Friday, 23 July 2021

Can I Make My Current House Passive?


Ok, I am often heard talking about Passive House (Passivhaus) Standard but one of the main questions I get asked is “Can I turn my current home into a passive house?” So, with that in mind I thought I would break it down.


Sustainability and energy efficiency are becoming the ‘norm’.  Already, when building, we have to adhere to certain guidelines in order to pass regulations. So most builds will now conform to higher energy efficiency standards than previously, which is always a good start. Obviously it goes without saying, that building from scratch is the easiest and most efficient way of ensuring you reach Passive House Standards. But, I also appreciate that this isn’t always possible. You might not have the ability to move, you might just like your home and location, but you just want to ensure you’re getting the most from your home. Whatever your reason, there are things which can be done which will bring you closer to Passive Standard. Be warned though, they’re not all easy in retrospect and can sometimes, depending on your home, be quite costly. Achieving Passive Standard in retrospect is a very difficult task, some would say impossible. 


Don’t be alarmed or put off though. Whatever happens improvements CAN be made. 


When building a Passive House, you would need to consider every part of construction, right down to the design. Obviously, without demolishing your home, this isn’t something you can change in its entirety. You can of course add extensions or renovate the home, but the design will ultimately not be suited to Passive House. 


When constructing a Passive House, you would need to ensure that it is completely air tight, and you would also have to think about the materials that you use. Passive Homes are often constructed using timber frames. Timber frames are used for many reasons, ranging from being more environmentally friendly, to giving better insulation. 


What Can I do If I Want to Retrofit My Home To Passive Standards?


The Passivhaus Institute has set out a new standard for anyone who is looking to achieve Passive House Standard in a retrofit property. If you wanted to read more about it check out this link.


Ideally, with this standard, you would manage to reduce your heating demand by up to 90% by using passive methods. 


In order to meet this standard, you will need to provide proof of the following:


·      Improved Thermal Insulation

·      Reduction of Thermal Bridges

·      Excellent/Improved Air Tightness

·      Use of high-quality windows and doors, potentially even ones which are designed specifically for Passive House Standard

·      Effective and improved heat generation

·      Implementation of renewable energy sources. 


So, to answer your question “Can I make my current home a Passive House?” The answer is yes, and no. The chances are you wouldn’t be able to meet the Passive House Standards of a new build, but you have every chance of meeting the standards set out specifically, by Passivhaus, for a retrofit. 


Don’t forget, when you’re undertaking your Building Compliances it is always best to work with an assessor at the earliest possible stage, especially for something like retrofits. You know what, I think I know a company who could help 😉



Friday, 16 July 2021

What Is Thermal Bridging And Why Do We Get It?


Thermal bridging usually happens when there are gaps in the building’s envelope. A thermal bridge can also be referred to as a cold bridge. Typically, this can happen if there is a gap or a break in the insulation. This can occur when the insulation itself has been penetrated with something that actually has a higher thermal conductivity. 


A cold bridge will not only allow the loss of heat, but it will also cause any warm air inside your building to cool down. This isn’t ideal, in fact it’s far from ideal. Thermal bridging and cold bridging need to be eradicated as early as possible by making sure that your build is designed well, constructed well and the materials used are the best. You will also need to know what materials can work in unison, and what materials could cause potential problems. If you know what the causes are, or why thermal bridging happens, then you’re halfway there. As I say, knowledge is power!


Buildings are now starting to be better insulated in the hope that this will contribute to the overall energy performance of the build. However, if you experience thermal bridging it can severely impact your build. The heat loss from this can be quite dramatic, which why it is important to ensure that this doesn’t happen. 


If cold bridging happens then you could experience mould. As we all know, not only is mould unsightly, it can also be very problematic and even, in severe cases, cause health issues. 


The design of your build can play a big part in whether you experience thermal bridging. The design of buildings isn’t just to decide how your home, office or project will look. It actually dictates how your build will perform, in terms of energy efficiency. The materials used and the workmanship of your build are also important factors. 


If you’re currently building, or planning on building you need to know that either you, if you’re self -building, or your workforce, know and understand thermal bridges, as well as cold bridges. They will need to know and understand what building components will interact with each other. The heat itself will always find the easiest route to escape. Thermal bridging can cause up to 30% heat loss! That’s a huge reduction!


