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Fulford Passivhaus

Passivhaus plus construction at Fulford, York. A cavity wall with external timber frame

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The elements in a building are roughly divided into two parts

  • the envelope of the building like walls floors, doors etc.
  • the services such as wiring and drainage.

The Building Regulations are in the process of greening up. This includes areas such as insulation, air tightness, water conservation and waste storage

Thinking of a house as a number of elements is the traditional way of organising the construction process and works well around the various trades involved. However the challenges which arise with selfbuild and green building are often as much to do with the relationships between the elements as with the elements themselves. This is particularly true with thermal bridging and air tightness. The services also pose a challenge in terms of their efficiency, and take on a new dimension where energy harvesting  is concerned.

reasons to build ecologicallyUntil quite recently the building regulations, part L1A and part L1B, have been mainly based on an ‘elemental’ calculation for heat loss. This was a fairly crude method of calculation of the U value of each element of the building and simply adding all the bits together to give a total heat loss. What is becoming a more important aspect now is the actual performance of the whole house when it is built. Hence the introduction of fan testing to find out if all the elements fit tightly together.

The other factor which becomes important is how the materials used in the various elements are sourced and eventually disposed of and how much energy goes into making them (the embodied energy).

If you purchase a kit house you are very much in the hands of the supplier and you need to check out their materials and design whereas if you go down the route of designing and building it yourself then you have (hopefully) more control over all the ingredients.

The building site

There are two main challenges that arise once you actually get to the on-site work

  • Reducing waste on site and recycling.
  • Reducing transport associated with the building work

Reducing on-site waste is often harder than it first seems. Obviously a great deal can be achieved at the design stage by carefully working out the quantities of materials required and who can supply them in the correct batches at the right time.

Well organized storage is necessary especially where materials need to be kept dry so as to avoid damage due to waste.
Containers and packaging needs to be considered carefully because it is such a complex issue. Some items such as pallets are returnable, some such as cardboard boxes are probably recyclable while some plastics such as polystyrene may not be. Local recycling schemes are improving rapidly in many areas of the country so check out what they will and won’t take.

Transport associated with building sites can be enormous, especially when the work becomes more specialized. For instance the ‘shopping’ needed for plumbing or electrics can be a major part of the job especially for someone who doesn’t carry a large range of fittings etc. in the back of a van. Particularly if you are going to undertake this type of work yourself and especially if the building site is remote from a town with a good selection of merchants, the golden rule is to plan shopping trips carefully and phone beforehand to make sure they have it in stock. Also take the phone numbers of alternative suppliers so you can phone round as you go. This can avoid a lot of repeat journeys.

Construction information

Manufacturers are generally good at giving technical information on their own products.

The NHBC have a considerable amount of information about construction details on their Technical Guidance pages and their Technical Extra

The  LABC Technical Manual is quite good for traditional construction principles and standards (though still behind on low energy building) and Premier do a useful Technical Manual. These manuals duplicate a great deal of information. However they are generally aimed at current building regulation standards rather than eco-house standards such as Passivhaus/Passive House.

Trade associations often publish information on good practice e.g.

Glass and Glazing Federation  A Guide to Best Practice in the Specification and Use of Fire-Resistant Glazed Systems

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