Marlen and Tony Godwin explain why it was important for their modern, minimalist Passivhaus home and office designs to be sympathetic to the neighbourhood.
Interview with Marlen and Tony Godwin
Searching for a school for their son was the motivation for Marlen and Tony Godwin to move out of their London terraced home and build their own Passivhaus near Rutland Water. Tony is an architect and had been keen to create something sustainable that incorporated office space, without having too simplistic a form.
Site constraints informed the design
Despite Tony's doubt that they would be able to find a plot of land easily Marlen spent a few minutes on the internet and found six possible sites within 4 miles of their chosen area! Instead of purchasing one of the level plots available, they gave themselves added challenges by buying one set slightly into a hill. Although this, and the hard stone in the area, would add extra costs, it did mean that designing the building came quite naturally. The main elevation faces south for the solar gains, and the bedrooms were put at the back to be further from the noise of the busy road nearby.
The upside down layout was chosen so they could benefit from views out to the lake from the living area.
Having researched other buildings in the area which were typically old stone barns with additions tacked on in later years, they followed the idea through with a mainly stone exterior but with the bedroom wing having a standing seam roof and different boarded finish, as if it had been added on later.
The design was partly developed in collaboration with the parish clerk
The route through planning was aided by them wanting to fit in with the village. Being in a conservation area of only around 50 residents they designed the house to be of similar width and roof pitch to the other barns. Their planning officer suggested they meet with the parish clerk, who had always been very assiduous in planning matters in the village, and who took the plans round to explain to the villagers while retaining impartiality. Tony worked through the design with him, and where they disagreed on the junction between the garage and the main building, which Tony said would compromise the design and eliminate their view of Rutland Water, they agreed to let the planning system arbitrate between them.
A planning re-submission for design changes to achieve the Passivhaus standard brought the project within budget
After their original plans came in £300,000 over budget, and not being able to meet the Passivhaus standard, they went back to planning with a redesign. They reduced the overall square footage by incorporating the work studio into the house and leaving out the garage. They were careful to consider resale value and make sure they would be able to sell the house for more than they had invested in it, by taking their plans to local estate agents for feedback.
But Tony also believes:
“Okay, you’re going a little bit over what you can sell it for today, but actually, you’ve got to pay something to live in a beautiful home that you’ve created for yourself. That has some value.”
Some challenges were only overcome at the last minute
Waterproofing was a particular instance, where they had a retaining wall into the hillside with a timber frame in between. The moisture barrier came down the outside of the timber frame and the tanking membrane came up the retaining wall. They needed to come up with a solution for how to join the two, considering the differential settlement between the elements over time. Even finding an adhesive that would stick to the concrete without melting the polystyrene was a challenge.
Tony and Marlen are thankful that they had a site agent who took a keen interest in the detail required to achieve the Passivhaus standard. It was particularly important when educating the traditional contractor and sub-contractors who had always built a certain way before.
VAT doesn't have to be claimed back immediately
Working with a main contractor who was invoicing with zero-rated VAT means that they will only be able to claim the VAT back on things they have purchased themselves. They have left their claim open for the time being as they still plan to build the garage when funds allow.
Tony shares some interesting disadvantages to building to the Passivhaus standard!
- Increasing the aging and general population because it is so healthy to live in
- Less tolerance of other people's drafty old houses
- When you're used to living in a temperate 21 degrees you get caught out when you go outside as you didn't realise how cold it was.
And what does Marlen think to living and working in her Passivhaus home?
“Love it, love it, love it, love it!”
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