Breaks in the building’s envelope are usually found around the windows or doors, between the walls and floors, the connections between the walls and roof or penetrations from pipes, cables and steel wall ties. This isn’t to say that it can’t happen anywhere else; these are just the most common areas and ones to look out for. Make sure that you fully understand how both thermal bridges and cold bridges happen before you start construction. 


Older buildings commonly have thermal bridges, which can be down to the construction methods, design, materials used, a general misunderstanding or even poor workmanship. The regulations we now have to adhere to in construction, help to ensure that our builds are the best that they can be. These regulations have got tougher over the years, so it is quite understandable that thermal bridging is often seen in older homes. 


Prevention is always better than a cure, so don’t rest on your laurels. Ensure you know all there is to know before construction begins, before design even. Make sure you have a great team behind you and seek help from the experts at the early stages. That’s what they’re there for after all. 


Friday, 9 July 2021

Net Zero Carbon Emissions, What Does It Mean?

We’ve all be talking about the 2050 deadline the Government has set, but what is it going to take for us to reach?


Thankfully this initiative is going to open up many jobs for the construction industry and after the last year it couldn’t come at a better time. In order to reach these targets it’s not just new builds which have to be held accountable, but also existing homes. We currently have roughly 7-8 million lofts which need more insulation, roughly 19-20 million uninsulated floors and 4-5 million uninsulated cavity walls. All of these need to be upgraded in order to reach the target!


They sound like huge numbers, and I am in no way suggesting it’s going to be easy, but in the grand scheme of things, with the right task force, I have every faith. 


While it is relatively easy to build energy efficient homes, it isn’t always as easy to upgrade older builds. Not only were they built to completely different standards, they potentially used different materials and techniques. Also, let’s face it, everything is always harder to fit in retrospect. 


What we have to remember is that if we’re going to achieve net zero we need all four nations to be on board and singing from the same hymn sheet. Scotland has actually said it will be net zero by 2045, 5 years earlier than the rest of the UK. That’s quite a challenge, but who am I to argue? 


Unfortunately, it seems that when building, a lot of us are more concerned with what our homes look like and not how they perform. I can understand this logic, we’re human, we’re visual creatures, we want our homes to look nice, but we shouldn’t disregard our home’s energy efficiency. What we need to remember is that the better performing homes are cheaper to run. So, not only is the Government trying to reach its target of 2050, it is also helping to reduce the energy costs. The more the energy efficient your home is, the less you’ll be paying out in monthly bills. So actually, it’s a win win. 


There are many schemes happening now which offer home owners the opportunity to upgrade things, such as loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. The Government will pay a certain percentage towards the costs, and in some cases you wouldn’t have to pay a penny! It’s always worth checking your local Council’s site to see what schemes they have taking place in your area. 


As well as homes, it is also important, actually vital, for businesses to decarbonise. As political figures met at the G7 last month it became evident that there seems to be growing support for investment in green sectors. It’s become fairly obvious that without reducing the energy demand you won’t reduce the emissions. We, collectively, need to take away the energy demand and replace it with something much more energy efficient to continue down the path of net zero carbon emissions.


The goal with our builds is, as stated, to have net zero energy use. This means that homes, new builds or refurbishments, must produce enough energy to meet the needs of the build, for example the hot water and heating etc. Although up-front these homes can cost more to build, in the long run you recoup the costs from the money saved in bills. 




Friday, 2 July 2021


How Has The Pandemic Changed Our Housing?


I know, I know, we’re still here talking about the pandemic when all we want to do is get back to normality. But what is normal now, aside from the fact that our working lives have dramatically changed, from social distancing to reduced numbers and a smaller workforce? We keep hoping that we will be back to pre-pandemic life, but things just aren’t that simple. 


During the various lockdowns and restrictions we’ve all experienced around the world throughout this pandemic, we have had no choice but to rethink our needs. Whereas before COVID19 some wouldn’t have thought twice about having an apartment or flat, now people are craving the outside space, you know, just in case. 


But what does this mean for us, as developers?


It comes down to the fact that we’re going to have to re-think how we build. Developers have always built according to needs and desires, as well as budget. If people are changing their requirements, then we have no choice but to open up discussions to potentially change what we offer. 


