UK Passivhaus Conference: Our thoughts from #UKPHC23 in Edinburgh

Last week, several members of our team attended the Passivhaus Trust’s UK Passivhaus Conference, which was held in the stunning Scottish Capital of Edinburgh and was entitled Scotland Leads the Way.

Over two days, it took a closer look at the pioneering approach that Scotland is taking towards adopting the ultra low energy building standard Passivhaus. Earlier this year, the Scottish Government announced new minimum environmental design standards for all new build housing to meet a ‘Scottish equivalent to the Passivhaus standard’. A cross-industry working group is currently working through the policy details, with a ‘thorough’ consultation on the proposals due to begin in 2024. Green Building Store colleagues attended both in person and online. The conference showcased Passivhaus projects across Scotland, from Fife Council’s Dunfermline Learning Campus to Midlothian Council’s social housing programme, delivering 200+ Passivhaus council homes.

The conference also featured Scotland’s first Passivhaus school, Riverside Primary School for Perth & Kinross Council and the City of Edinburgh Council’s Passivhaus schools programme. There are 35 Passivhaus schools currently underway or in the pipeline in Scotland.

There was a lot discussed at the conference and many things to take away and think about. Here are the key takeaways from the Green Building Store team who attended the conference in person or online.

Andy Mitchell, Managing Director

“I was at the first ever Passivhaus Trust Conference at the Barbican in 2011, and this year felt like a step change. As I sat in the beautiful setting of McEwan Hall, I was taken by the optimism and belief in the room, not just by those of us that have been involved for all this time, but by the policymakers, the tier-one contractors and the other industry professionals who were attending in significantly greater numbers than before. The evidence is unambiguous. Passivhaus is an affordable building standard, as testified by Exeter City Council, which claimed cost parity against traditional build, eliminating the performance gap, which is so prevalent through the existing SAP standard and construction methodology. The standard also helps facilitate major improvements to the health of occupants, as spoken about by Kirsteen McGinnLoreburn Housing Association, where the residents of their new Passivhaus homes saw a dramatic reduction in hay fever, eczema and asthma. Passivhaus principles are tangible construction methods ready to be rolled out further. The real benefits of low energy buildings are apparent to all who embrace them.

“Passivhaus principles are a mark of quality, a mark of better comfort, a mark of better health, a mark of better design. Building quality starts with design, and the Passivhaus Principles help ensure this quality from conception to the completion and beyond of a building. I was particularly struck by what many of the contractors said about what they had learnt and how Passivhaus principles could go a long way to improving trust again in the industry. Events like Grenfell, the death of Awaab Ishak due to mould, and the recent RAAC concrete scandal are all stark reminders of how buildings and how they are built can impact us. Hearing stories of how Passivhaus buildings are improving the health of their residents is a testament to the fact that building better really matters.”

Bill Butcher, Founding Director

“My first and most overwhelming thought from the conference is admiration for Scotland and its leadership regarding Passivhaus principles. Its willingness to embrace the quality necessary for Passivhaus construction and now its intention of taking them to the residential market as standard is something we can learn from in England. Thirty-five Passivhaus schools under construction in Scotland is equivalent to 300 schools in England when extrapolated due to population. This is a staggering achievement and one they should be immensely proud of.

“Secondly, tied in with the above, I was inspired to hear of the fantastic stories of collaboration of the tier one contractors in setting up organisations like discussion groups to share detailing and construction methods. I think the work we’ve been doing through Carbonlite and latterly Coaction in Scotland with contractors over the last five years has contributed to this.”

 Chris Herring, Founding Director. Chair of UK Passivhaus Trust

“It’s been a long journey, but last week’s conference feels like a significant turning point for Passivhaus in the UK. Before we first got involved with Passivhaus, there was, for example, lots of discussion and disagreement about the optimal level of insulation and other measures among leading-edge practitioners and academics. Passivhaus essentially nailed this by finding the sweet spot and demonstrating that this worked in practice. We were late in the UK, but the Passivhaus pioneers, including the Green Building Store and the developing Passivhaus community, demonstrated this for the UK. The Sullivan Report 2007, produced by Lynn Sullivan for the Scottish Government, recommended Passivhaus for Scotland. But the exemplars, community, etc, needed to be there. All these years after the founding of the Passivhaus Trust, the work by the Passivhaus community has now, it feels, paid off.

