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Working Detail: PassivHaus methodology

[WORKING DETAIL 28.02.08] PassivHaus methodology- could this be successfully imported to the UK?

Justin Bere of London-based Bere Architects believes that energy-saving German design methodology PassivHaus offers ‘the best route to achieving the UK’s zero-carbon housing goals’. This is a particularly pressing issue due to the government’s aim for all new housing to be zero-carbon by 2016. Bere is working on his practice’s first full PassivHaus, Smoothfield Farm near Ascot, Berkshire, scheduled to complete this year. It’s one of a number of projects being developed under PassivHaus guidelines in the UK (see page 61) as more and more architects and clients push to dramatically cut carbon emissions.

(Click on image to view full size pdf)

PassivHaus is based on enhancing building envelopes to reduce heating loads to the point that a conventional heating system can be eliminated. Developed from a German- Swedish academic collaboration in 1988, the first PassivHaus buildings were completed in 1991 in Darmstadt, Germany, the same city in which the PassivHaus Institute was founded five years later. Today, over 9,500 PassivHaus buildings have been realised in Germany, over 2,500 in Austria, and approximately 12,500 worldwide. Gavin Hodgson of the BRE estimates that the number of PassivHaus schemes in the UK is in the low hundreds. No exact figures are available because no UK building has attained PassivHaus designation yet, perhaps partly due to the £2,000 price tag for certification.

This low take-up comes despite the BRE’s commitment to PassivHaus - it participated in research shared between eight countries between 1998 and 2001, and developed a UK website ( and English translation of the PassivHaus computer modelling simulations (PHPP).

(Click on image to view full size pdf)

PassivHaus standards are roughly equivalent to Code for Sustainable Homes level four, two levels below the zero-carbon level six. The design heat load of a PassivHaus must be less than 15kWh/m2/year - which equals the heat that can be transported by the minimum required mechanical ventilation. Joints between materials and components and all service penetrations must be sealed.

(Click on image to view full size pdf)

Several UK practices are developing projects to PassivHaus standard. Youmeheshe director Simon Beames, whose firm looked to the method for its OKO House (see page 61), says he first encountered PassivHaus through a competition win in 2006 which enabled him to tour several Austrian PassivHaus projects. ‘I was amazed by the similarity between the internal air quality of the houses and the mountain air’, he says.

Beames notes that the biggest difference with the Austrian context is that while ground-source heating and solar panels can be relied upon to top up energy requirements in Austria’s colder climate, the UK market must rely on biomass wood pellet boilers.


Readers' comments (4)

  • This article is now out of date (written in 2008) there are now several completed and certified buildings to the PassivHaus Standards in the UK.
    Gavin Hodgson,

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  • Hawkes Architecture's Crossway project (featured on Grand Designs last year as the 'arched eco house') was not designed using PHPP software but has just received Passivhaus certification having passed the stringent, and often inflexible, standards set by the Passivhaus institute's method of assesment. Having said that Crossway's comprehensive monitoring system produced remarkably similar results to the Passivhaus software. This project shows that there is a place for low energy design using intuition and experience over the inflexible and often intangible measuring tools set up by software systems. Crossway proves that there is another way of reaching the same end result - a Passivhaus certificate, for what it's worth . . .

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  • So Passivhaus only achieves code level 4 - presumably only in relation to energy. When you see the expensive heating kit that's put into code 6 houses where passivhausesdon't need heating you have to ask yourself about the veracity of SAP.
    CSH really ought to have a post completion monitoring route as Dean Hawkes used for Crossway so that intuitive yet effective design can achieve an appropriate code certification for actual performance rather than a theoretical and flawed SAP.

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  • I suggest you get a more efficient PDF creator than the one you're using - all those attachments appear to be single pages but take ages to download...

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