Living in a Passivhaus: Summer

Summer shading

Denby Dale Passivhaus

The original design outside the solar space was going to be a brise-soleil – (a permanently fixed structure for summer sun shading) with a pergola to provide summer shading downstairs. But we decided against the brise-soleil idea because it reminded us of prison bars and we wouldn’t have any control over it. Instead we had some electronic external shutters installed which work beautifully you can bring the shutters all the way down, have them half open (so you have lovely dappled light) or all the way up. In winter as the sun gets weaker we don’t need the blinds. Now we’ve lived through the summer in the house we also realise that we don’t need the pergola for shading. We might still put one out there – but it would be as an attractive feature rather than a necessity. It’s the same with the greenery. We’ve always wanted to live in a conservatory with ‘wrap-around’ foliage – which is why we were growing the tomatoes and cucumber inside the solar space – and then we realised that we don’t need that because all the greenery is out there – through the massive window of the solar space.

Gardening efforts

CO2 probably doesn’t build up too much in a Passivhaus due to the MVHR system supplying adequate fresh oxygen-rich air so it’s interesting to see what, if any, impact this has on the plants in the house.

Growing tomatoes in the solar space hasn’t really worked – they would be fine in a greenhouse but in an airtight Passivhaus the green fly have nowehere to go …When the Mayor of Kirklees was here opening the house I could see people swatting the greenfly away, so we’ve given up on them – they also didn’t seem to grow many tomatoes. We grew some cucumbers as well and they fruited little tiny cucumbers which then just shrivelled. Normally in a greenhouse you’d be spraying all the time but obviously we didn’t want to do that in the house. The banana plant’s fine though and the passion flower vine is doing well and as grown around the internal space metal structure (which will ultimately contribute to summer shading).
We’ve never had an orchid flower before we’ve found that orchids seem to do well in Passivhauses as is the cyclamen seems to love it in here – it just keeps on flowering.

So gardening-wise it’s still a matter of finding out what works and what doesn’t work in the house.

Air quality
Air cleanliness was one of the things that appealed to us about Passivhaus and we were also keen to use natural paints and natural materials in the house. We painted the house ourselves using natural paints – and because the paint didn’t off-gas we didn’t have to open windows while we were decorating .

We chose some clay plaster for the internal walls, which is supposed to take in excess moisture and then release it when the atmosphere gets too dry etc. If there are peaks and troughs of humidity – the clay plaster is supposed to act a buffer for this. This was recommended to us by a guy in Austria who was a plasterer and his children were asthmatic. It has an attractive finish as well and doesn’t need to be painted so it fitted our low maintenance criteria. In terms of condensation in the house, we’ve noticed that when you have a shower – you get a certain amount of condensation and steaming up on the mirrors etc – but it clears by the time you leave the bathroom – probably an indicator of the effectiveness of the MVHR

It was always on our agenda to have a house that was going to be easy to clean. We’re terrible at cleaning – one of the plusses of having the Green Building Store training day visits is that forces us to clean. Thanks to the flooring and smooth surfaces in an hour and you’re done –it’s very easy to clean – the flooring we’ve chosen doesn’t trap the dust (bamboo in the sitting room, wood and stone elsewhere).  A comfortable and dust-free environment is also part of the Passivhaus philosophy.

3rd September 2010

4 responses to “Living in a Passivhaus: Summer”

  1. blank Malcolm Yates says:

    I’d love to swap notes. We have lived in an earth shelter for 4 years, and many ideas of what we would do differently next time.

  2. blank Heather & Keith Griffiths says:

    Hi, we are self building a self designed house in North Wales following the Passive house principals. We will not have the house Passive documented as our budget is too small to run to the testing costs, we do however hope to have the benefits of Passive House living.
    Our construction is thin joint block as this was the easiest construction for us to master, although we can lay traditional bricks we are not builders. So far, we have done all of the building work ourselves with some help from our son driving our 3ton digger with the footings.
    We are very interested in the solar gain / need for solar shading through your solar space, our design has a southerly solarium with the glazed roof running into the tiled roof & we are concerned we will overheat.
    I’m also curious as to how the bamboo floor is standing up to daily living, as it is a material I am considering. We may go for an entirely tiled floor; we have put in under floor heating to run from a wood pellet boiler as a belt & braces for winter & DHW if the planned solar panels don’t supply enough; but I’m concerned an all tiled space would feel too clinical even with rugs.
    We are actually a long way off flooring as the roof is not completed and no windows fitted but I’m working on the budget!
    I hope you can find time to reply.
    Best wishes
    Heather (Keith is busy slating)

    • blank Kate Tunstall says:

      Reply to Heather & Keith Griffiths

      Hi – just to answer your questions

      The bamboo flooring – We have used standard bamboo flooring throughout on the first floor (except for the tiled bathroom). This is fine – but does not get much wear and tear – there is just the two of us in the house. In the living room I was seduced by the deeper richer look of carbonised bamboo (which put us over budget for flooring!). This has been subjected to more traffic, although we insist people take their shoes off in our house. Also we put rubber on the base of some chairs to avoid scratches. It copes with me misting the plants, with spills – even cat sick hasn’t left a stain! The carbonised finish is supposed to be waxed/oiled once a year, but I haven’t done it yet. We are very happy with it – it gives a warmer appearance than many hard surfaces, but is easy to clean/maintain.
      Underfloor heating – we put underfloor heating in the bathroom & kitchen under the tiles – just the cheap kits you might get at Wickes. This was an unnecessary caution – we have never used it. Our bathroom floor is heated by the hot water cylinder which is stored in the room below. The temperature in a passive house stays quite constant and all the floors are generally between 18-21 degrees. I don’t know how much insulation you have in your base which may make a difference-ours is 225mm polyfoam.

      Solar gain -needs monitoring. We had the external blinds fitted to give us the control. Although the temperature of the fabric of our passive house stays quite constant, the air temperature can rise quite quickly. Shading is essential – we are glad we have external blinds which are more efficient at blocking temperature than internal solutions.
      The highest part of our solar space has an opening window which gives us the option of ventilating excess heat. This has proved essential when we have experienced overheating – eg returning home after a sunny day after leaving the blinds up. The large eaves also help to control summer thermal gain.
      You will need to have external shading on both areas of glazing to contral thermal gain. Also you need to ensure you have an option to ventilate at the highest point again to deal with overheating.

      We have 7 pv panels and 2 solar water panels which give us electricity & DHW for our needs. We have a gas boiler as a back up to heat 1 radiator, 2 towel rails and DHW. We found that we do not need this on all the time in autumn/winter and we turned it off in March.

      Hope this helps you and good luck!
      Kate & Geoff

  3. Love the comment on Brise Soleil.
    I’ve created a dedicated information source on exterior blinds and one of the key ongoing topics is the importance of solar control in Passivhaus buildings. Below is a link to the info source dedicated to exterior blinds, with many topics you should find interesting, including the importance of blind positioning – summer and winter shading strategies for blinds:

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