“I was particularly intrigued by a fascinating question at the end of the conference posed to all the delegates about which issue was most critical to the adoption of Passivhaus in Scotland. All answers had merit as all aspects were critical. I answered certification because I foresee the onsite verification as the most challenging aspect.

“As Bill has highlighted, the change in contractor attitudes is also a crucial aspect. Talking about the collaboration, the advantages of good planning to health and safety, and the value to the mental health of construction operatives in knowing they were doing an excellent job made it feel like some alternative universe to the experience most of us have had in the past and certainly since we started Green Building Store. If more contractors take this on board, certification as the biggest challenge will be less critical.

“I have many more thoughts, but these are the most prominent ones. I was confident that the Scottish Government might implement something nearer than could ever have been hoped to a true equivalent to Passivhaus. There will be transitional issues of compliance and warrant extension, but hopefully, the Government will sensibly handle these. Next stop, England…”

Ross Kendall, Mechanical Services Designer

“The conference was a fantastic event to attend. It was astonishing to hear how quickly Passivhaus adoption has taken off in Scotland in just the last couple of years, from the substantial number of new Passivhaus schools to the widespread adoption for other new building projects and the deep retrofits for existing stock.

“Aside from the fact that the new Scottish building regulations will be based on the Passivhaus standard, another fascinating aspect of the Scottish Passivhaus revolution is the broad support coming from all the various stakeholders, including national Government, councils, architects, contractors and clients, and the collaborative spirit that exists to meet the multiple challenges. I hope that the rest of the UK can follow suit.

“Finally, one thing that came up repeatedly was the importance of energy modelling in PHPP, from understanding the performance of existing buildings, quantifying the benefits of various retrofit measures to shaping the design of new buildings. PHPP is not just a necessary tool for Passivhaus compliance; it’s the most valuable and informative energy modelling tool that can be used for any building project.”

Nicola Briscoe, Marketing Officer

“There was so much to consider from the conference, and it was genuinely inspiring to hear what was being achieved. Hearing the recognition of the impacts that the quality of low energy buildings can have on the comfort and health of building inhabitants and users is critical. Low energy buildings can transform lives in so many ways. While there was discussion about the recent news of the cost of Passivhaus building, it is paramount that a real cost-benefit analysis is done of the positive outputs. One question from a delegate raised the issue of understanding the impacts of potential money saved by organisations like the NHS because of reduced health issues and how this could be reinvested back into healthier homes. While embryonic in its imagination, this is an exciting concept for the Trust to explore.”

Ryan Lewis, Communications Manager

As a communications manager, I was taken by the exciting and inspiring personal stories. Hearing Steve Kinninmonth from Morrison Construction and Peter McConnachie from Robertson Construction talk about how working to Passivhaus Principles was inspiring, empowering and improving the mental health of contractors on site was incredible. The benefits that PH building is bringing to the construction site in terms of contractors having more pride in their work, collaborative working, and the reduction of the blame culture are compelling stories to show the far-reaching impacts of the exacting standards of low energy building.

“I was also struck by the emphasis and importance of the design and detail in the planning stage of low energy building and Passivhaus principles. “If you can’t design it and model it on paper first, then you won’t be able to build it,” was one soundbite that stood out to me.”

We congratulate everyone at the Passivhaus Trust for creating a genuinely brilliant conference, and we are already excited about next year’s event in Cambridge and the role that Green Building Store could have in helping develop stories for it. A special mention to former Green Building Store Communications Manager Chayley Collis for her fantastic role in the preparation and on both days!





25th October 2023

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