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Opinion: Proving Passivhaus can work for social housing

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Opinion: Proving Passivhaus can work for social housing

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Environment, Sustainability

Opinion: Proving Passivhaus can work for social housing Opinion: Proving Passivhaus can work for social housing

John Barnham, head of sustainable development at Orbit Group, responds to a recent NHBC report highlighting major obstacles facing the successful roll-out of Passivhaus schemes in the UK.

The NHBC Foundation's recent report on Passivhaus in the UK highlights the major obstacles contributing to the successful roll-out of this proven low energy design solution. The focus on highlighting the need for improved quality control, higher compliance standards and importantly providing an affordable product is helpful and reminds us of our own responsibilities within the construction industry to lead the development and delivery of low carbon housing solutions.

Those of certain years will well remember the UK car industry of the 1970s and 80s where foreign manufactures drove down costs and flooded the UK market with the kind of cars people wanted at a price they could afford. The quality might have been questionable but impact upon our own industry was disastrous. The similarity between the then UK car industry and today’s housing developers should ring alarm bells. Could an affordable German housing product seriously erode our own industry? Hopefully not, but only if we recognise and respond to the challenge now.

Building a house today must focus on ‘affordability’ for both builder and consumer. This is not helped by the economy and current climate within the construction industry where reduced demand and loan difficulties for buyers are making times tough for all. Cost will always be an issue but until a combination of willingness to learn, adopt and implement widely is accepted by all involved in designing constructing and legislating, achieving the UK carbon reduction targets stipulated by Government will remain a distant mirage rather than a reality.

Orbit’s own experience of Passivhaus in a social housing context for both new build and retrofit has been challenging. We accepted a moderate cost premium in the delivery of our homes recognising that it was delivering against our commitment to reduce fuel poverty for residents, while also enabling us to develop new skills and capability. What is important now is taking that learning and helping to drive down cost and support the evolution of leaner supply chains.

Our findings at Sampson Close, Coventry provide strong evidence that Passivhaus does work - providing low cost (affordable) housing to occupiers. Improved health and well-being are also recognised and attributed to Passivhaus as well as improved occupier satisfaction with their home. Importantly, as with any new product, providing the correct advice in how to 'operate' the home is imperative especially as behaviour and lifestyle can impact upon the performance of any home. Importantly, within a social housing context, satisfied customers do result in reduced management and maintenance costs. This is a ‘product’ the people want, a product which works, and a product we can continue to refine and develop while driving down cost.

Will it take foreign construction companies to reshape the future of housing in the UK – or are we ready to step up to the challenge?

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