As things currently stand, you have to pass your Sound Test in order to have your build signed off. Now, as with all these Building Compliances, there are levels to this. You can achieve the basic pass, or you can really ensure you have covered all bases and get top results. This might sound like a small part of the jigsaw, but it’s a contributory factor nonetheless. Flats and apartments are often hubs of sound. You can hear your neighbours walking around, hear them talking, hear their music, and hear if they have guests. You can hear them in the communal areas, such as the hallway or on the stairs. When people are confined, it can become quite a noisy environment. Perhaps this is a good place to start a simple, yet effective improvement to apartment living. Improving on the sound insulation can improve the health of the occupants. 


Now we can move on to space. Although a lot of the restrictions have been lifted, which have seen more people going back to their place of work, they have also allowed for more flexibility of home working. Some companies have realised that actually they no longer need the office spaces, and the bills that come with them. Others have a combination of both home working and office-based work. Either way, there are more people reliant on their homes to provide them with a working environment. This means, as developers, architects, and designers, we have to consider this option when building. Before COVID19, unless you were already home-based, you might not have thought much about having a study. You would perhaps have used it as a spare room or store room or you just might not have had the space in the first place. Now, buyers are looking for more versatility in their homes. They need to be able to have that space, or they need to be able to have clever design so, if they need it, they have options. There is a shift in thought regarding home-based working. People don’t want to feel trapped, they want to feel they are in control, so that they can, if they choose, alter their homes to fit their needs without having the added expense of moving. This also applies to exercise space, entertainment space and, obviously, general day-to-day living. 


There is an excellent article here‘new-normal’-apartment-buildingswhich discusses the way in which we are changing our needs. This study, although completed in America, sets out what we need to do, as developers, to continue to meet the needs of our customers. It’s not a bad read and certainly gives some insight into the changes that need to be made in order to meet the standards we’re now being held to with regards to apartment/flat living. 


As flats/apartments don’t tend to always have their own outside space it’s now more important than ever to provide this. It can include things such as balconies or shared communal green areas. It’s escapism at its finest. No one wants to be cooped up staring at the same four walls, day-in day-out. You’d be surprised (or perhaps not anymore) how much of a positive impact a bit of fresh air can have. 


So, what do we do now?


Well, we do what we have always done and deliver what people want. The difficulty here is to not go over budget. These homes, whether we’re talking about houses, flats, or complexes, need to be within budget. People’s budgets have not dramatically changed. We need to be able to think outside the box, look to alternatives without compromising on design or quality. It might sound like a challenge, and I guess it is. But one thing our industry isn’t afraid of is hard work! 



Friday, 25 June 2021

 Are You In Short Supply?


Over the last year or so, the construction industry, like many others, has been negatively affected by the pandemic. The fight for materials is the biggest problem which isn’t always apparent to outsiders. The demand for certain materials has put such a strain on the struggling sector, which has not only meant that they are hard to come by but that their cost has skyrocketed.


Earlier this year the Government asked the Construction Leadership Council to keep an eye on this problem. It then went on to set up the Products Availability Taskforce. 


This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the supplies, or, as in this case, the lack of them. I honestly thought we would start to see a difference, a progression out of this mess by now. However, we’re slowing sinking further and further, workers are being forced to have time off due to supply issues and costs are climbing because of the demand. 


One such material which has seen the prices skyrocket is timber. Not only is the pandemic being held accountable for the lack of materials but we have also had Brexit to deal with. Now, whether you’re a remainer or a leaver, the fact remains that this was never going to be an open and shut case.


It has been said that 80% of the softwood used in building comes from Europe, it’s the third most imported construction material. This highlights the importance of this material to us as an industry and it also shows how the current situation can easily affect the supply levels. 


There are many other materials which we’re seeing in short supply, such as plastics, cement and steel, just to name a few. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep projects running, and to stick to deadlines. The public has seen the construction industry carrying on throughout, and we have been lucky in many ways. But what they don’t see is the rise in costs, and the lack of materials. 


The rise in costs has got so high now that it means we are having to let people go. Companies (especially the smaller ones), are held to such a tight budget that there isn’t enough room to fluctuate as much as is required in order to source the materials needed. So, something has to give. Materials aren’t an option to give up so it comes down to your taskforce. 


