December 3 2009

Two Passive Houses Win Welsh Eco-Homes Design Competition

Two Passive Houses have won an eco-homes design competition for a sustainable development at "The Works Ebbw Vale" in Wales. The two entries, one three-bedroom and one two-bedroom house, use up to 85% less energy, emit 80% less carbon dioxide, use the sun as the primary heating source, and have excellent indoor air quality. The designs, by bere:architects of London (three bedroom) and HLM Architects of Cardiff (two bedroom), also share a commitment to regional sustainability by using locally sourced materials and products such as sheep's wool insulation, wood pellets for biomass energy, a wildflower meadow roof, dry stacked regional stone walls, larch wood cladding, and products made by Welsh companies such as innovative cement and paper insulation. This is a great example of how Passive House can be adapted to meet regional and cultural aesthetic criteria while still providing an affordable strategy for producing ultra efficient homes.

?Using local craftsmanship, supply and materials and leading edge environmental analysis and design tools we have created a truly vernacular house reflecting the heritage of both Wales and Ebbw Vale. By applying the principles of passive design with cutting edge environmental design tools, we have designed a low energy building at affordable cost." - Jonathan Jones, HLM Architects Regional Director

The competition houses, sponsored by the Welsh Assembly Government and Blaenau Gwent Country Borough Council in association with the Building Research Establishment (BRE), are to serve as the nucleus of a 'Future Houses' exhibition at the master planned redevelopment of the Ebbw Vale steel yard in Blaenau Gwent. Furthermore, the masterplan for Ebbe Vale includes a 'Learning Campus, a Local General Hospital, a Leisure Center, Sport Pitches (playing fields), a Theater, and high quality office space all surrounded by 500 environmentally friendly homes which includes the two new Passive Houses. A strong connection to the local environment is also an essential concept of the development. As for the two Passive Houses, construction is scheduled to begin sometime in January of 2010.

Interestingly, the requirements for the eco-homes included meeting both the German PassivHaus low carbon building standard and the Welsh Code for Sustainable Homes(CSH) Level 5 which stipulate methods for waste disposal, use of local materials, water efficiency and use of renewable energy features. In winning the competition, the design teams were able to successfully integrate the two building standards and meet their strictest requirements. This issue of competing building standards often comes up when discussing Passive House because it is being transported globally. In the U.S. for instance, the major force for green building is LEED which has its own set of unique requirements not all in tandem with the Passive House standard. The danger, beyond complicating the design and implementation processes, is that the doubling of standards reduces the major benefit of the Passive House standard, namely that it delivers a building with excellent air quality, low carbon footprint, that uses very little energy at an affordable cost.

?The innovative measures for energy efficiency used in these designs can be replicated in building developments throughout Wales and should cost no more than a standard home when economies of scale are taken into consideration. The new technologies together with the use of local products manufactured from recycled materials, open up a range of business, training and job opportunities for local people which supports our sustainable agenda.? - Leighton Andrews, Local Deputy Minister for Regeneration

The design of the houses still shows variation in the application of Passive House. Both houses are timber framed, highly insulated, nearly airtight and have glazing optimized to admit solar radiation from the south. The two storey, three bedroom, bere:architects home (shown at the top of the post) includes a thick dry stacked stone wall base with larch clad siding on the upper floor. The house is topped in a wildflower meadow roof which ties the building to the landscape. If you are going to create your own landscape, finding Turf grass for sale is easy, but check wholesalers for better prices.

"Evacuated glass tube solar panels provide 65% of the hot water throughout the year, which is supplemented by an energy efficient gas boiler. Electricity is supplemented by Photovoltaic panels, sheep?s wool is used for interior insulation while retractable external blinds provide shade in summer." (taken from the official BRE press release) The two storey, two bedroom, HLM Architects house on the other hand uses " [...] PV roof tiles to supplement electricity, hot water is provided by a wood pellet biomass boiler while rainwater is harvested for gardens and flushing toilets. Movement sensors control all fixed lighting. The HLM design also features dry stone walling and uses innovative local products ranging from cement replacement from Cenin in Bridgend to paper insulation from Excel Technology in the Rhymney Valley." (taken from the official BRE press release)

It is worth noting that these Passive Houses, and the development at large, is an indicator of the emphasis Wales is putting on sustainability. I applaud the effort and look forward to seeing images of the completed houses.

?Wales has once again shown bold environmental leadership and it will reap the commercial and employment benefits that will undoubtedly come from creating the first Passivhaus skills base in the UK. I believe that Wales now has the opportunity to become the Passivhaus centre of the UK and our practice, bere architects, looks forward to helping with this.? (taken from the official BRE press release)

(This post was originally published on GetActiveGoPassive by Ziger/Snead Architects)

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