A road trip to Dresden reinforces the Passivhaus ethos – and provides an ego boost

Our little Yorkshire party has just arrived back from an enjoyable road trip to the 14th annual Passivhaus conference in Dresden, Germany, where we heard about the new refurbishment standard, visited some local projects, met innovative products – and received a special mention for Passivhaus Diaries.

The two-day conference covering Passivhaus and low-energy construction methods, with examples from all around the world, was attended by over 1,400 delegates. There were four lecture theatres, each having six hours of continuous presentations. As you can imagine, we could not attend them all: but we tried our best.

Professor Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passivhaus methodology, gave an update on the status of Passivhaus to the whole assembly on the first morning. The total number of Passivhaus buildings globally has now hit 20,000 and every year brings a wider range of projects, including schools, factories and this year a laboratory.

Feist highlighted some projects from the UK, and I was very flattered to be mentioned for our Denby Dale project, with quotes from ou Passivhaus Diaries blog: my two minutes of fame!

Focus on refurbishment

Passivhaus refurbishment was also a key theme of the conference. The Passivhaus Institut is in the process of developing a draft refurbishment standard, with a more lenient space-heating requirement in recognition of the difficulty of reaching the Passivhaus standard for refurbishments. The final figures have not yet been decided, but whatever happens the retrofit standard will still be rigorous.

On refurbishments, Feist singled out the Robert Cohen and Robert Prewett’s Victorian Passivhaus refurbishment project in London, previously featured in Building (22 January 2010) as an example of how to achieve radically lowered energy demand in a listed building. (Look out next week for the first installment of Robert Prewett’s diary on an even more rigorous Passivhaus refurbishment project.)

The third day was set aside for a choice of six tours, visiting Passivhaus projects in and around Dresden. My tour took in a secondary school designed for 250 pupils still under construction, a small office building with apartments above overlooking the River Elbe, a contemporary three-bedroom detached private house, and a delightful kindergarten with the most beautiful green roof I’ve ever seen.

Not a renewable in sight

The conference also has a large trade exhibition showing all the specialist products necessary to achieve the performance and quality levels of Passivhaus construction. There were numerous different insulating materials and methods, triple-glazed window and door systems with insulated frames, and several mechanical vent heat recovery machines and ducting systems. What was really striking, however, was that there was hardly a renewable in sight: everything was dealing with the building fabric’s performance.

We came away from the 14th Passivhaus conference with a reinforced appreciation of the ethos of sharing ideas, rigour of research and mutual support. All are qualities replicated in our own Passivhaus Trust in the UK, which was created to help us in the British building industry to interpret for the British context the knowledge gained by the Passivhaus Institut over the last 20 years.