24 Sept 2010

Just because it's a PassivHaus, it doesn't make it Green

Still ruminating about Wednesday's Grand Designs, which featured one of the first certified Passive Houses in England, an extraordinary earth-sheltered structure built under an existing barn in the Cotswolds. You can read about it here.

It has already sparked a fair amount of controversy, much of it visible on the Channel 4 website. I liked this one. Not very eco in my view. It's all very well coming up with the technical solutions; PV, passive design, insulation etc. What about the carbon footprint of this project? First of all; location, in the middle of the country-side is not a very sustainable place for a home. Car journeys everywhere. Secondly, What about the 3500 cubic metres of soil and stone? Where has it gone and how much fuel was used to get it there? Then you have the temporary steel frame, lots of concrete and other building materials. A large carbon footprint. All for what? Energy savings and a good view from the roof. I'm hopeful that the next Grand Design won't be based on this level of eco-bling.
Posted by Mark Butt on 23/09/2010 13:23:31

Well you can always find someone to carp about something. My issue is that this house wouldn't have been built underground if it hadn't been for the ridiculous state of our planning laws - it sneaked through under the old Gummer clause which allows building in open countryside if the design is exceptional (i.e ridiculously expensive). There's nothing remotely green about that, and making it a PassivHaus doesn't really alter that at all. It would have been much more sensible to build a more modest structure above ground and, no, it wouldn't have ruined the view.

It gets worse. The first certified PassivHaus structure in Ireland is up and running and, guess what, it's a branch of Tesco. Now, there is no reason why Tesco shouldn't build a low-energy store in Tramore - it probably makes good business sense for them - but there is enough of the old hippy in me to feel distinctly queasy about anything to do with the giant, town-eating, car-loving monster that is Tesco plc. If they are part of the solution, then I must be part of the problem!


  1. Dang hippies... :)

    That Tesco project is pretty impressive on the face of it. Lots of carbon saved and to be saved in the future. Compared to a non-PH Tesco store it's a win.

    Also a win compared to everyone driving their 4x4's to a delightful farmers' market to 'buy local', I suspect.

  2. Dave HoworthSeptember 24, 2010

    The size of the house makes me nervous. Why does it need to be so big?

    The Tesco example points out that Passivhaus is purely an energy standard. It is motivated by climate warming and fuel scarcity etc but it stays away from all the political shenanigans that surround those issues. It's value is in being an objective, measurable and achievable goal.

    If it makes your hippy instincts feel any better, the passivhaus database says there has been a certified passivhaus in Ireland since 2005 http://www.passivhausprojekte.de/projekte.php?detail=1194

  3. The really striking thing about the project was the staggering amount of nonsense that had to be gone through and the gallons of greenwash needed just to get permission to build there.(http://www.aipassivhaus.com/planning.html) My guess is that the PassivHaus certification was the chosen route to make the case for the "the exceptional quality and innovative nature of the design" needed for planning permission along with the absurdity of reinstating a new 'ruin'.

    But that's the planning system all over isn't it. "never mind the quality of the building, count the ticked boxes"

    The government seems to have persuaded itself the the answer to every problem is more standards and more regulation so I guess we are going to see a lot more of this sort of thing. Managing to build anything is an achievement, exercising any amount of creative control over the design is a very major one.

    I quite liked the house - I always wanted to build an underground house myself but surely there must have been an easier solution for this site.

  4. Hi Mark the tesco store is not passive certifed, also the first certified passive house in ireland was in wicklow in 2005

  5. I know this is an old post, but I was searching for Passivhaus Supermarkets and it popped up!

    I agree with the sentiments regarding the house & the Tesco store and what is really eco.

    Actually the Tesco store is certified as Passivhaus though. There is more information here: http://passivhausprojekte.de/index.php?lang=en#d_1751 There has been some research done on it also, so despite my misgivings about Tesco, the project is serving a good purpose in some ways.