This is an ongoing issue, one which I really hope we can deal with. Basic materials are now carrying a premium. There are people cashing in on this situation, there always will be. But I can guarantee that it isn’t your local builder down the road, or the person who has had to up their prices for a job they quoted for you. 


We are going to have to work together to get back some normality and just hope that this situation is temporary. 

Friday, 18 June 2021

 What are Vapour Control Membranes? 


A vapour control membrane is something that you will have heard of if you’re in the construction industry. But what exactly is it and what options are out there? 


VCL’s, or Vapour control layers, are critical building components which protect the building from potential degradation. They can be made up from polyethylene, aluminium foil, polyamide film (smart barrier), oil-based and latex vapour barrier paints, insulation and wood.  (varying by type and thickness) 


They are there essentially to restrict the movement of warm, moist air from inside the building to the fabric of the building. These layers can be used to restrict the air flow through the walls, floors, and roof. They prevent high levels of condensation from forming in the fabric of your build. If condensation did build up in the fabric, then that can cause all manner of problems, such as decay in timber, corrosion in metals, and even frost damage in masonry. 


So, that’s the basics on VCL’s but what options are there out there? 

I’ve been following a company called ‘Passive Purple’ for a while now and they have come up with a much simpler solution. This fantastic idea, I believe, will, if it hasn’t already, flood the construction industry. It could help reduce time, cost and condensation build-up, while also helping with the airtightness of your build. It’s quite honestly the perfect solution for most builds. I’m yet to understand why you would use anything else.  


Passive purple offer the complete airtightness package of supply and install of Passive Purple Liquid Vapour Control Membrane” -


One of the great things about this product is that it needs no staples or tapes for installation, unlike a lot of other membranes. This product does offer complete airtightness and vapour control and will stick to almost any surface. 


With most new technologies it really does come down to the application and the skill of the technician who is installing the product. This new product really does make life easier and due to its amazing colour can clearly be seen to which areas it has been applied. It can be sprayed, rolled, or brushed on dependant on the material you’re applying it to. 


Passive Purple is fast becoming one of the sought-after products when discussing Passive House, Airtightness, or Vapour Control Membranes. This started as a family run company and now its products are being used and stocked all over the world!  This company is certainly keep your eye on. 


Passive Purple  is BBA and  LABC approved! This means it can be used with confidence and that this product will do exactly what it says it will! It is a breathable, airtight membrane which is weatherproof. If you’re looking to build a Passivhaus, or just even to build more economically, this is the ideal product for you! 


“Passive Purple External is applied onto exposed facades as a protective membrane. In just two coats, using an airless spray machine, like a Greco or something similar, or a paint roller, your exterior is protected from the elements and able to boost the efficiency of the building”. -

Why don’t you check it out for yourselves? I have no doubt in my mind that Passive Purple is the one to watch!

Friday, 11 June 2021


Bricks made from clothes? Say whaaat...?


Unfortunately, the impact from COVID19 on the construction industry continues. The delay in materials is affecting many of us, but can we really just live in hope that normality will resume ASAP? 


Maybe now is the time to look elsewhere, to consider other options? There are many different avenues when thinking of building materials. I’m not suggesting you swap materials halfway through your build, this is never a good idea! Not only could you give your site manager a potential heart attack, but you could also alter the way your build ‘works’. However, if you’re looking for your next project, perhaps alternative materials could work for you?


What we have to remember is that the construction industry produces an extortionate amount of waste per year. In the UK it is said to contribute to over a third of the UK’s total yearly waste. That’s a huge amount, unthinkable actually. There are ways in which we can each play our own part in ensuring our individual carbon footprint is lowered, which collectively, could have a massive positive impact on our industry’s waste per year!


When thinking about eco materials there are various different avenues to consider, from recycled plastics, to bamboo, but the one that caught my eye recently was bricks made from clothes, AKA FabBRICKS. Each brick uses roughly around 2-3 t-shirts, or an equal amount of material. The material is then mixed with glue and put in moulds and pressed. The bricks are then left to dry. The drying process can take about 2 weeks. After the drying time they are then ready to use. Even the machine which is used to compress the bricks is manual, so no energy is wasted by electricity! 


