Jenny’s story: A simple, beautiful, and light urban Passivhaus

In her mind’s eye, Jenny wanted a self-built home that was simple and beautiful, plain but not austere, with high ceilings and flooded with light from every direction. She also wanted to create a low-energy and low-tech build, constructed from sustainable, locally sourced materials.  With the support of an Ecology mortgage, Jenny achieved this and much more; her home also received Passivhaus certification – widely considered the gold standard in energy efficiency.

Tucked away between old and new houses, bounded by a 19th-century Quaker meeting house and a well-used ginnel, the site was just the convenient urban location that Jenny was looking for. Importantly, the site faced south/southwest, which enabled the build’s designer – Anne Thorne Architects – to maximise passive solar gain and minimise additional heating demand.

Construction took approximately nine months and was completed in autumn 2015. Despite working to exacting Passivhaus standards, relatively few problems were encountered during the build. Jenny attributes this to the appointment of a skilled project manager who worked on site to ensure that everybody involved in the building work understood and delivered the precision required. As it was the first Passivhaus built by Croft Farm Construction, the whole team took advice from Green Building Store before they started work.

In light of her project’s unique characteristics and emphasis on sustainability, Jenny needed a mortgage provider that understood the details of her project. Her search led her to Ecology. Ecology has specialist knowledge in lending for Passivhaus and energy efficient new builds, and was able to appreciate the details of Jenny’s project and what she was aiming to achieve.

Now settled in her new home, Jenny is delighted every day by how well the spaces work, how she can feel the sun circling the house, how the garden (garden-to-be) and the sky feel part of  her indoor environment. She also remarks at the solid thickness of the walls and roof and the detailing of the simple wooden staircase, as well as the overall calmness and comfort.

The meticulous attention to Passivhaus calculations and detailing by certified Passivhaus designer, Junko Suetake,  means the building performs exceptionally well when it comes to energy efficiency. The build’s energy consumption is, so far, well within that predicted by the Passivhaus Planning Package calculations with a full year estimate for combined gas and electricity bills of around £500.

Once the mechanical heat ventilation recovery (MHVR) controller and heating programmer had been set, and Jenny had resisted the urge to keep adjusting these, the temperature settled and has been remarkably steady throughout the house, hovering between 19C and 21C in the day, and dropping to between 17C and 18C at night. She expects she will use her wood burner occasionally, but only for the coldest days.

The comment most often made by Jenny’s visitors is how evenly comfortable and un-stuffy the house feels, even though the actual temperature may be lower than what they are used to in their own homes. The second most often is disbelief that this can be achieved without a full central heating system, even when it’s freezing outside. Jenny admits she was sceptical too, but this house has convinced her not just that Passivhaus design can reduce energy use, but that it can contribute to a simple, low-tech, well-designed home that is a delight for her to live in.

Jenny’s house was shortlisted for the urban category of the 2016 UK Passivhaus Awards.

Find out more about Ecology’s mortgages for self-builds, renovations and energy improvements.

Photography and film by Paul Samuel White.