Irene and David’s story: Converting to Passivhaus

8 September 2016

After living happily in a Victorian house on the outskirts of Ripon, North Yorkshire, for 20 years, Irene and David were ready for a change. “We loved the house, but it required a lot of maintenance and was costly to heat.”

Their new house, in contrast, is an energy efficient converted stable block, just a seven-minute walk from the centre of town. And it costs significantly less to run. “We absolutely love it; we love being in town. We can walk and cycle everywhere. It’s everything our last house wasn’t.”

Believing that we should all do our bit to reduce energy consumption, Irene was determined not to rely simply on solar panels to make a difference. Researching the Passivhaus movement was something of an epiphany, she explains: “It was like a light went on – it seems to make so much sense.”

The couple approached the Ecology Building Society on the advice of their architect and were delighted to secure a mortgage on what they believed would be a very challenging project to fund: “We’ve not looked back since we’ve been in touch with Ecology,” says David. “They’re great – we’ve recommended them to friends and family several times.”

The couple converted the redundant stable block to the Passivhaus EnerPHit standard and are currently awaiting certification. EnerPHit is the high energy-efficient Passivhaus standard for renovations and refurbishments.

Houses built to the Passivhaus standard have an airtight building ‘envelope’ that minimises heat loss. Irene and David’s house is triple glazed throughout and has a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system (MVHR) which ensures there is a constant flow of fresh air. It’s also insulated to the hilt and includes a ‘green’ sedum garage roof that retains water so that it doesn’t contribute to ‘run-off’ problems.

Any advice for others planning something similar? “Despite the media coverage, this technology is quite new and relatively expensive,” says David. “We’re saving money on energy, but it’s cost us a lot to build. Planning was the biggest challenge, but it’s all been worth it at the end of the day.”

“We’d absolutely encourage others to do this, but be conscious it’s not the easiest project to undertake,” adds Irene. “It can be difficult to find suitably experienced tradespeople or appropriate buildings or plots. And it’s not a cheap option.”

Thankfully for Irene and David, the architect they chose understood their aims perfectly and their builder was already familiar with the Passivhaus movement. In addition, explains David, “we had a wonderful foreman who oversaw everything and made sure it all went according to plan”.