Now the bricks themselves can’t actually be used for construction per se, but they are said to be excellent insulators for both acoustic and thermal purposes. Obviously, they can also be used as a design feature, an internal feature wall perhaps, or maybe you might even like to use them to make furniture for your home. The bricks themselves come in 4 different sizes so they are really universal. 


These bricks are fab! They could really make an indentation on our wasteful industry. The opportunities for them are endless and they really can add a bit of ‘flair’ to your build. Can they stop our industry’s waste alone? Of course not, but they are a good start. 


We all have clothes we no longer wear, which are perhaps old/marked/holed. Why not recycle them into something which is sustainable? The clothes themselves will be shredded so you don’t need to worry too much about any holes. You can literally recycle everything, ‘holes and all’. 


Don’t shut yourself off to different materials just because you don’t know much about them. We’re lucky to be living in a society where we are constantly trying out new concepts, and, in turn, that means a lot of the research is done for us!


Perhaps next time you build you’ll include some FabBRICKS in your design?

Friday, 28 May 2021


Part L Future Homes Standard **UPDATE**


The Future Homes Standard exists to ensure all new homes meet the higher energy standards set out in the Building Regulations. Basically, all new homes which are built after 2022, will have to produce 31% less carbon, compared to the current regulations. 


The Regulations will again be reviewed and updated in 2025 with new stricter standards. 


The new Part L, which will be live in 2022, will have a set of new targets which we must all reach! We are moving closer to zero carbon and although we are all au fait with TER, this is becoming less important. We now need to have new targets so we can get a TER of zero!


When do the new regulations start?

From June 2022 the new regulations will be in place. These will affect individual dwellings, but not developments. 

How will the new standards impact new builds?

·      Air Testing is vital in ensuring that a build is energy efficient so it is of no surprise that this features high on the list. All new builds will have to have an air test and sample testing will no longer be allowed. This will ensure standards are kept throughout all new builds!


Builds which don’t have Mechanical Ventilation won’t get any benefits in their SAP scores below 3 m3/ (h.m2).


·      Over-glazing is where you exceed the maximum amount of glazed area, in an extension for example. There are restrictions on the amount of glazing allowed and this is relative to the floor area. The idea behind this is to stop overheating. There are ways in which you can get around this through dynamic simulation thermal modelling. 


Essentially, thermal modelling is used to work out how a building’s design will react to heating, cooling and hot water loads. Then a system is built/designed which is able to meet the requirements of said building. 


·      As stated above, Part L of the Regulations will need to have a 31% reduction in C02. In 2025 there will be an uplift of 75% reduction (75% compared to our current TER). These steps are in place to ensure we are meeting the deadlines. The more work you put in now, the easier the transition will be down the line. 


·      The Target Primary Energy Rate will consider the build’s heating system. The chances are it isn’t going to like standard electric heating systems where you have no renewable offsetting. It will likely favour electric heating systems such as heat pumps etc. But what you have to remember is that regardless of what heating system you have installed, if you haven’t got the fabric of the build right, then you’ve already lost the fight!


·      This brings us nicely on to the Fabric Energy Efficiency. These targets will be increased although we, as of yet, don’t know the actual figures. Ideally you will need to build as air tight as possible and have higher levels of insulation! Don’t forget how important your materials are in order to achieve this! 


·      Minimum standards for building services will come into effect. This means that the badly performing systems will be banned from use. The most energy efficient systems will lead the way into the future homes.


·      Thermal Bridging can be responsible for up to 30% of a home’s heat loss. Taking away thermal bridging with a well-designed build and excellent materials/products, can be effective in meeting the stricter requirements. Specific details on thermal bridging will be required in order to pass the SAP Calculations.


·      The performance gap on builds needs addressing. This is where you have a difference between the intended and the actual performance of a build. These figures can be found, and compared, in the Design Stage SAP and the As Built SAP. 



The government, later this year, will also provide more details on changes to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations so keep an eye out for those. This will give us information of overheating in residential buildings and will detail tougher guidelines for commercial builds, change of use, extensions and renovations.  


The idea behind these changes, as stated, is to ensure that all new homes meet the high requirements and bring us closer to our target of net zero emissions. Covid19 has had an impact on these targets already. Initially the interim date was 2020 but it was delayed due to the unprecedented factors caused by the pandemic. 


