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German ultra-low energy homes face major issues in the UK

There are major issues to overcome if ultra-low energy Passivhaus homes are to take off in the UK, new NHBC Foundation research has found.

These include the need to develop a more rigorous approach to quality assurance, high compliance standards and the extra costs associated with building houses to the Passivhaus standard.

Developed in Germany, Passivhaus sets very high requirements for energy efficient design and construction. The focus is to minimise the requirement for space heating and cooling, and hence overall energy consumption.

Last year, there were 165 Passivhaus buildings completed or under construction in the UK, but this is likely to treble to around 500 by the end of 2013. Worldwide, some 37,000 Passivhaus buildings have been constructed.

The NHBC Foundation report Lessons from Germany’s Passivhaus experience is intended to provide an objective overview of the experience gained to date from Passivhaus in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Key findings include:

  • The Passivhaus standard is a viable means of delivering low carbon housing and the vast majority of people (92 per cent) who live in these homes are pleased with them.
  • A significant factor in the uptake of Passivhaus in Germany has been the availability of reduced interest rate loans and grants. Just one such loan scheme is available in the UK and no capital grants are available for energy efficient new build projects in the UK.
  • The German population has a stronger interest in the environment and a general enthusiasm for higher specification products.
  • Passivhaus homes in the UK have to verify compliance with building regulations as well as the high Passivhaus standard. In Germany the Passivhaus certification automatically confirms compliance with building regulations.

Neil Smith, Group Research and Innovation Manager, NHBC, said: ‘Passivhaus is still in its infancy in the UK, but it is clear that there are major issues that need to be overcome if the Passivhaus standard is to take off in the UK.

“The popularity of Passivhaus in Germany has been largely due to a combination of social, political and financial circumstances that are specific to that nation.

“There are lessons that we in the UK can learn from the attention to detail inherent in the Passivhaus approach in the run up to the Government’s 2016 zero carbon homes target. But it is questionable whether Passivhaus is a realistic solution for the volume market at present.”