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Passivhaus information  |  05 July 2019

Why we build Passivhaus.

There’s so much to love about Passivhaus that it’s difficult to know where to start…

Why we build Passivhaus

Part 1

There is so much to say about why Kiss Houses are Passivhaus certified, so rather than attempt to do it in one shot we thought we’d publish a mini-series. This first instalment gives the big picture before we dive deeper and give you thoughts from different members of the team on their personal reasons for loving Passivhaus.

It’s the international gold standard

Other building standards have come and gone, many of them have been good but it’s Passivhaus that has stuck. Passivhaus has stood the test of time. Whilst primarily a voluntary standard (bar the few places that have mandated it) Passivhaus has been widely adopted by those dedicated to creating quality buildings around the world. It is now regarded as the international gold standard of building.

Why have other standards come and gone when Passivhaus has stayed? There’s no obvious answer to this, it’s likely to be down to a variety of factors some of which we’ve outlined below.

German and Scandinavian origins

Let’s be honest when people think of German and Scandinavian engineering, manufacturing and design they think quality!

The two academics who formulated the Passivhaus standard were Wolfgang Feist of the Institute for Housing and the Environment in Germany, and Bo Adamson of Lund University, Sweden. They established the standard in 1988 following a series of conversations and research projects. The first house was built in Darmstadt in Germany in 1991 and by 2016 there were 60,000 certified Passivhaus buildings worldwide, with numbers continuing to increase exponentially year on year.

It’s a standard

The fact that it’s a rigorous standard, something that’s hard and fast and tangible, cannot be underestimated. Firstly, the construction industry is swamped with “green wash”. Claims of “eco this” and “low energy that” abound but are ultimately meaningless unless a build is tested against a standard or benchmarked according to specific criteria. Without this there’s no evidence or proof that claims are true, or of quality and performance.

We believe this matters most for consumers because a standard provides certainty which in turn ensures confidence. You know what you’re getting. There’s no flannel, subterfuge or marketing speak, either a building meets the standard, or it doesn’t. Passivhaus is a comfort standard and it’s our contention that it’s only right that comfort should be guaranteed.

It requires joined-up thinking

To achieve the Passivhaus standard a building should be designed correctly from the outset, meaning that from the start the intention to create something of integrity and quality runs through the thinking and decision making.

A Passivhaus building is modelled at the design stage to ensure it works. This process uses the Passivhaus Planning Package (PHPP), a piece of software that models the specific building to inform the design and specification during the planning stages. The model uses site specific weather data and takes account of the building’s orientation. PHPP even takes into account factors such as shading from the trees on site, to provide a detailed analysis of how the building will perform year-round. This is because the Passivhaus standard requires constant high levels of comfort in all weather conditions.

There’s something very attractive about the application of such rigor, and there are huge advantages. The fact that the analysis begins at the design stage means that alterations, “tweaks” or changes can be made to ensure that the building performs optimally prior to construction. It is a really useful design tool, it gives peace of mind and is a lot more cost effective than making changes during or after the build.

It’s not about “whistles and bells"

Passivhaus is all about simplicity – focussing on the fundamentals of careful detailing rather than complicated technology. The build quality is so good that the building fabric does all of the hard-work. Think about going camping. It’s freezing cold but you’re cosy and warm in a nice thick sleeping bag. Were you to poke your feet out of the end they’d get very cold, but inside that continuous thermal layer you feel good and snug.

To achieve this affect with a building you start with the modelling and planning as outlined above and you continue by applying the same level of scrutiny to the detailing of the building. You create a building that is thermal bridge free, extremely well insulated and draught-free. You then ensure that the air inside is beautifully clean by using an MVHR system which provides continuous fresh air, but of-course you may open the windows too…

Independent testing

It’s not a Passivhaus because we say it is. To meet the Passivhaus standard it has to be independently certified. The certifier is involved before during and after construction to ensure no stone is left unturned.

Put simply it’s hard and fast. You achieve the Passivhaus standard or you don’t, there’s no fudge or greenwash. Certification guarantees exceptional performance and there’s a lot to love about that!

Because we care and want to change housing for the better

We build Passivhaus homes because we care and want to change housing for the better. We want brilliant, high quality housing to be available to all. This will take time, but we’re dedicated to pursuing our vision of a world where all housing is brilliant, and we’re doing this one home at a time.

For us it’s about the lives lived in the homes we build. Passivhaus a comfort and quality standard and this is why we love it.

Comfort, comfort, comfort, quality

What more could you want in a building, particularly your home? It is after-all where you experience life’s great celebrations, its highs and lows. It’s where people bring up their children, retreat to when they’re unwell and often wish to be at the end of their lives. We have no doubt that it should be a sanctuary.

The comfort afforded by Passivhaus does make a wonderful living environment. Being free of cold spots, damp and draughts. Having a constant ambient temperature whatever the weather, breathing wonderfully clean filtered air. All surfaces being warm to the touch, great acoustics providing peace and quiet. Ultimately a tranquil environment that just feels right!

Is it a panacea?

Actually, whilst we definitely do believe that comfort is crucial and that Passivhaus goes a VERY long way to delivering it, we also know that Passivhaus is not a panacea!

Not all of the elements of a fantastic living space are automatically guaranteed by it being a Passivhaus. We’ve spent many years building fabulous homes for people and have had many conversations over this time to understand what people want and what makes them feel good. We’ve thought long and hard about how to apply these lessons to Kiss House.

People invariably tell us that they crave natural light and a feeling of space. They want well planned spaces that consider the lives of the occupants in the way they’re laid out. They want them to be easy to clean and maintain. They want the materials used to be natural wherever possible. They want good storage and spaces that are well organised to suit their particular needs and life-style. Some people want open-plan space and others like a more traditional or defined layout. Moreover many people want a flexible arrangement so they can change it up according to their needs.

Ultimately Passivhaus alone cannot deliver all of the above, that is down to well considered, good design that anticipates occupant needs. This is easy to say but not to do. It’s why we get out of bed in the morning and it’s one of the reasons our work will never be done…

Thank you for reading!

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