Scottish can-do approach to Passivhaus, Sarah Lewis

AT the start of this year, Scottish Government minister, Patrick Harvie, announced to parliament plans (here) to “introduce new minimum environmental design standards for all new-build housing to meet a Scottish equivalent to the Passivhaus standard [here], in order to improve energy efficiency and thermal performance”.

It followed a Private Member’s Bill lodged (here) by Alex Rowley, MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife.

The exact details of the ‘Scottish equivalent’ to Passivhaus are still being finalised. However, the Scottish construction industry is already rising to the challenge of the Passivhaus standard and many projects are already completed or underway, demonstrating Scotland’s ability to embrace it. 

Calls for the Passivhaus standard to be implemented came a while back from the citizens’ Scottish Climate Assembly, which voted (here) almost unanimously for the Passivhaus standard for new-build housing.

Meanwhile, a consultation exercise undertaken for Rowley’s Bill drew (here) 629 responses, 90 per cent of which were positive.

Passivhaus has been especially embraced in the Scottish school building sector, thanks to innovative funding (here) from the Scottish Futures Trust. Projects receiving funding need to meet a very clear energy target, comparable with a typical new-build Passivhaus school. Funding may be reduced based on any performance gap, following completion.

The Passivhaus standard effectively eliminates the performance gap, de-risking the securing of funding. It has been impressive how swiftly the industry, supply chain and clients have adjusted to delivering to the Passivhaus standard in the education sector. It is currently estimated that 35 Passivhaus schools are either underway or in the pipeline in Scotland – some showcased on the Passivhaus Trust website, here.

Meanwhile, social housing providers, local authorities and self-builders have been each undertaking various Passivhaus projects for a number of years in Scotland, with a dramatic increase in the pipeline for social housing.

Patrick Brown, head of Sustainable Construction Delivery, at The City of Edinburgh Councilis supportive, quoted (here): “[We have] commenced the delivery of non-housing related projects to certified Passivhaus standards. The experience to date has been very positive with greater rigour being evidenced in the design process. Passivhaus not only addresses low-energy solutions but, equally critically, ensures internal comfort conditions are delivered.”

Additional costs related to building to Passivhaus standard are sometimes put up as a barrier.

However, as Rowley has observed (here): “Building a Passivhaus is the epitome of a spend-to-save approach. By investing now, we save both financially and environmentally over the term of the project.”

Certainly, the cost to the nation (not least the NHS) of fuel poverty and poorer-performing homes, as well as the cost of upgrading the energy grid, needs to be factored into wider calculations.

Scottish Government data on fuel poverty (here) showed a cost to the NHS – back in 2014 – of up to £80 million per annum in Scotland, due to the health impacts of cold, damp housing. That figure can only have increased since, during the energy bill crisis. 

In 2018, the Passivhaus Trust undertook research (here), which concluded that build costs for Passivhaus are only four-to-eight per cent higher than for a more conventional build. The Trust shares best practice guidance (here) on delivering cost-effective Passivhaus, with simple early-stage design and a focus on good ‘form factor’ (the ratio between volume and surface area) and building orientation all being effective ways to keep costs down.

Upskilling the Scottish construction industry to deliver Passivhaus is already underway. Scotland has an outstanding training resource in existence at the innovation centre, BE-ST (Built Environment – Smarter Transformation), which offers a Passivhaus, retrofit and fabric-first training programme. To date, BE-ST’s Low Carbon Learning programme has supported 2,500-plus individuals.  

Other Passivhaus training opportunities for Scottish building professionals include a programme of Passivhaus training for university architecture students (noted here), plus online and on-demand training, including a forthcoming webinar and workshop being hosted by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland on June 6 (details here).

The UK Passivhaus Conference will be exploring ways to help upscale Passivhaus in Scotland and takes place in Edinburgh, on October 16-17. 

Passivhaus is NOT complicated but does requires a new mindset. As Euan McDermott, the pre-construction manager of building services firm, Fleming, has commented: “There’s a lot to learn and hurdles to go through but I genuinely don’t think it’s so hard, it’s not that different. Once you’ve got your design, there comes a point in the project where it just becomes a normal build again. Get your substructure right, get your thermal envelope right, and then really after that it’s just a normal building.”

Scotland is joining other nations and regions around the world in the Passivhaus vanguard. As Allan Smith, Low Carbon manager at Morrison Construction, has said: “We see the Scottish Government announcement as a very positive move. Passivhaus is a learning curve. I do think the Scottish construction industry can rise to the challenge. From a Scotsman’s perspective, it’s good to feel proud to see your country leading the way. It’s a very brave move but it’s one that has to be made. It’s great that we are doing it.”

The Passivhaus Trust looks forward to working more with the Scottish construction industry to help accelerate change, overcome any obstacles there might be, and deliver the homes Scottish people deserve.

Sarah Lewis is Research & Policy director at the Passivhaus Trust

Pictured: A big turn-out at BE-ST Fest 2022, a month-long festival for a zero-carbon built environment., Picture credit: BE-ST

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