Passivhaus, the conversation continues (Part 2)…

Following on from the Reply to Piers Taylor’s post on Passivhaus to his original post on Passivhaus and his response today there’s been an incredible amount of feedback both through the blogs and through Twitter and this post takes my response a little further and gives a little background and biography to my current ‘Passivhaus Zealot in the making’:

I qualified as a UK architect in 1989 and promptly left the mainstream architecture profession to run businesses in CAD teaching, consultancy, sales and photographic virtual tours.

I’d always wanted to build my own house and in 2003, we left the UK to live in Ireland; I had no intention of working as an architect and I’d never worked long enough for an architectural practice in the UK to see a project through from the beginning to the end. So the house we built was the first project I designed and constructed from beginning to end that I’d ever done; it was on the strength of this that my architecture practice started in Ireland – I had no intention of being an architect in Ireland! I can say that going back into architecture was the best career decision I ever made – even if I fell into it.

But, I had my own ideas on what a suitable house in Ireland should look like. Bear in mind we were slap bang in the middle of the Celtic Tiger where everybody was building McMansions and instead the house we designed and self-built was partly underground, grass roofed, holds many typical Mayo details (which are now included in the Mayo Rural Design Guide written much later), has extensive glazing (with brise-soleil shading) to the south with minimal glazing to the north. In fact many of the principles that are now regarded as Passivhaus:

Our house - exterior

Our house – exterior

Yet, although there’s a lot that I did right (we’re still very happy with the layout/design and the house functions really well; there’s a lot that I would do differently if I knew better at the time.

Remember that at the same time (2004) I was building my house; Tomas O’Leary of Mosart was building the first Passivhaus in Ireland, which was the first Passivhaus in the English speaking world. We’re seeing a lot in the UK press currently about Passivhaus but Ireland has been leading the way in this regard and is still several years ahead of the UK.

So, now that I’ve lived in the house since 2006, I can see the things I would do differently and how I would have more comfortable living conditions; and these are all the things you hear the anti-Passivhaus brigade call into question:

• High levels of insulation – at the time we built at a standard better than Building Regs but we were a long way from Passivhaus
• Airtightness – there was no mandatory air-testing of houses then; leaks in your building=heat and money disappearing through the fabric
• Mechanical Heat Recovery and Ventilation – to balance airtightness you need controlled, pure air and this is achieved through MHVR

When building my own house, my goal was to show Ireland and especially County Mayo another way of designing a rural yet contemporary architecture relevant to County Mayo – this I feel we achieved.

The next step is to bring this to Passivhaus standard; it may not be done in the near future but that’s the goal; and it’s also the goal for the architecture I create for my clients. I have made a lot of mistakes when building my own house and the objective is to pass on a better way of building to my clients and even if they don’t want to go ‘the whole enchilada‘ to obtain full Passivhaus certification then at least the house is constructed to a better standard than that done previously.

Comments as always welcome…

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