Passivhaus Affiliate

Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon

The 2018 sell-out UK Passivhaus Conference saw approximately 250 delegates congregate in Leeds earlier this month to discuss Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon.

Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon

There are many exciting low-carbon policies bubbling in the UK, so the 2018 UK Passivhaus conference focused on how Passivhaus can help on the road to zero carbon.  

This year, the international keynote speaker from Vancouver City Council, Sean Panderenthralled us all with how the right policies can achieve impressive impact in a short time scale. Vancouver has chosen Passivhaus as their route to achieve zero carbon buildings and has gone from 1 to over 2500 units in less than four years – that is half the time it has taken the UK to reach 1000 certified Passivhaus units.  

The introduction of an energy step code was pivotal, which points to a performance based approach focused on Passivhaus-like criteria such as airtightness, space heating demand etc. It provides a range of allowable options which has facilitated an incremental improvement in overall buildings performance, that is gradually being tightened in a series of stages up to 2030. 

UK Passivhaus Conference: Sean Pander's presentation
Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon: Sean Pander
Passivhaus and the road to zero carbon: Sean Pander Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon: Sean Pander

Surprisingly, this code was actively welcomed by the city’s developers & contractors. Nurturing early adopters & passionate experts willing to share experiences and convince sceptics was a key success factor. Coupled with this was the quid-pro-quo of offering developers’ incentives for building to the higher Passivhaus standard.  These take the form of additional space allowances, increased building heights and fast-track planning.

The positive attitude of the Council, reinforced by its ambitious policies, highlights the difference between an aspirational attitude that inspires (or more prosaically, incentivises) people to collaborate and do things better, and a regulatory attitude, designed to stop people doing things badly - which too often just encourages people to look for shortcuts or ways to get around the rules. All this has helped drive policy changes striving for higher standards happen more quickly.

Back in the UK, we heard from several regions addressing zero carbon challenges, from Leeds to Glasgow

Goldsmith Street case study
Glasgow’s Climate Change Strategy and Journey to Passivhaus
Leeds Cathedral extension


Several common themes appeared throughout the event:

  • Performance gap: Not reliant on UK government funding, Passivhaus in the UK has been resilient to the turbulent policy changes, relying on proven performance in actual use. This is where the Passivhaus methodology comes into its own. Research suggests that for non-Passivhaus homes, on average, there is a difference of around 60% between the design energy use and the actual in-use performance of what we are building right now, which all trickle into a pressing global emissions gap. This has led many clients and developers lean towards Passivhaus - evidence based, guaranteed performance & longevity. The University of Oxford have a carbon reduction target of 33% by 2020 for their entire estate spanning over 13 sites containing over 250 buildings in total. After discovering many of their existing low energy buildings are not delivering on operational costs, and learning from educational Passivhaus precedents, including their own Kellogg College Hub prototype, the University now has more Passivhaus projects in the pipeline.

  • Cost viability: From architects & designers to policy makers, and contractors, the first question is usually ‘how much does Passivhaus cost?’ Although convinced by the benefits the Standard brings, many had concerns regarding the short-term capital costs & cost-effectiveness of long-term paybacks for both occupants & owners. The Trust is therefore undertaking research to demonstrate the costs & benefits of Passivhaus, building upon & updating initial costs reports. Exeter City Council has successfully delivered several Passivhaus housing schemes at no additional capital cost compared to their standard model. The key is de-risking, and this should get easier the more we build, generating an increased supply chain.

  • Knowledge sharing: From a self-builder retrofitting every Sunday to cities mandating knowledge sharing into policy – lessons learned are essential to help shape change. Strategy & policy but must be combined with research. Honesty from CITU’s steep learning curve was well received and reinforces the importance of feedback, monitoring, learning & improving. 

  • Innovation: Hospitals, supermarkets, swimming pools, and a cathedral all brought up such a diversity of challenges & it was interesting to learn about how much innovation is occurring. The Passivhaus Institut, are working on developing guidance for complex buildings and the upgrade of historic Leicester Cathedral reminded us that Passivhaus issues must be placed alongside other considerations such as conservation & archelogy, to help shape & inform them. Retrofit is complicated but must be part of the solution. Approaches are being tested, but Sean Pander suggests that by concentrating on helping the industry to deliver well performing new builds will eventually feed into upgrading existing buildings, with a smoother transition.


Optimism in the face of opposition

Recent reports from the IPCC and UN have highlight there is much to be done.  Several cities/ regions across the world have recognised this, enacted legislation and are now seeing the benefits.  They are leading by example and by the end of the conference, there appeared to be a genuine appetite for UK cities, or perhaps the whole country, to follow.

"The conference was very inspiring, and I felt hopeful by your note on the UK politics. The story from Vancouver was jaw dropping. I’m really grateful for the Trust’s hard work.”

Junko Suetake, Anne Thorne Architects

"It was just great. I came away feeling really good about what we’re doing and where we’re going – I needed that so thank you.”

Sally Godber, Warm Low Energy Building Practice

"Delighted to be able to demonstrate that passivhaus is a key part of our mainstream solution and not merely a pilot! Hearing from Vancouver was a real plus and is something I would really like to find out more about because that is the scale we are aspiring to!

David Moorcroft, Norwich City Council

"It was so encouraging to see such a great variety of Passivhaus work underway and at a wide range of scales.  If this can happen in the "policy vacuum" you note, I have a renewed hope and enthusiasm for the growth and capability of Passivhaus to play an even greater role in meeting the challenges we face in the years ahead.”

Eric Parks, Buckrose Ecological Architects

We hope you enjoyed an inspiring day, learned something new, kindled your enthusiasm, and connected with like-minded people. Until next year!


Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon


Further Information

Passivhaus & the road to zero carbon

Passivhaus Policy Progress

Selection of UKPHC18 images

Passivhaus in the UK: ending the policy vacuum


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30th November 2018

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