5 February 2010

first Passivhaus conference is success

The Liberal Democrat shadow Climate Change and Energy Secretary, Simon Hughes MP, this week vowed to become the first politician to live in a Passivhaus home so energy efficient it wouldn’t need central heating. Mr Hughes, who was speaking before a packed audience of planners, building control officers and architects at the inaugural Camden and Islington Passivhaus conference*, called on councils to introduce the Passivhaus standard into their planning rules.

download the conference presentations here

The Passivhaus standard was created by German engineers and architects more than 20 years ago and is now widely used for building and refurbishment in Europe. Thick walls, triple glazed windows and a heat recovery system form the basis of a Passivhaus building. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) recently said the only way to reach zero carbon buildings (Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes) was by using the Passivhaus standard for energy efficiency.

The Camden and Islington Passivhaus conference – the first of its kind in the UK – was organised by cuttingthecarbon, a climate change and peak oil consultancy, and Passivhaus specialists bere:architects. The founder of cuttingthecarbon, Alexis Rowell, is also a councillor on the London Borough of Camden and Chair of its all-party Sustainability Task Force.

Cllr Rowell said: “I was amazed by the demand. All 160 places on the conference went within a few days. We could have filled Camden Town Hall several times over. This is incredibly encouraging for those of us who want to see the Passivhaus standard used more widely in the UK. There’s clearly a real hunger out there for information about Passivhaus.”

The conference, which was held at Camden Town Hall in Kings Cross, was backed financially by Camden and Islington Councils. Cllr Greg Foxsmith, Executive Member for Environment at Islington Council, said: “I’m delighted Islington was able to support this venture. I hope there will be more conferences like this but most of all I hope it will inspire people to feel they can create seriously low energy buildings.”

Delegates were taken to visit the first two Passivhaus developments in London – in Ranulf Road in West Hampstead, being built by Islington’s bere:architects, and in Aubert Park in Highbury, being built by Camden’s 4orm architects.

Camden Council’s Leader, Cllr Keith Moffitt, who welcomed participants to the Ranulf Road Passivhaus, said: “I’m extremely proud that Camden is home to one to the UK’s first Passivhaus buildings. This is exactly the sort of thing we want to see more of in Camden – development or refurbishment that saves energy and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.”

Justin Bere, the architect who designed the Ranulf Road Passivhaus said: “Passivhaus is about removing 85% of the energy requirement of a building and maximising the comfort of the occupants. A Passivhaus building now costs between 0% and 7% more than conventional build but less if lifetime energy bills are included in build costs. We are also building affordable passivhaus social housing in order to address problems of fuel poverty and cold, draughty homes, particularly for the elderly. Our first prototype passivhaus social housing will be built in Wales this summer. Getting Britain to build to the Passivhaus standard will be demanding, but I’m convinced it can be done.”

Simon Hughes MP, the keynote speaker, said: “I will be writing to all Lib Dem councils to ask them to introduce the Passivhaus standard because it’s clearly the way forward. There is no other serious energy efficiency and comfort standard out there. Fuel prices are only going one way – up. Creating homes as energy efficient as this will help people out of fuel poverty and will mean the UK needing to buy less energy abroad. I want to see the UK’s building stock made low energy within ten years and Britain energy independent by 2050.” Mr Hughes stressed that building up expertise on the Passivhaus standard in the UK would create thousands of green jobs. He also said: “I am going to launch a competition in my constituency for architects to build me a Passivhaus home and I promise you I will then move into it.” He called on all delegates to do the same.

Cllr Rowell, who was named national Sustainability Councillor of the Year yesterday, said: “I organised this conference because I wanted to dispel some of the myths around Passivhaus – like the idea you can’t open the windows – and because I want to encourage councils to put the Passivhaus standard into their planning rules. The UK building industry needs to acquire the skills but that will come when planners, building control officers and architects start to feel more comfortable with Passivhaus.”

Speakers at the conference included representatives of all four Passivhaus certifying bodies in the UK – BRE, Inbuilt Ltd, Passivhaus Buildings and WARM: Low Energy Building Practice.