Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

'Passive houses can cut heating bills by up to 90 per cent and eliminate the need for heating'

A A A

Some economists are predicting that the price of oil (and with it gas and electricity bills) could soar from its current high of $125 (£64) up to $200 a barrel within a couple of years. Therefore, promises of reducing heating bills for new homes by up to 90 per cent and eliminating the need to install any type of central heating boiler sound very attractive indeed. This is what is being promised by the energy efficiency experts behind the PassivHaus movement, which was started more than 10 years ago in Germany by Professor Wolfgang Feist.

Essentially the PassivHaus approach says that if you pay very close attention to three core issues – improving the air-tightness of your new building, stopping heat escaping through what they call "heat-bridges" and finally maximising heat gain from the sun in winter and minimising it summer – then you can cut the energy required for heating the house so much that it will not require any traditional central-heating boiler or air-conditioning unit. As they refer to such heating/cooling systems as "active systems", hence the term PassivHaus is used to represent the opposite.

The importance of eliminating heat-bridges is now gaining wide acknowledgement amongst builders and architects. It is the technical jargon for a material that conducts heat from inside a building to the outside, e.g. a metal pipe passing through an insulated wall will carry heat to the outside. The PassivHaus team argue that if you can eliminate such heat-bridges, you can seriously cut heat losses from new buildings.

Likewise, they argue that radically improving the air-tightness of a building will cut energy losses. The standard devised by the PassivHaus Institute calls for a level of air-tightness 10 times better than even the very latest UK building regulations. Recognising that human health requires proper ventilation, the standard calls for the inclusion of whole-house mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. Heat recovery means these ventilation systems use the outgoing stale warm air to heat the incoming fresh air but must be more than 75 per cent efficient to qualify for the PassivHaus standard.

Interestingly, this standard accepts the heat provided by the ventilation system may occasionally need topping up and suggest an integrated hot water, ventilation and electric-heating unit. PassivHaus estimate that a modest 1Kw electric-heater would provide all the extra heating needs of an average house.

This ultra-efficient standard is being introduced to the UK by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and under the helpful eye of Gavin Hodgson, they provide support and certification for the system in the UK. There are already more than 6,000 such PassivHaus certified buildings across Europe. The first are now under construction in the UK. So the race is on to see who will win the accolade of being the first UK certified PassivHaus.

With the climate crisis now requiring an urgent global "Eco-Marshall Plan", then maybe it is fitting that in a small way, a positive German invasion of the UK could help get that plan off the ground.

For more information, visit www.passivhaus.org.uk.

Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is author of 'Easy Eco-auditing' www.3acorns.co.uk

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas