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In the UK: How Has the Development of Passivhaus Technology Impacted the Reduction of Carbon Emissions?

Info: 6458 words (26 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Jan 2022

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Tagged: Environmental StudiesTechnologyClimate Change


This study is aimed to identify and examine the Passivhaus Standard and how it may reduce the carbon emissions produced by residential housing in the UK. The technology is well documented by the relevant governing bodies in the UK such as the Passivhaus Trust and will be investigated through case studies.

Attitudes towards the Passivhaus standard are at times indifferent, yet with its increasing popularity and the interest in reducing carbon emissions to many developers, more architects are using the Passivhaus standard and this will inevitably result in a reduction in carbon emissions for residential homes in the UK.



Chapter 1: What are Passivhaus and EnerPHit?

Chapter 2:How does Passivhaus enhance the current standard UK building regulations and which approved documents does the standard apply to?

Chapter 3: Case studies

Chapter 4: What financial implications arise when creating residential buildings with Passivhaus technology?






The development and increase in popularity of Passivhaus technology has led to the hope that the impact the technology has had in Germany could be the same for the UK. Numerous case studies prove that a vast reduction in carbon emission is plausible (“Grove Cottage”, n.d; “Knight’s Place”, n.d; “Eastlands”, 2015) with the use of either the Passivhaus standard for new builds or the EnerPHit status for refurbished and retrofit buildings.

The Passivhaus Trust (2011) also believes in the significant reduction of carbon emission through means of advanced energy efficiency methods and a series of developments lead to instances where there has been an increase in synergies between the Passivhaus standard and UK regulations.

However, few attempts to correct this matter have been made and those attempts which were made to support the Passivhaus movement have since been scrapped or ignored (The Guardian, 2015). Unfortunately, these attempts have only focused on the limitations such standards could create for the building developers and do not focus on the benefits the country would reap from zero or low carbon housing.

The aim of this dissertation is to explore findings for the Passivhaus standard in relation to the reduction of carbon emissions in UK homes, involving new builds, refurbishments, and retrofit. It will highlight the need for carbon emission reduction, the technological and financial aspects, and if a significant reduction in carbon emissions is economically viable. To explore the chances of this being a possibility, the use of case studies will be analysed to produce coherent results which can then be compared.

The remainder of this dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter one will discuss what the Passivhaus standard and EnerPHit status is, chapter two will explain how the technology enhances the current building regulations in the UK and which approved documents it affects, chapter three will introduce, discuss and analyse two case studies which demonstrate the use of the Passivhaus standard and EnerPHit status, chapter four will highlight the financial implications caused through the Passivhaus standard, and finally shall conclude with a reflection on whether a significant reduction in carbon emission could be expected within next ten years through the means of the Passivhaus standard and EnerPHit status alone.

Chapter 1: What are Passivhaus and EnerPHit?

Passivhaus buildings offer a high standard of comfort with a high level of affordability, keeping the carbon footprint low by using highly effective means to keep the cost of running the building down. This is achieved through several technologies within Passivhaus but also a highly meticulous attention to detail and planning in the early stages of design to build with the utmost precision so the house requires very little energy to run it.

The Passivhaus standard is driven by the air quality and comfort, as quoted on the Passivhaus trust website, “A Passivhaus is a building in which thermal comfort can be achieved solely by post-heating or post-cooling the fresh air flow required for a good indoor air quality, without the need for additional recirculation of air.” (The Passivhaus Standard, 2011)

To achieve the Passivhaus standard in the UK, several things need to be considered. These include typical things that would already be used in the standard house, such as insulation. Rather than the minimum requirement, the Passivhaus standard requires very high levels of insulation. Another few aspects to be considered are the windows which need to be an exceedingly high performance with additional insulation in the framing, likewise, the construction itself needs to be executed with the highest of precision with zero thermal bridging. Also, a mechanical ventilation system is required for a highly efficient heat recovery, which reinforces the idea that comfort is the highest priority when designing a Passivhaus building.

The Passivhaus technology was originated by Bo Adamson of Lund University, Sweden, and Wolfgang Feist of the Institut für Wohnen und Umwelt (Institute for Housing and the Environment, Germany.) The standard was then developed through a series of research projects through the funding of the German government and went from strength to strength.

It began with the building of four-row terraced houses which were created for four clients by the architectural firm, Bott, Ridder, and Westermeyer. These residences were completed in 1990 and were the first buildings to be erected using this standard.

In September 1996, Wolfgang Feist founded the Passivhaus-Institut to promote and control the standards of Passivhaus technology. Since its formation, there has been a drastic increase of Passivhaus structures being built, mainly in Germany and Austria, estimated at 25,000+ as of 2010. To follow on with the popularity of Passivhaus buildings, the Economical Passive Houses Working Group was created in 1996 also. The group developed the Passivhaus Planning Package, and commission the production of the innovative mechanisms which were required to produce Passivhaus buildings.

The first house in the UK to be built to a Passivhaus standard was in central Cotswolds, Warwickshire and was built in 2010. The building is situated on the old ground which Hill Barn was located on; a building that was over 300 years old and very unstable to the point of it ready to fall. The designers, however, wanted to restore the old barn and incorporate it in their new design, and with careful designing, they accomplished that. The completed house achieved a 90% carbon emission reduction compared to houses built to the standard building regulations.

In addition to the Passivhaus Standard, the EnerPHit status was created for retrofit and refurbished buildings which would not be able to achieve the Passivhaus standard due to reasons beyond the control of the developers. Since the increase of popularity of Passivhaus technology, it became highly requested but some buildings were either too difficult or impossible to transform. Due to this, it became apparent that an alternative practise should be created specifically for retrofit and refurbished buildings to allow them to become certified using Passivhaus technology although they could not achieve the performance levels and so the creators of the EnerPHit status slightly relaxed the criteria for to allow certification.

Chapter 2: How does Passivhaus enhance the current standard of UK building regulations and which approved documents does the standard apply to?

The Passivhaus Standard for a long period was considered a separate entity and was often compared to the building regulations, rather than being viewed as an extension of it; but recently it has become a question of how it integrates into the already existing regulations. Passivhaus answers to only a portion of the UK’s building regulations which are Approved Document A, G, F and 7; so, when the two practises are compared, it is done unfairly as the Passivhaus standard or the EnerPHit status does not include things which the UK’s building regulations does such as Approved Document D: Toxic Substances and Approved Document E: Resistance to Sound. These are only two of many examples.

As stated on the Passivhaus Trust website, Dr. Wolfgang Feist states;

The heat losses of the building are reduced so much that it hardly needs any heating at all. Passive heat sources like the sun, human occupants, household appliances and the heat from the extract air cover a large part of the heating demand. The remaining heat can be provided by the supply air if the maximum heating load is less than 10W per square meter of living space. If such supply air heating suffices as the only heat source, we call the building a Passive House. (Passivhaus Trust, 2011)

When taking Feist’s explanation into consideration, the Passivhaus Standard provides a smarter way of designing which in turn reduces the cost of heating for a building. To meet the UK building regulation requirement for space heating in an average home in London, the usage must not exceed 93 kWh/m2. yr. whereas to reach Passivhaus standard the usage for space heating must not exceed 15 kWh/m2. yr. for new builds and 25 kWh/m2. yr. for refurbished homes. Another example of this is the airtightness in buildings which to the current UK standards must not exceed 0.15 air changes per hour whereas to reach Passivhaus standard is must not exceed 0.06 air changed per hour for new builds and 0.1 for refurbished buildings.

With the brief comparison of the required performance output, it is clear that the Passivhaus standard has strict and rigorous requirements to be certified, involving extensive planning and design work to ensure the completed building will perform to what the plans predicted. When comparing the Passivhaus standard planning process to those adopted by the UK building regulations; it’s clear to see that the current building regulations appear to assume an optimistic approach to performance levels, with an attitude that anything that is not satisfactory or does not meet requirements upon completion, can therefore be corrected. Passivhaus, on the other hand, uses a pessimistic approach to design and will plan a building which surpasses the required energy levels and can predict with pinpoint accuracy the performance of the building before it is even built.

Chapter 3: Case studies

Knight’s Place in Exeter

Knight’s Place is a multi-residential project which was completed in 2011 for the Exeter City Council and is amongst the first multiple occupant Passivhaus standards certified in the UK. The project boasts a sympathetic arrangement to the surrounding area, both in the scale of the project and the detail; yet it offers an interesting and playful design with the asymmetric window arrangements on the gable ends which then add a contrast to the symmetrical flank elevations. When combined with the timber clad façade the design as a whole offers a contemporary interpretation of vernacular residential forms.

The windows of the building have been designed in such a way that it takes advantage of the daylight, allowing optimal solar gain levels to enter for maximum environmental performance. The design of the homes is modern in design which proves that with Passivhaus; good design and appealing architecture are more than capable of being achieved. This then allows the residents and owners of the properties to hold on to a sense of pride in their homes over a long period. The purpose of the project was to encourage existing tenants to downsize without compromise, by offering a home which has the highest quality of performance with the lowest cost.

As the heat loss in each flat is so minimal the heating requirement is met during winter extremes via a small air heater in the supply air duct just after the heat exchanger. During warmer months’ ventilation is provided continuously without warm and humid air entering unnecessarily which can assist in reducing summertime overheating. When tested at the end of a two-year monitoring study, Knight’s Place apartments maintained a comfortable temperature of 21°C year round for residents, with minimal heating required and low running costs. (Passivhaus Trust, 2015)

The Knight’s place offers low energy design as it boasts high-quality thermal design which reduces internal fluctuations in temperature, simultaneously reducing the risk of the ‘greenhouse effect’ which is where it can overheat in summer and over cool in winter. The homes also offer high levels of insulation with the masonry walls being externally insulation and rendered to achieved a U-value of >0.15W/m2K. The roof achieved a U-value of >0.10W/m2K with the use of clay tiles with insulation and the floor achieved a U-value of >0.10W/m2K. The homes have low thermal bridging with mechanical ventilation and high-efficiency heat recovery, whilst also achieving high levels of air tightness at levels >0.6 air changes per hour.

Grove Cottage in Hereford

Grove Cottage is a retrofit building type, originally built in 1869. It holds a certified status to the EnerPHit, developed and designed by the building owner Simmonds Mills Architects. Grove Cottage was originally built in the open countryside of Hereford but as demand and need grew for more housing with the passing of subsequent years, housing was built on either side of the cottage. This proximity alone caused major challenges for the construction of the retrofit property and the cottage’s ambitious design lead to further complications.

The building closest to cottage had a mere 25mm gap between the gable wall, acting as a thermal bypass which channelled the wind between the properties at a concentrated rate, therefore removing heat from both. It was important that the retrofit needed to maintain details from the original exterior such as the window sills and stone lintels and since there was exterior insulation used on the property, it required more care to be taken to the task.

With all retrofit properties, it is widely accepted that a Passivhaus standard may not be possible as the performance levels required were too difficult to achieve. This could be due to planning permission and/or restrictions, initial financial implications, or simply the building’s design. Because of these issues, the EnerPHit status was created to accommodate. This meant slightly lower targets were set but it still ensured a high level of performance from the building.

The owners of Grove Cottage took the opportunity to extend the two-bedroom home to provide more bedrooms along with a ground floor kitchen, meaning this added new challenged when faced with insulating the new concrete and brickwork. By using careful planning and high quality insulated floorboards, the owners achieved an EnerPHit status.

Other aspects of the cottage which had to be changed included the roof as a priority. The original rafters in the property were changed into A-frames and then boarded over to allow a polyethylene air-vapour barrier to be placed on the board surface; thus, helping to make the building weather-tight as the construction work continued. Timber I-beams were affixed to the original rafters to provide a 400mm cavity which would be filled with mineral fibre insulations.

For the external walls, two approaches were used to insulate them and make them airtight. Firstly, the existing brickwork and all concrete blockwork on the new extension were insulated using a rendering system at 250mm which was adhesively affixed to the brickwork, and masonry paint meant the render boards needed additional adhesion through means of plastic fixings. These fixings were recessed into the insulation and covered with a 25mm disk of polyurethane insulation to reduce thermal bridging. All original brickwork were coated in a cement-based slurry to further increase the airtightness, whilst the rear of the building required the use of a frame to hold semi-rigid glass mineral wool slabs which were then clad in timber board with an OSB layer to also increase airtightness.

The biggest challenge was the 25-40mm gap between Grove Cottage and its neighbouring property. This was corrected by ingeniously injecting expanding polyurethane foam into the gap thus reducing heat loss and increasing airtightness once again. The choice was made to keep the original concrete floor slab in the existing extension to the rear as it wasn’t a viable option to excavate the area with shallow foundations and existing drainage runs. The slab was made airtight to the walls and then coated in a liquid damp proof membrane, and then a self-levelling concrete compound to finish. Finally, for the cottage to reach an EnerPHit status, triple glazed windows were installed in the cottage and external insulations were fitted to overlap the window frames to minimise heat-loss.

The results of the retrofit project resulted in an estimated primary energy demand of 120kWh/m2/yr. and since the property’s completion, the annual electricity and gas usage is approximately a quarter of the previous usage reducing the electricity usage by 10,488 kWh and the gas usage by 21,063 kWh.

Case Study Analysis

The two case studies reveal many aspects of the Passivhaus standard and the EnerPHit status, mainly the amount of time and effort that needs to be invested in the projects. Both projects were completed for the purpose of reducing the carbon emissions, and when the developments are compared; the retrofit for Grove cottage was far more difficult to complete and faced additional challenges. Grove cottage required further planning due to the proximity of the surrounding houses by the addition of extra insulation, but also the shallow site foundations stopped the floor from being enhanced to the best standard that it could have been.

Knight’s place, on the other hand, was a larger development and could be designed with more freedom in regards to space, placement, and orientation. The main challenge it needed to face was that the plans were designed well and with the pessimistic approach that the Passivhaus standard is known for, it needed to be designed to perform to the required criteria, if not better, and strive for the lowest carbon emission output it can. Other challenges paled in comparison to the Grove cottage but the only other main challenged was sympathy to surrounding design, which is a challenge with any piece of architecture, not just with the Passivhaus standard.

The two case studies prove that, although aspects may be difficult, reduced carbon emissions in both new builds, retrofit, and refurbishments can be done. With the knowledge of Passivhaus and the effort which is required for it, it begs the questions as to why more people aren’t adopting the practise and the simple answer may be the financial implications which are associated with the technology.

Architects strive for sustainable living and hope their designs are as green as possible, and the government wishes the same to reduce the carbon footprint as a country; but without the necessary financial input to allow the everyday person to implement the technology in their own projects, the fight to reduce carbon footprint would end up being a losing battle.

For the Passivhaus standard to succeed in the UK it requires government backing and if this could be a possibility, the UK could reap the benefits of both the Passivhaus standard to create zero carbon buildings, but also the EnerPHit status which could reduce the carbon emissions from existing houses by up to 80%. This would comply with the Climate Change Act 2008 is part of the government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It established the framework to develop a targeted and economically-credible plan to reduce current and future emissions. (The Climate Change Act, n.d.) This is a legally bound act to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 in the UK.

Germany, although being the current leader in Passivhaus design, has set an example which the UK should strive to follow. As stated in the 2012, Learning from Germany report, they stated “Some cities have ambitious goals, such as Nuremberg which is aiming for a 40% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2020. At least seven German cities have made commitments to build to the Passivhaus standard itself.” Since this report, the commitment to the technology in Germany has gone from strength to strength, and the UK needs to follow its lead.

Chapter 4: What financial implications arise when creating residential buildings with Passivhaus technology?

By exploring the financial costs of the Passivhaus standard, the use of a study conducted by Nick Newman, 2012 is required. Two houses were used for comparison. The first building is Passivhaus certified named the Lime house, which is a two-bedroom property and is the smaller of the two in the project it is apart of, and the second is equivalent in size and has two-bedrooms, which has been designed to the UK building regulations.

The lime house was designed to meet a 10W/m2 heating load, located in an exposed microclimate in Wales, 300m above sea level. The building was described as “far too pessimistic” and the insulation levels in the building and other components resulted in being of a much higher quality that was necessary. For the report, the specification was adjusted to comply with Manchester, as the city is considered to suitably represent the average UK climate and the specification of the case study house was reduced from what the Lime house achieved since it far exceeded the necessary Passivhaus requirements. The second house was also reduced so it would meet the fabric criteria of the Part L building regulation.

The two houses were then cost analysed by e-Griffin Consulting using an RICS evaluation to distinguish the cost protocol and summarised into five categories. The categories were substructure, superstructure, internal finishes, fitting and furnishings and M&E installation. The categories were then assessed for both houses in the case study and the results yielded vast differences in some categories and no differences in others.

When looking at the substructure, the Passivhaus building (Type A) assessed to have a one-off cost of £7,392, which is more than the UK Regulation house (Type B) which was assessed to have a one-off cost of £6,710.51. Although this difference is not substantial, when looking further into this category, it is clear to see that more expense has been put into the foundations for the Type B building than what had been for the Type A building, yet the ground floor constructed of the Type A building was almost double the amount of the Type B building.

The next category to consider is the superstructure, which Type A has a £55,342 one off-cost and Type B has a £45,055 one-off cost. In this category, the Type A building matches the Type B building in four sub-categories but exceeds it in the rest, the highest cost of the Type A building was on the external walls having a £4,000 difference to the Type B building and the windows and external doors having a £5,000 difference to the Type B building. This category shows where the cost lies when building to the Passivhaus standard when compared to the other categories.

The next two categories yield the same one-off cost for both the Type A and Type B building. The internal finishes equating to £11,401 which involves the wall, floor and ceiling finishes. The fittings and furnishings equated to £1,787, yet this aspect of a house can fluctuate depending on personal preference and requirement.

The final and the most wide-ranging category is the M&E installation. In this category, there are six sub-categories which are the same in cost, which are the sanitary appliances, disposal, water, and electrical installations and finally the communication, security and control systems. The sub-categories which differed are the heat source which Type A was almost double Type B and the ventilation systems was a staggering six times the amount in Type A than Type B.

The Type A building totalled to be £97,223, with the Type B building totalling £84,197. Although this estimated cost would be much lower if the buildings were to be part of a larger development, it gives a clear understanding that the initial outlay to build a property to the Passivhaus standard is approximately 15.5% higher than to build a property to the current UK building regulation, yet this does not incorporate the lower running costs of the Type A house.


To conclude, the purpose of this investigation was to discover if a significant reduction in the carbon footprint created by residential housing in the UK was plausible in the next ten years through means of research and comparative study. The Passivhaus standard and EnerPHit status would contribute immensely to the reduction of the UK’s carbon emission with retrofit properties seeing an 80% reduction in carbon emissions alone. This fact proves that the effort made to comply with the rigorous performance levels of Passivhaus and EnerPHit would impact the reduction of carbon emission positively.

The financial implications of building with the Passivhaus show a 15.5% increase on that of a standard building with complies with the current UK Building regulations. This increase in initial cost could be the reason for developers and contractor to boycott the Passivhaus standard and EnerPHit, but when combined with the eventual running costs of the completed building, this then shows that the technology would prove to be financially viable. The issue with this, however, is that the developers of such projects would not gain anything financially once the project was completed. To combat this, it would be beneficial to both the contractor and the government if certain schemes specifically created for the use of the Passivhaus standard and the EnerPHit status in housing developments which compensate the developer or offers incentives that make the technology more accessible whilst simultaneously improving the government’s chances of achieving the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, as stated in the legally binding Climate Control Act 2008.

The challenges faced in both the Passivhaus standard and the EnerPHit status aren’t dissimilar to standard housing projects; new builds, retrofits, and refurbishments, which all comply with the UK Building regulation. On the other hand, Passivhaus and EnerPHit require much more rigorous and precise planning to allow accurate performance level to come to fruition, yet the benefits to reap from a certified property offers not only financial benefits but also confidence that the technology works.

Collectively from the findings, it is plausible that a reduction will be seen in the next ten years, but with the current attitude towards Passivhaus technology; this may take longer than first thought. The problem is that for such a rigorous technology to thrive in the UK it needs financial backing and support from the government, which Germany is the perfect example to prove that government backing works. Although a concluding decision could not be made on whether a significant reduction in carbon emission through residential housing was plausible, the research highlights importance issues which need to be addressed and further research is still required for the technology to grow from its infancy in the UK and mature.

Further research is required when considering Passivhaus as a viable option. Many issues lie with exposure and people who aren’t familiar with the technology may want to design their own homes or improve the one they already own and never know that the technology exists. Even issues arise with those who associate Passivhaus with the increased upfront cost but forego the information that the costs to run the buildings after are drastically lowered. This is only a small aspect of the issues that arise when considering the Passivhaus standard and EnerPHit status.

The reduction of carbon emissions through residential homes is more than capable of happening. Through education and support, and following the mindset which Germany hold, the fantasy of the UK achieving drastically reduced levels of carbon emission in the next ten years could become a reality and prove that the UK is capable of being a leader in Passivhaus design and at the forefront of the movement along with the technology’s founders.

The world is a beautifully complex and mysterious occurrence, and should not be taken advantage of. The need to live in a symbiotic relationship has become far more apparent in recent years, and the required care and consideration needed to protect the world is more present now than ever before. With the ever-changing climate and worrying details of global warming forever looming in the back of people’s thoughts, shouldn’t now be the time to make a change? Housing in the UK is built as a striking rate, with the most of the countries carbon emission output coming from this sector, so by simply applying the Passivhaus technology to the country’s way of design as a mandatory requirement it would mean the UK can help give back to the world which has so selflessly provided a home.


Some aspects to consider could be an investigation into the teaching of Passivhaus, to create something that is concise and easy to understand so it can encourage the use of Passivhaus rather than be too complex so people may shy away. It is important that as much effort goes into the teaching of Passivhaus that does when applying the technology, as by doing so it could reap the benefits of developers and government backing.

As a continuation of the education of Passivhaus, further investigation is required into the public sector and if people who wish to either build their own homes or refurbish their existing homes would even consider the Passivhaus standard or EnerPHit status and an addition. Financial implications would play a large role in whether the technology would be used, but by gauging the area of the UK that would be eager to implement the new standards in solo projects, it may entice the developers of larger scale projects to follow suit.

The next thing which needs to be investigated is the estimated cost to the government if they were to implement a scheme which allows contractors of the public and private sector to receive a grant that allows them to build to the Passivhaus standard or the EnerPHit status without the need for the additional cost to be the responsibility of the developer. This help from the government could be in the form of a grant as previously suggested, or could be offered as a low-interest loan to those executing their own projects so they can appreciate the low running costs simultaneously with the on-going repayments.

These are only a few aspects that have been brought to attention and there are far more which need to be addressed if Passivhaus is ever going to become the industry norm. However, the issues which have been highlighted would be a great starting point to give the recognition the technology needs to thrive.


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