Posted by: Nick Duxbury12/07/2012
It is funny watching a craze take off. A few years ago, Passivhaus was a German build standard with a small, dedicated cult-following in the UK. Its fabric-first, ultra insulated approach was simple and attractive enough, but it was fiendishly difficult to deliver – in part because so few people were qualified to translate the complicated conversations about u-values and membranes into a viable scheme.
Today, Passivhaus seems to be increasingly normalised into the social housing sector’s consciousness as a viable and legitimate ambition for the future. Its disciples are no longer just a core group of enthusiastic architects and housing nerds focussed on new-build properties. Now housing bosses are getting on board too - and they are seeing its value, not just in developing new homes, but also in retrofitting their existing stock on a growing scale.
As we reveal this week, Manchester-based Eastland Homes has taken the decision to retrofit 32 maisonettes to Passivhaus standard. There have been plenty of expensive retrofit pilot schemes which have adopted the Passivhaus approach – most of these being funded by the Technology Strategy Board, and therefore costing up to £150,000. However, this is the UK’s first large-scale Passivhaus retrofit. And the cost is likely to be closer to £40,000 a property. This is in part because the process will involve adding one new skin rather like when large tower blocks are retrofitted, rather than having to tackle each property individually. Nonetheless, it is a huge challenge making 32 leaky old apartment blocks airtight and efficient enough to meet the Passivhaus standards – especially as it plans to carry out all the works with the tenants still living in the properties. It is also an expensive challenge.
Eastland Homes, an 8,000-home stock transfer organisation, is carrying out the retrofits as part of its plans to refurbish the maisonettes as part of its £180 million decent homes programme. It has effectively lifted the bar for decent homes – which usually costs around £10,000 a property – much higher than anyone had previously considered. Indeed, the scheme will hopefully meet the government’s 2050 targets of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent based on 1990 levels. The works should slash tenants’ emissions by 80 per cent, but also hack back their bills from £1,540 a year to just £270 a year. That is pretty a pretty compelling motivation for housing bosses who know have hundreds of tenants in fuel poverty – and rising fuel bills are yet another strain on tenants’ ability to pay their rent.
Phil Summers, director at developer R-gem, which is overseeing the work on behalf of Eastland says that he has other housing association clients that are also undertaking larger scale Passivhaus retrofits on their stock too.
On the new-build front, the Passivhaus is gaining serious momentum. As we revealed in March, Norwich-based housing association Broadland plans to build the UK’s largest new-build Passivhaus scheme. The 4,500-home landlord is looking to develop a 208 homes without government grant. It believes that although the costs of building to Passivhaus is £1,500 per square meter compared with £1,350 for code for sustainable homes level four home, the difference can be recouped over 30 years through savings in management costs, as well as the benefit of tenants being more easily able to pay their rent.
This approach has already been taken by Hastoe Housing Association which this week won an award from the Passivhaus Trust for its 14-home Passivhaus scheme in Wimbish, Essex, and is currently building a further 14 in Norfolk.
Other landlords are seeing Passivhaus as a potential money maker. Only this week Octavia Living, the development arm of Octavia Housing Association, which carried out the UK’s first certified Passivhaus retrofit a Victorian property in London’s Holland Park last year, announced it was launching London’s ‘first mixed tenure development to use a Passivhaus approach’. Its use of Passivhaus in an open market development (which even brands itself around the approach – ‘Greenhauses’) suggests it sees a niche for housing associations to build to the standard on a greater scale that will have commercial value. Octavia’s Grahame Hindes certainly sells the ‘green living’ merits of the scheme as being highly aspirational. His quote in the press release reads: ‘With sustainable living previously seen as a luxury reserved only for those who can afford it, Octavia Living is breaking new ground in London by using the Passivhaus approach in a mixed tenure development. We want to ensure that the environmental, financial and well-being benefits offered by the Passivhaus approach, are available not only to those on high incomes.’
For many the Passivhaus approach is still not cost-effective enough to adopt. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t change their minds over the next year or so. A few months back my colleague Jess McCabe interviewed the father of Passivhaus, Dr Wolfgang Feist. If you haven’t read the piece yet, make sure you do. It is his revolution, afterall.
From Green paper
Examining the latest developments from the world of sustainable housing.