Robert Young explains why he decided to build a home for his retirement at the end of the garden and what steps were necessary to create this low maintenance, high comfort dwelling.
Interview with Robert Young
Robert and his family lived in a large Victorian house, which was originally the infirmary for Swaffham's workhouse. After 30 years there and with his children having left home, he and his wife Jane finally decided they needed to downsize to a property that be cheaper and easier to run, and offer them a high level of comfort.
As the Victorian house had a generous garden, they realised that could easily build a new home within it without diminishing the nature of the existing property.
Robert has always thought that it's sensible to do things before you have to and so they wanted to prepare for a time when they may not be as mobile.
Building to Passivhaus standard was a goal from the outset
Although the idea of building a house was incubating in their minds it was only after Robert attended a talk at his local rotary club that he gained a clear direction. The theme was domestic architecture and looked at past vernacular as well as future developments. Chris Parsons from Parsons + Whittley spoke of a Passivhaus future where buildings were constructed with much more attention to detail. Some of the benefits included lower heating bills and higher levels of comfort, which immediately appealed to Robert.
As part of their research they went to visit Denby Dale Passivhaus and they were impressed.
A dendrologist assessed the impact of a mature tree on the plot
Their new home – with a floor area of 110m2 – would sit on a plot of 500m2 but it would have to be shared with a mature lime tree that had a Tree Preservation Order on it.
A dendrologist plotted all the trees in the area and was confident they could build several metres away for the giant lime. The pile foundations and concrete raft would also protect them from any root growth, although this was thought to be minimal.
Give your architect the freedom to do a good job
Robert and Jane's original brief was simple. They wanted a two bedroom bungalow with en suite facilities, a living room and an open plan kitchen diner.
Other than that they were prepared to trust their architect Chris to come up with the best design possible. They were in no way prescriptive.
The design of their home embraced their biggest constraint
With the lime tree a dominant feature on the plot, the house wraps itself in a curve around it.
Most rooms look towards the tree, except for the living room which gazes back at their old Victorian home.
The tree also provides shade in the summer which reduces the chances of overheating in the Passivhaus.
The winning contractor was keen to do Passivhaus
The specification went out to five local builders, but the winning contractor showed a strong desire to do a good job.
Although they hadn't built to Passivhaus standard before they put their entire team through the Certified Passive House Tradesperson Course from the Passivhaus Trust.
Robert believes that having the same team on site the whole way through, rather than subcontractors, was a huge benefit.
A covenant was added to the deeds of their old house
Robert and Jane sold their home before the build began and rented a cottage in a nearby village.
They did update the deeds of their old home to include a covenant that stated that a two storey building could not be erected in front of their fence, which would block out the sunlight.
The builders plotted the curve using GPS
Lime Tree Passivhaus is a cavity wall construction.
When the bricklayers were creating the curve they plotted it using GPS facilities, breaking down the units into ever smaller and smaller sections, so that no more than two or three bricks were laid before they took another check on the alignment of the curve.
The build took just 8 months to complete, which was exactly on schedule.
Decisions were often made on a financial basis
As with any build they had to stick to a budget and Robert says that was one of the trickiest parts.
Not everything could be top of the range so they had to think carefully where they wanted to spend their money and make some compromises.
Swapping an old house for a new house was not difficult!
After 30 years in his old Victorian home, Robert anticipated it might be difficult to move . . . but he says personally it wasn't and it was time to go.
“We're very comfortable in the house. It meets all the requirements that we have and there were no exaggerated claims about the comfort of a Passivhaus so we're very happy.”
The UK Passivhaus Awards
This year the UK Passivhaus Awards is focusing on self builds so it's right up our street! Take a look at the projects that have made the shortlist.