Passivhaus Standard Replacing The Code For Sustainable Homes Construction Essay

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'Should the PassivHaus standard replace the Code for Sustainable Homes as the UK's national standard for the design and construction of all sustainable dwellings?'

Overall Summary

The term 'PassivHaus' refers to a specific ultra low-energy construction standard developed in Germany, and now used throughout Europe, for buildings which have excellent comfort conditions in both the winter and summer. The Code for Sustainable Homes is the national standard for the design and construction of social housing in England, which measures the sustainability of a home against design categories, rating the whole house as a complete package. The project I am proposing involves comparing the two standards to determine which performs better in a range of different circumstances, and why? I also propose to establish whether the whole of the UK housing sector would benefit from adopting the PassivHaus standard in place of its current Code for Sustainable Homes standard.

Introduction / Background

In practice I am currently involved primarily in the design of social housing development projects which require full compliance with Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard. Through my experience working on these projects I have noticed an increase in the adoption of concepts used as part of the 'PassivHaus' standard to assist in achieving full compliance with the Code for Sustainable Homes. These adopted concepts have included increasing the levels of insulation used in the external envelope of new dwellings, improving the air tightness of the construction details used, and increasingly specifying mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) units for new dwellings.

The PassivHaus standard was first developed in the early 1990s in Germany, by Professor Wolfgang Feist of the PassivHaus Institut in Darmstadt, where the first dwellings to be completed to the PassivHaus standard were also constructed in 1991. The core focus of the PassivHaus design is to significantly reduce the requirement for space heating and cooling, without compromising thermal comfort or relying on the falling cost of renewable energy technologies. This focus is also what enables new PassivHaus dwellings the ability to typically achieve an energy saving of 90%, compared to existing housing. The PassivHaus design principles are not exclusively applicable to the residential sector, they can also be applied to commercial, industrial and public buildings, which can also achieve the classification of PassivHaus status upon completion. The performance of the first dwellings to be completed to the PassivHaus standard were subsequently monitored, which eventually led to other PassivHaus projects being monitored around Europe as part of the European CEPHEUS project. The CEPHUS project involves the construction and scientific evaluation of 250 housing units built to the requirements of the PassivHaus standard, in five European countries, with in-process scientific back-up, and with the evaluation of building operation through systematic measurement programmes. To date there are approximately 17,000 buildings, worldwide, that have been constructed in accordance with the PassivHaus principles, several of which projects are now nearing completion and certification in the UK. The PassivHaus standard is publicised as representing one approach that the building industry can adopt in its aspiration towards zero-carbon buildings, and it is proposed that although a PassivHaus building is not in itself carbon neutral, the reduced energy requirements should allow potentially smaller and cheaper quantities of renewable technologies to be specified to achieve zero-carbon standards.

The Code for Sustainable Homes standard was introduced in England in April 2007, replacing the EcoHomes scheme developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), and acting as a voluntary national standard to improve the overall sustainability of new dwellings. The EcoHomes scheme was a version of the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), developed for homes, intended to provide an authoritative rating for new, converted, or renovated homes and was developed to be applicable to houses, flats and apartments. The Code for Sustainable Homes standard measures the sustainability of new dwellings against 9 design categories: Energy and CO2 emissions, water, materials, surface water run-off, waste, pollution, health and wellbeing, management, and ecology, in order to provide a sustainability rating for the whole dwelling as a complete package. The Code for Sustainable Homes standard uses a rating system of 1 to 6 stars to communicate the overall sustainability performance of a dwelling, based on the extent to which it has achieved the required standards. From its inception in April 2007, compliance with the Code for Sustainable Homes standard was voluntary. But from the 1st May 2008 the UK Government enforced the requirement of a minimum of Code Level 3 for all new social housing developments. The Code for Sustainable Homes standard was prepared by the Government in close working consultation with Building Research Establishment (BRE) and Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA), and through consultation with a Senior Steering Group consisting of Government, Industry and NGO representatives. The standard was also developed so that it could be integrated with current UK Building Regulations and other relevant design guides, such as Robust Details and Lifetime Homes. The Code for Sustainable Homes standard is publicised as aiming to protect the environment by providing guidance on the construction of high performance homes with sustainability in mind.

