Ruth’s story: A lighter way of living

Ruth’s inspiring Passivhaus self-build is the realisation of her lifelong passion for energy-efficient housing. A certified Passivhaus designer, Ruth’s ambition was to create a simple, beautiful home that operated to the highest energy performance standards.

‘Wahroonga’ – an Aboriginal word meaning ‘our home’ and the name of the suburb of Sydney where Ruth used to live – took its team of builders eight months to complete. Ruth felt it was vital to work with an architect and builder who had a strong understanding of Passivhaus technologies and experience of working on low-energy builds. She selected architect Janet Cotterell and Mike Whitfield Construction, both of whom are members of the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB). When it came to financing the project, she chose Ecology, which specialises in supporting low-impact and non-standard self-builds.

The exterior of the timber frame house is clad in untreated local Douglas fir and lime render. Most of the roof is constructed from reclaimed Welsh slate tiles, which were chosen for both their sustainable qualities and aesthetic appeal. The walls are insulated with a mixture of sheep’s wool and Warmcel, and the entire build sits on a highly insulated 200mm reinforced concrete slab which acts as a thermal mass, gradually absorbing, storing and releasing heat.

The heating setup comprises a conventional gas-powered central heating system which is only needed at very low levels during the winter, thanks to the building’s extremely high levels of airtightness. There is also a mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) unit located in a single-storey living-roofed extension to the rear of the house.

During the day, the interior is airy and light-filled, with windows in at least two walls of every room. This reduces the need for electric lighting and gives a sense of openness throughout the house. The windows are certified Passivhaus and have been crafted with timber frames, which are externally clad in aluminium to protect the wood from the elements and reduce the need for ongoing maintenance work. While the south-east/south-west orientation is perfect for the solar thermal panels, Ruth is considering adding some external shading to ensure that the house doesn’t overheat during hotter spells.

Wahroonga has attracted considerable interest from the local community; during Herefordshire’s ‘H-Energy Week’, Ruth welcomed over 200 visitors who were keen to find out more about sustainable building and low-energy living. Commenting on her new home Ruth said, “So far the property is warm, light, comfortable and beautiful!”

Find out more about Ecology’s self-build mortgages.