What we have to remember is that ensuring that a home is more energy efficient to start with, is actually far cheaper than retrofitting at a later date. This isn’t only good for the environment but also for your energy bills.


These changes will be made to Part L of the Building Regulations and the final version will be available from December 2021, but come into force in June 2022. In 2023 the technical specification will be discussed, with the regulations coming into force in 2024, ahead of the deadline in 2025. This is the basic current timeline, but as with anything, it is subject to change.



Friday, 21 May 2021

 Sustainable Living; what’s it all about?


You often hear people talk about sustainability, but what does it really mean? 


The Dutch have a great ethos with sustainability and are some of the leaders in this field. We could learn a lot from them. But how do they do it?


The Netherlands, with a relatively low population, and small (ish) economy, manages to hit targets way beyond its remit. But why can they seem to be so forward thinking when it comes to green living, leaving the rest of us trailing behind? 


The first, and probably most important contributary fact, is education. Sustainability is actually written into the school curriculum. This is vital when trying to take back control of our environment. The more understanding you have, the more co-operation you’ll get! The cross-sector co-operation between businesses, governments, charities and the general public is what drives the initiative; “Many hands make light work”.


Alongside the daily ‘sustainability’ duties to ensure that, individually, they are looking after the planet, the Dutch have many other innovations which can be seen across the landscape! 


Who has heard of a Green Roof?


Now, the Dutch can’t claim the concept of the Green Roof itself, and nor do they try to do so. But what they can do is improve on the idea, and improve on the idea they have!


A Green Roof is a living roof and it is often installed, not only because it is attractive, but because of the positive environmental impacts it can have. For example, it reduces the stormwater, which can have a positive effect on the local sewer systems by reducing the stress put on them. Essentially, these roofs absorb the rainwater through the plants and the drainage layer. So, if you were in a high-risk flood area, and everyone had this type of roof, you could potentially help to reduce the flood risk. These small changes, collectively, can have quite an impact. 


We all know that certain plants can help dramatically with air purification. So, having a roof covered in plants will ultimately contribute to the conversion of CO2 into Oxygen! Can’t say fairer than that!


Not only do Green Roofs add value to your property, they also extend the life span of the roof as the plants offer protection to the material underneath. This will not only save you money, but also reduce your impact on the environment. This type of roof also acts as a sound barrier, reducing the noise by absorption! Who doesn’t want to hide away, somewhere quiet, yet beautiful?


The maintenance required for this type of roof is actually very low. This is sometimes a fact which is overlooked, or misunderstood. It is often assumed that there will be a lot of upkeep to ensure they don’t become overgrown, or covered in weeds. But by using the vegetation blankets, you can easily create your roof. The mats are pre-cultivated, which means weeds don’t really have the chance, or ability, to grow, or get established, which is ideal. You don’t want a roof to look like an overgrown weed jungle! 


As we all know, plants contain quite a bit of moisture, and there is something that doesn’t like moisture, Fire! So, these roofs actually create a fire-resistant layer! As you can see there are quite a few benefits to having a green roof, not to mention the feelings of well-being and healing which are often felt when living in a green environment! But the problem is that green roofs were mostly seen on either flat roofs, or slight pitched roofs. Now, thanks to a unique Dutch concept, you can get a roof tile which is supplied with overgrown plants! You can read about the concept here (you may need a translator)


This concept gives you the advantages of a roof tile but with all the positives of a Green Roof! You can use this tile on any roof type. No longer is it just for a particular roof style. The Green Roof tile can be used in addition to your existing roof tiles and the installation is exactly the same as any normal roof tile. 


This is why the Dutch are so good at sustainability. They are always pushing for more. They’re never satisfied. They always want to better the existing materials and concepts, as well as come up with new ideas. They’re not the only country that takes sustainability seriously, but we can learn a lot from them. They have, like many of us, got a lot to master, but they also have it right in so many ways. Education is where they lead. Ensuring the future generations are interested, knowledgeable and sympathetic to the green initiatives and sustainability, will help to prolong the longevity of our environment and essentially our planet!  





Can I Make My Current House Passive?   Ok, I am often heard talking about Passive House ( Passivhaus ) Standard but one of the main question...