Since April 2010, planning authorities across the UK have increasingly demanded the achievement of Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable homes on new developments. This has been done so in anticipation of the Governments intention to update the UK Building Regulations in 2013 so that they fall in line with the energy requirements of Code Level 4. The Government are also committed to achieving zero-carbon homes by 2016. There remains speculation from professionals in the construction industry that the Government's 2016 target for zero carbon homes is unrealistic, and many developers still believe that building to Code Level 6 is too expensive and unviable. The recent 2010 revisions to the Code for Sustainable Homes standard have been done so in parallel with the 2010 revisions made to the UK Building Regulations. These revisions are already showing a step towards the concepts employed by the PassivHaus standard, with a redefined section relating to Fabric Energy Efficiency Standards (FEES), which will reward reductions in predicted energy demand for space heating and cooling in terms of kWh/m2/year. Currently the PassivHaus standard enforces tough energy efficiency standards and a maximum calculated energy demand, which it also measures in kWh/m2/year. At present, dwellings which are constructed in the UK to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus standard will expect to achieve a Code for Sustainable Homes rating of Code Level 3 or 4. This level is achieved through highly insulating the external fabric, passive use of solar energy, air tightness, heat recovery, use of energy efficient appliances, and ensuring a low energy demand for space heating and cooling. But doesn't factor in water efficiency, surface water management, site waste management, household waste management, and use of materials, which are all addressed within the Code for Sustainable Homes standard.

Formal Proposal

In this study I am proposing to provide answers to a range of sub-questions, which are intended to provide a wider context to the subject topic and enable an informed conclusion to be made with regard to the overarching question 'Should the PassivHaus standard replace the Code for Sustainable Homes as the UK's national standard for the design and construction of all sustainable dwellings?' These sub-questions are detailed within this section, along with the means in which I intend to answer them, the tasks associated with providing an answer to them and what I anticipate the outcome of each question will illustrate.

I propose to provide an answer to the question: 'what are the full ranges of criteria addressed by the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards?' I intend to answer this question by analysing and comparing the full range of criteria addressed by each standard, and in doing so provide a full explanation of the list of requirements for each of the two standards. I anticipate that the outcome of this task will show that the differences between the requirements of each standard are clearly identifiable. I also anticipate that the outcome will show that the PassivHaus standard involves the use of more passive concepts for achieving sustainability, which are mainly applicable during the design stages of a project. Whereas the Code for Sustainable Homes standard involves more active concepts for achieving sustainability, which are mainly applicable during the occupancy stage of a project and heavily reliant on the actions of the end user.

I propose to provide an answer to the question: 'are the design principles employed by the PassivHaus standard suited to the construction of dwellings in the UK, and suited to the UK's climate?' I intend to answer this question by exploring the suitability of designing and constructing dwellings in accordance with the requirements of the PassivHaus standard, which are also suitable for production in the UK. I intend to implement this through the analysis of existing dwellings that have been constructed in the UK in accordance with the PassivHaus standard's principles and have achieved PassivHaus status, and through the analysis of personally prepared questionnaires completed by professionals in the construction industry. I anticipate that the outcome of this task will show that it is possible for dwellings to be designed and constructed in accordance with the requirements of the PassivHaus standard within the UK, and that those professionals who are familiar with the PassivHaus standard will be receptive to the integration of its principles within the UK's construction industry. But that they will however, be required to vary slightly in their design from PassivHaus dwellings constructed throughout the rest of Europe, and therefore adjustments to the original PassivHaus model may be required for it to be practically applicable to dwellings within the UK.

I propose to provide an answer to the question: 'what implications will the predicted affects of global warming have on PassivHaus dwellings and those designed to meet the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and are these standards capable of easily adapting to take account of future climate change?' I intend to answer this question by analysing the predicted affects that global warming will have on dwellings within the UK, according to publications by leading specialists in the field, and by analysing the adaptability of dwellings designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards. I anticipate that the outcome of this task will show that dwellings designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus standard will be more easily adaptable to the predicted climate change, whereas dwellings designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes will potentially demand additional cooling during the summer months to account for the rise in temperature.

I propose to provide an answer to the question: 'what affect do the occupants have on dwellings designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus and the Code

for Sustainable Homes standards?' I intend to answer this question by exploring the effect occupants have on the sustainability of dwellings designed and built to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards. I intend to implement this by analysing the reliance each principle of the two standards has on the end user and by analysing case studies. I anticipate that the outcome of this task will show that the sustainable principles that the Code for Sustainable Homes standard employs are more reliant on the occupants of a dwelling, as they tend to be more active principles. Whereas the sustainable principles that the PassivHaus standard employs tend to be more passive principles designed in to the fabric of the dwelling, and therefore are less reliant on the occupants of a dwelling.

