At the Old Water Tower they ran into few difficulties during the build because of how the work packages were assigned.
Project manager Mike Jacob says: “I think that we were in safe hands with the timber frame specialist. One of the lessons that we've learned from the past is to try and go for easy wins and there are companies out there now who will take control of delivering a guaranteed, thermally bridge free, airtight, super insulated box and they can do that very quickly.”
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