Marine Sanchez from Enhabit explains the role of a Passivhaus Designer.
Interview with Marine Sanchez
Marine studied general engineering at university before completing a Masters in sustainable buildings. Realising that buildings weren't performing the way they should do, she studied further to understand the performance gap, which led her to Passivhaus. As well as being a Certified Passivhaus Designer for the last four years, she is a building physics engineer and now also teaches others who are studying for the Passivhaus Designer qualification.
Being a Passivhaus Designer is about understanding the physics of how a building works
Training to be a Passivhaus Designer involves an intensive two week course. Marine says that they get quite a range of people, from architects, structural engineers and mechanical & electrical engineers, and through to a few brave self builders themselves! At its core is a lot of maths and physics to really understand how a building works. There are two qualifications from the Passive House Institute in Darmstadt – Passivhaus Designer, and Passivhaus Consultant. Marine explains that there is very little difference between them, and is just a matter of what type of degree you did at university.
Beyond that, there are independent Passivhaus Certifiers who will review the design and advise whether the building can be certified, and Passivhaus Tradesperson who are the people on site that are trained to work extremely well with low energy buildings.
A Passivhaus Designer guides the whole design team as to the concepts that are being worked towards
Ideally a Passivhaus Designer would want to be involved from the start of the project, so that the low energy aspect is not a costly constraint on a design that is brought to them much later. Being involved early on means they can guide the design team, including the client, through the early feasibility stages on what type of concepts you want to work towards. Any changes on a design can have an impact on how the building will perform, and as the Passivhaus Designer is the one to make promises on that, they need to have an overall view and understanding of what everyone on the team is doing.
Marine explains that it's easier if everyone on the team has Passivhaus experience, but even if they don't the standard can still be achieved if a Passivhaus Designer is involved. It might make it a little more challenging and time consuming, but would be a good learning curve for everyone involved! What is important though is that everyone buys into it and works proactively as a team.
Passivhaus Designers might be approached through an architect or directly by a client
If they are approached by an architect then they will often find themselves working in different teams on each project. If a client goes to them directly however, Marine explains that she would suggest three or four architects they have liked working with previously, and leave the decision to the client, based on the type of architectural style they might be looking for, and who they feel they could interact well with.
If you're looking for a Passivhaus Designer you will find them all listed on the Passive House Institute website, but because the Passivhaus world is quite a small community you may find names cropping up once you start talking to people and doing initial research.
A typical week for a Passivhaus Designer…
Any week is likely to be a combination of a few different tasks. They tend to be:
Desk-based work – such as modelling using PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package), thermal bridging calculations and moisture transfer modelling, to assess how a building is going to perform.
Project team work – part of the week will be dedicated to interaction and team work with the rest of the design team, so architect, structural engineer, quantity surveyor, client etc.
Site visits – this provides the opportunity to ensure that the designs are being implemented on site, support the builders in understanding the concepts that are being asked for, and checking and testing the design.
Owner / architect case study
Enhabit are currently working on a project where the architect is also the owner and has undertaken the Passivhaus designer course. He and his wife had already had an architectural concept design but approached Enhabit for support in terms of insulation strategy etc.
From that stage they did a feasibility study, where even if they didn't know all of the details they had a good idea of what was going to be required so could make it work in PHPP to give a performance specification.
A detailed design process followed to make sure that each performance for every element was being met according to the targets set. All of these elements are refined and finalised before going on site.
This particular project is now on site and they are currently working on the roof insulation.
Don't rush the design
This would be Marine's key piece of advice:
“If you want a low energy building it will take a bit longer to design. It’s okay but I think that if people don’t rush it through design and really get it right, I actually think that your build goes actually so much smoother. And it could potentially go quicker as well because you don’t have to sort things on site and things you haven’t thought of, or compromise on the target that you wanted, which is what happens when people don’t actually work enough on the design before going to site when they’re trying to reach low energy buildings.”
Find out more
Visit the website of Enhabit
Follow Marine Sanchez on Twitter
House Planning Help meet-ups
We're soon going to be starting regular meet-ups for people that are looking to build an energy efficient home. It will be a chance to meet others in similar positions, share ideas and experiences and maybe even have guest speakers attending that we can all learn from.
Keep an eye out on www.houseplanninghelp.com/events which is where we will be posting the details.