I propose to provide an answer to the question: 'which option is more economical in terms of cost, a dwelling designed and constructed in accordance with the requirements of the PassivHaus standard, or a dwelling designed and constructed in accordance with the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard?' I intend to answer this question by performing a cost analysis taking into account the design, construction and occupancy of a dwelling. This cost analysis will then be applied to a standard house type model, designed to meet the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard and achieve compliance with the UK building regulations, and designed to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus standard. I anticipate that the outcome of this task will show that designing a house to achieve Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes will be more expensive overall than designing a house to the requirements of the PassiveHaus standard, which also achieves the equivalent of Code Level 4.

I also propose to provide an answer to the question: 'can a dwelling designed in accordance with the PassivHaus standard's principles, be developed to the equivalent of Code Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and meet the Government's 2016 target for the construction of zero-carbon homes?' I intend to answer this question by performing simulations on standard house type models in order to produce a range of dwelling designs which achieve Code Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. The methods used to model these zero-carbon dwellings will simulate the upgrade of a range of house types designed to achieve Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard and designed to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus standard, into zero-carbon homes which achieve Code Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard. I anticipate that the outcome of this task will show that dwellings which have been upgraded from the PassivHaus standard so that they meet the requirements of Code Level 6 will be less expensive, less complicated and quicker to upgrade, compared to the upgrade of Code Level 4 dwellings into zero-carbon homes.

I predict that the outcome of this study as a whole will prove that the ideal solution will be for the UK to adopt a new sustainability standard which includes all of the design principles of the PassivHaus standard and also incorporates the more active concepts used as part of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard. I also predict that this study will highlight that the immediate adoption of the PassivHaus standard's design principles, in the construction of new dwellings in the UK, could enable the simple future upgrade of existing dwellings into zero-carbon homes, which would also be adaptable to future climate change.

Literature Review

The topic that this research will focus on specifically is whether the German PassivHaus standard would be more suitable than the UK's current sustainability standard, the Code for Sustainable Homes, in terms of achieving the UK government's 2016 target of zero-carbon homes. The parameters of this topic will take into account the predicted affects of future climate change, according to publications by leading specialists in the field, and aims to analyse the effects that the occupants have on dwellings designed to meet the requirements of the two standards, the cost implications of designing homes in accordance with each standard, and the potential for existing dwellings designed and constructed to both PassivHaus and the Code for Sustainable Homes standards to be upgraded to zero-carbon homes in the future. The selection of literature that I have chosen to review mainly consists of journal articles as I have been unable to find any published books that directly address this topic area. The journal articles chosen for this review have been selected according to the authors' affiliations with the subject matter, and according to their date of publication, with the most current literature prioritised over older articles, to eliminate reference to outdated views and information.

From the literature I have reviewed it is evident that the principal questions being asked in relation to the topic, by professionals in the construction industry and sustainability specialists, include: whether it is possible to design and construct dwellings in accordance with PassivHaus standards' principles, in the UK, using traditional methods of construction; what the potential cost savings of a dwelling designed and constructed in accordance with the PassivHaus standard are, over a dwelling designed and constructed to meet the requirements of Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes; and whether it is possible to achieve Code Level 6 of the Code For Sustainable Homes by adopting the principle of the PassivHaus standard.

The current discoveries relating to this topic suggest that the two standards are not directly comparable, because the PassivHaus standard is measured in terms of the total energy use for space heating only, whereas the Code for Sustainable Homes standard and the governing UK building regulations, set standards according to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions for space heating, heating of water and lighting. Literature published by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) suggests that new-build dwellings designed and constructed in accordance with the PassivHaus standard can be expected to typically achieve the equivalent energy requirements of Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, but states that it is not possible to go beyond Code Level 4 without specifying renewable energy technologies, and also states that the fabric requirements of Code Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes is currently based on the PassivHaus standard. Discoveries presented by the literature I have reviewed also suggest that PassivHaus dwellings are capable of using up to 90% less energy to heat them than the average UK house, and can cost about a tenth of the price to run.

