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, low energy and low tech, built with sustainable materials wherever affordable, with high ceilings and flooded with light from every direction. She achieved this, and much more, as well as a certified Passivhaus, with the support of Fran and the team at Anne Thorne Architects. Jenny chose Ecology for her mortgage due to their experience of self-build and commitment to the Passivhaus standard.

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 urban location, close to the city centre, which Jenny was looking for and conveniently faced south/southwest to maximise solar gain.

The build took approximately nine months, with surprisingly few problems, and was completed in autumn 2015. This was the first Passivhaus built by Croft Farm Construction so the whole team took advice from Green Building Store before they started on site. The site manager, Gareth Wilson, was the key to success of the build, ensuring that everyone who came on site understood and delivered the precision that the Passivhaus standard requires.

Six months after moving in, Jenny is still 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 the house, by the solid thickness of the walls and roof, the detailing of the simple wooden staircase as well as the calmness and comfort.

The meticulous attention to Passivhaus calculations and detailing by certified Passivhaus designer, Junko Suetake, was delivered on site by her builders, Croft Farm Construction, achieved exactly what was intended. Jenny’s home’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 only 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 19 and 21 degrees celsius in the day, dropping to 17-18 degrees at night. She expects she will use her wood burner occasionally, but only for the coldest days or simply for cosiness.

The comment most often made by friends staying is how evenly comfortable and un-stuffy the house feels, even though the actual temperature is lower than they would usually look for. The second most common 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 proved it convincingly for her, not just that Passivhaus design can reduce energy use but that it can contribute to a simple, low tech, well designed house that is a delight for her to live in.

The house was shortlisted for the urban category of the 2016 UK Passivhaus Awards. Photography and film by Paul Samuel White.