Sustainable Retrofitting – the Passivhaus way (Part 2)

Dr Jennifer Hazelton, a Research Co-ordinator in Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) at Newcastle University, recently stayed in a Passivhaus bed and breakfast. In the second post of a two part series, she speaks to the owners, Adam Dadeby and Erica Aslett, about their experience of the renovation process.

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Is it more difficult to retrofit an existing building to Passivhaus standard than start from scratch? “Absolutely!”, Adam divulged. For example, the house was not originally designed to have such thickly insulated walls, and so they had to use thinner, more expensive materials to cover the outside to avoid expanding too much outwards. In addition, the structure had to be stripped right back to its fabric much more carefully than would be required to demolish it, then built back up piece-by-piece with all of the additions detailed in Adam’s blog,2 which didn’t always fit easily around the original layout and structure of the house. They had problems with the planners, financial difficulties associated with required changes and issues that cropped up along the way, and a few other retrofit-related glitches, but, in Adam’s own words: “here in the UK, building plots, particularly where we live, are scarce and expensive. It is a practical choice for us, given our other constraints. Renovations are important because most of the buildings we will be using in 2050 already exist today; renovating our existing housing stock is inevitable. Each renovation is an opportunity to reduce the building’s future running costs by reducing its energy use”.[1]

Is there anything that would make this building more sustainable? Adam and Erica told me that they would have liked to go even further with the sustainable aspects of their house, including using rainwater storage on their roof to provide “grey water” for toilet flushing. This would have sat alongside the photovoltaic (solar) panels that currently harvest electricity from the sun and feed it into the National Grid. Unfortunately they couldn’t afford to implement this at the time, but it is something they would consider in future.

What was most important aspect in making this project a success? Perhaps not what you might think! According to Adam, it was the high level of collaboration between the client, architect, builders and all of the tradesmen that made the biggest difference in this project. In order to achieve the Passivhaus certification, everyone working on the house had to understand their role alongside the others. They took responsibility for their own tasks, as a blame culture leads to bad workmanship and cutting corners, and supported each other. Because the certification is so stringent and everything needs to be perfect, the tiniest error has to be addressed and remedied, and sometimes that meant everyone getting involved. By working together, they were able to reach the high standard required to achieve the Passivhaus goal of ultra-low-energy performance.

All that is left is to say massive congratulations on behalf of NIReS to Adam and Erica for persevering with this project and achieving what they set out to do – retrofit sustainability into their building. They have also ended up with a beautiful family home and business that will pay back the money and effort that went into it many times over during its lifetime.


[1] Dadeby, A. 22 Nov 2009 [blog on the internet]. A Radical Renovation. Available online at URL: http://passivhausrefurb.blogspot.co.uk, last accessed 03.04.2013

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