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Milton Keynes' Passivhaus: the most airtight house ever?


EcoDesign Consultants complete ‘The Passive House’ in Howe Wood Park

A cold damp day, although thoroughly unwelcome in July, was the perfect test environment for Footprint’s visit to eco Design Consultants’ recently completed Passive House near Milton Keynes.

Replacing a derelict burnt-out house that had been troublesome for the community, client The Parks Trust wanted to build a new home that could be a positive icon for the future. Opting to construct the first Passivhaus standard building in the area meant footing the bill for a construction cost of £2,000 per square metre.


The Passive House and its folly

On approach from the drive, there is a pleasing dialogue between the house and the elevated home-office folly opposite, which tricks the eye into reading the considerable height of the house as slightly lower.

A mixed cladding palette of Kebony wood boards, Eternit roof tiles and Rockpanel also help break up the elevation, so the building appears more compact than it really is.

MKPassiveHouse _Front-summermidday


An oversailing roof to the south is designed to prevent excessive solar gain, however funds were available to install back up roller shutters – just in case. Compartmentalisation of the top floor for fire regulations allows an open plan ground floor despite the house’s three storeys, which are necessary to accomodate the five quite generous bedrooms.

MKPassiveHouse_N-E corner


Although the scheme largely conforms to typical Passivhaus north-south window arrangements, interior daylight is improved by vertical slit windows to the east and west, generally a Passivhaus faux-pas. This addition of dynamic changing light to north-facing rooms goes some way to improve the rather dark upper floors – the diminished natural light here is a side-effect of satisfying other more stringent requirements.


Slit window in a north facing bedroom

Of course, the open plan living area makes up for this by being super bright. Practice director Alan Budden noted it was a shame to lose a double height space over the lounge in order to increase the lettable floorspace to 182 square metres - there was an estate agent on the client board - but he admitted it has helped with the Passivhaus Planning Package calculations.

MKPassiveHouse_open plan living


A timber frame made for a quick eight-month construction period and facilitated airtightness. The walls contain 300mm of Warmcel insulation against an inside face of taped up OSB3, a material whose airtightness was hotly debated at this year’s AECB Conference according to Budden. Yet with an airtightness value of 0.065 air changes per hour, it seems to have done the trick. And it felt like that on the day; the cool, muggy outdoor air was not apparent inside the house.


North facade

The MVHR system extracts and recycles air from the toilet and kitchen to help warm the home; care has been taken to ensure the ducts are easily accessed from the bathroom and utility room on their respective floors.

Other green features include solar water heating and 4kW peak photovoltaics, again because the money was there.


eco Design Consultants’ Passivhaus diagram - click to enlarge

Attentive cold bridge detailing has helped alleviate U-values at thermal weak points; for example using inward opening windows has reduced frame width and allowed for an extra external layer of phenolic foam around windows. It’s worth noting that many still query the use of environmentally un-friendly materials such as this in order to attain the high performance required for Passivhaus.

MKPassiveHouse_S-E corner


The Parks Trust are keen to follow through on their sustainable aims for the project by collecting and analysing energy data. Building performance monitors are at the ready,and the house has now been taken over by its first tenants, who have been fully briefed on how Passivhaus works.

With the Trust keeping its eye on another house opposite that is currently up for auction, The Passive House at Howe Wood Park might even be the beginnings of a Milton Keynes Passivhaus community.

Energy Standard (PHPP)

Heat requirement / year: 14 kWh/m²a

Heat load (Thames valley data): 12 W/m²

Primary energy required: 95 kWh/m²a

Air-tightness (n50-value): 0.065 h-1 @ 50 Pa



Floor slab: 0.122 W/m2K

Exterior walls: 0.137W/m2K

Roof sloping: 0.116 W/m2K

Windows glass: 0.6 & 0.7 W/m²K

Windows frame: 0.97 W/m²K

Professional Team

Client: Parks Trust, Milton Keynes

Architect: eco Design Consultants

Passivhaus Consultants: eco Design Consultants

Passivhaus Certifier: WARM

Project manager: Jackson Coles

CDM coordinator:  Jackson Coles

Main contractor:  Parkway Construction

Timber frame specialist: Touchwood homes

Structural engineer: Allan Consult


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