Market forces alone won’t raise standards says consultant behind the Passivhaus Diary

I have great pleasure in reporting back from the beautifully situated city of Innsbruck, host to the 15th International Passivhaus Conference. This is my third Passivhaus conference and all have been very well organised and welcoming with over 1200 enthusiastic delegates representing 43 nations.

The official conference languages are English and German, and luckily for the UK’s 23 delegates a good number of the presentations are in English while the translation from German was excellent - not an easy task considering how technical the lectures can be.

Naturally, there was much talk of U values, thermal bridging, peak heat demand, etc. It was also very heartening to see a large 75-person delegation from the US - surely the most important nation to ’get on board’ if we are going to reduce global CO2 emissions.

Professor Wolfgang Feist, the creator of the Passivhaus method and head of the Institute is resident at the local University making Innsbruck a very fitting venue to hold the conference.

Affordability again was a strong theme. Here in Austria several municipal areas will not permit any other than Passivhaus for their social housing, Many countries give grants toward Passivhaus building, Slovakia for example give 115 Euros/m2 for building over and above their standard ’low energy house’.

Some type of government incentive would drive interest and uptake

I feel we in the UK will not benefit from all the available Passivhaus knowledge if it is going to rely on market forces alone to raise standards. Some type of government incentive would drive interest and uptake.

The openness to sharing knowledge within the community at the conference, warts and all, with a very high technical standard, a strong emphasis on practical solutions and a genuine approach through rigorous design is truly refreshing and liberating compared with, in my opinion, the confusion surrounding so called ’zero carbon’ development we have in the UK.

The two-day event is made up of over 70 talks within 16 themed ’working groups’. Themes range from regional variations of new Passivhaus examples, various aspects of renovation, non residential buildings, schools, ventilation, etc. I was lucky enough to be able to give a talk on our own Denby Dale project from the angle of the use of traditional building materials and methods. I have expanded this angle in our article on the Cavity Wall featured in last week’s Building.

There was particular interest in the insulated basalt/resin wall tie we used, and I was delighted to be told by a delegate that the trade name Teplo meant ’warm’ in Slovak.
Another important element of the conference is the trade stands, with over 100 exhibitors. As with all trade shows some products are more relevant than, or innovative than, others.

I do not recommend wood burning stoves in a building as efficient as a Passivhaus

Good engineering comes to mind when looking at the obligatory triple glazed winds and doors, heat recovery ventilation systems, walling solutions, and even some beautiful but very expensive tested room sealed wood burning stoves. I do not recommend wood burning stoves in a building as efficient as a Passivhaus because of the dangers of overheating, but clients are quite often insistent and these may be more controllable. Of course as with all trade shows there are a lot of business relationships to create or reinforce.

One of the most interesting developments initiated by the Institute is a Trades Certification for site operatives. This would be a three day course consisting of a generic understanding of Passivhaus with a more regionally appropriate element showing how to attain performance levels on site.

Next year’s event is to be held in Hanover - a little closer to us at least. However with the recent surge of interest in the UK, increasing numbers of Passivhaus buildings completed and certified or under construction and the launch of a strong national organisation in the UK Passivhaus Trust, I hope it won’t be too long before the conference itself comes to the UK. In the meantime, I am also looking forward to the UK Passivhaus Conference to be held later this year in London.

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