The general consensus from the literature I have reviewed seems to be that environmentalists and sustainability experts are eager for UK architects and other professionals in the construction industry to adopt the principles of the PassiveHaus standard in the UK as a means of reaching the Governments 2016 target for zero-carbon homes. The literature relating to this topic also speculates that there hasn't been a wider uptake of the PassivHaus standard within the UK due to a range of misconceptions related to the quality of internal comfort levels achieved by PassivHaus dwellings, and it is suggested that for dwellings to be effectively designed and constructed in accordance with the PassivHaus standard, in the UK, professionals within the construction industry would need to be educated accordingly. However the PassivHaus standard is criticised in the literature as requiring the use of synthetic materials and products in their construction, which involve the depletion of non-renewable resource in their production and transportation, and which may be difficult to recycle at the end of their lifespan. Also it has been highlighted that the PassivHaus standard. In the literature reviewed it is also expressed by professionals in the construction industry that the PassivHaus standard is only suitable for producing highly energy-efficient building fabric, whereas the Code for Sustainable Homes standard has been meticulously developed to incorporate existing building regulations and collaborate with new design legislation. It is also commented that the Code for Sustainable Homes standard is continuously evolving at regular intervals, working towards the 2016 target of zero-carbon homes, at which point it is believed that the industry will emerge with similar levels of energy efficiency for new homes as the PassiveHaus standard, but with a more holistic context of sustainability, which will incorporate water efficiency, waste management and consideration of the environmental impact of building materials. However, it is highlighted in the literature that there is a very little monitoring of low-energy buildings that have been designed and constructed in accordance with the Code for Sustainable Homes standard, in the UK, but those that are monitored are often found to be lacking.

The methods of investigation used in the literature relating to this topic are predominantly case studies, performed on occupied dwellings which have been designed and constructed in accordance with the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards. The disadvantage of using this type of methodology however, is that it can result in subjective data.

The reviewed literature relating to this subject area encourages the adoption of the PassivHaus standard within the UK construction industry as a means in which to achieve zero-carbon homes in the future, and emphasises the suitability of energy efficient dwellings to be designed and constructed in accordance with its principles within the UK. But however, highlights the concerns surrounding the sustainability of PassivHaus materials, and the rigidness of the standard as just a guide for producing highly energy-efficient building fabric. The Code for Sustainable Homes is complimented, in the reviewed literature, for the way in which it incorporates existing and new legislation, and is continuously evolving into a better performing, more holistic sustainability standard. Very little direct comparison is made between the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards in the available literature, and very few informed conclusions are drawn. Also due to the selected literature consisting mainly of journal articles, much of the information available is presented from the author's perspective and consequently is mainly subjective and lacking in sufficient statistical data, which is vitally needed to support the authors' arguments. The study I am proposing will attempt to collate factual secondary data taken from a range of sources, addressing a wider scope of parameters than has previously been attempted, and supplement this research by running simulations on model house types, which will produce a range of primary data that can also be analysed and compared. Thus enabling a more holistic conclusion to be formed in relation to whether it is feasible, and indeed practical, for the German PassivHaus standard to be adopted in place of the current UK government's Code for Sustainable Homes standard.

Methodology and Research Methods

I am proposing to conduct a deductive study which involves the collection of primary research data and the analysis of secondary research data. The inclusion of primary research will be in the form of simulation and modelling, and questionnaires. This will be used to supplement the collected secondary research, due to gaps in the current literature relating to directly comparable cost analysis' and efficiency ratings. It will also be used to explore the practicality of upgrading dwellings designed in accordance with the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards, into zero carbon homes, and to obtain current opinions regarding the integration of the PassivHaus standard's design principles into UK building projects, from professionals working in the construction industry. The primary research data will be used independently in a comparative analysis, from which conclusions can be drawn. The secondary research will be used in the form of correlational research, and will involve the analytical comparison of secondary data and case studies, from which conclusions can be drawn. The research itself will be predominantly quantitative, but will however contain some qualitative elements.

The secondary correlational research will be used to form comparisons between the content of the PassivHaus and Code for Sustainable Homes standards, and to form case study analysis' of existing dwellings in the UK designed and constructed in accordance with the two standards. The research data obtained from these methods will be subsequently analysed and enable the deduction of an informed conclusion.

The primary simulation and modelling research will be used to form a cost analysis for a range of modelled dwellings designed to meet the requirements of the PassivHaus and Code for sustainable Homes standards, and to simulate the upgrade of dwellings designed in accordance with the two standards, into zero carbon homes in accordance with Code Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. The primary research based questionnaire will be used to obtain the views of a limited number and range of professionals working in the UK construction industry, relating to the suitability of employing the principles of the PassivHaus standard into the construction of dwellings in the UK. The research data obtained from these methods will be subsequently analysed, independently, and definitive conclusions will be formed.

The results obtained and conclusions formed from each methodology will finally be comparatively analysed as a whole, and form the basis for an overall conclusion which aims to answer the question 'Should the PassivHaus standard replace the Code for Sustainable Homes as the UK's national standard for the design and construction of all sustainable dwellings?'

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