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Self-Build as Housing Market Fix

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Case Studies

Contemporary Timber Frame Home

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Passivhaus Family Farmhouse

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Steel Farm

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Merlin Haven

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Timber Frame Home, Ventnor

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Aldcliffe Yard, Lancaster

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Prefabricated Passivhaus bungalow

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Cookham Dean, Berkshire

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Bickleigh Eco Village, Devon

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Forevergreen House

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Housing People Building Communities

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Sülzer Freunde, Cologne

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Berlin - 'Building Groups'

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Manor Farm, Kirton

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Straw-baling, Perthshire

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Findhorn

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Almere, Holland

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Hockerton

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Heating

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Steel Farm

Background:

  • Steel Farm is located near Hexham in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • Built using traditional construction technology it is the first Certified Passivhaus in Northumberland.
  • Finances were tight so careful consideration had to be given to the budget at all times. The remote rural location, limited access to utility mains, and onerous planning restrictions incurred significant costs and have strongly influenced design.

Delivery:

  • As organic farmers Trevor and Judith Gospel owned a plot of land where they dreamt of building a comfortable home that could accommodate them in their old age and minimise their impact upon the environment. The site itself was obtained when Trevor and Judith bought half of an existing farm, however, this meant that they did not have a home to live in.
  • The house itself is a reinterpretation of the traditional Northumbrian farmstead. Materials and form are in harmony with the region - the walls are made of natural stone drawn from the quarry nearest to the site and the roof is Cumbrian slate.
  • On the ground floor there is a kitchen/living/dining area, a utility room, WC/shower and an office. At first floor there are three upstairs bedrooms and a sitting room. The stairs hall and landing form a welcoming reception.
  • Planning permission was hard won and was only granted because the need to tend livestock on the farm could be clearly demonstrated. The house is designated an agricultural holding.
  • A number of conditions imposed by the local planning department increased costs and nearly prevented the Gospels from building their dream home. Delicate negotiations were undertaken to demonstrate the value offered to the local and regional economy, and the environment. This saw the removal of a requirement to provide expensive tabling and two costly chimneys.
  • The Gospels worked closely with LEAP architects to develop the design ensuring that it addressed their needs. Services engineer Alan Clarke designed the heating and ventilation system, before passing over the ventilation design to Green Building Store. J.D. Joinery and Building was appointed to build the property and received training from LEAP to complete the project successfully.
  • To help control costs Trevor managed the formation of the footings. Then J.D. Joinery and Building commenced construction. They undertook, or employed sub-contractors, for all work from that point onward. LEAP inspected the construction works intermittently to help ensure that a high quality of workmanship was maintained throughout.
  • The Passivhaus Standard was achieved by using stringent quality assurance, superinsulation, thermal bridge-free design, high-performance windows, excellent airtightness and Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR).
  • The AECB Water Standards informed the design and minimised demand for domestic hot water without compromising comfort. The house features a solar thermal system for domestic hot water and a reed-bed system for the treatment of foul waste water. A simple, cost-effective heating system that uses LPG as the fuel provides the remaining heat.
  • Just six 47kg cylinders of LPG were used in the 12 months between March 2013 and February 2014. The cost of a year's heating, hot water and cooking was £395.
  • The average north-east England household gas bill (space heating, hot water and cooking), for a detached home similarly sized to Steel Farm, built between 1919 and 1944, is estimated to be about £975 per year. In practice Steel Farm demonstrates a 60% cost saving (despite LPG costing twice as much as mains gas), a saving of £580 per year. Were mains gas available then Steel Farm would cost 80% less to provide heating and hot water than the average north-east household.
  • Steel Farm is a very British Passivhaus and demonstrates that the Standard can be integrated into the demanding setting of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • A three-part documentary series about the project can be viewed at Passivhaus Secrets.
  • The home was a National Winner in the Small Projects Category at the 2015 UK Passivhaus Award and was a Winner in the 2014 Federation of Master Builders Northern Counties Energy Efficiency Project of the Year.

Finance:

  • The total build cost was £292,170 including all materials and labour costs for the construction of the house (including the garage but excluding the land).
  • The house covers an area of 204m2 (including the garage floor area of 38m2), giving a build cost of £1,432 per m2.
  • There are a number of factors that should be considered when interpreting the cost of construction. These include:
    1. The remote rural location (the contractor informed of a 5% to 10% uplift in material costs compared to Newcastle city prices.)
    2. Planning requirements for coursed, random, natural stone facades and slate roof increased costs above what could have otherwise been achieved.
    3. Kitchen units: Mid/high-range quality.
    4. Solid oak floor to ground floor incurred significant cost.
    5. Minor delays to construction programme incurred by extreme weather of 2011.
    6. Foundations: Strip foundations circa 1m deep.
    7. Solar thermal panels and thermal store increased cost (not required by Passivhaus).
    8. Reed bed system, and external drainage (which includes septic tank) cost 4.5% of the total budget as no foul drainage is available. More cost-effective design is possible in sub-urban and urban areas.
    9. Excludes: furniture, appliances and other fittings.
    10. Gas supply: Mains gas is unavailable. Alternative fuel sources were sought. Lifecycle cost benefit analysis determined that a condensing boiler running on 47kg tanks of LPG was a better investment (this avoided costly trenches, pipes and labour.) Another benefit is that, in practice, the annual fuel cost has proven cheaper than standing charges from a mains gas connection.

Timescale:

  • September 2011: Planning permission received.
  • June 2012: Work starts on site.
  • Construction reaches window sill ground floor.
  • September 2012: Construction reaches the first floor stage.
  • October 2012: Roof completed.
  • November 2012: First fix achieved, Air barrier formation completed, Second fix reached.
  • December 2012: Plastering and drying out.
  • January 2013: Painting and decorating.
  • February 2013: Move in.

Learning Points:

  • Gaining planning permission for a property like this can be extremely challenging. The homeowners were only successful after proving that the land would be used for agricultural purposes. You have been warned! 
  • Efficiency in construction is key. For example, the cutting of the damp-proof course on site took longer than anticipated and increased costs.
  • Attaining the Passivhaus standard of airtightness is a demanding process. Very low air leakage rates are required and must be demonstrated by means of an air-tightness test - three air pressure tests during the construction phase are recommended. However, on Steel Farm, a two-stage air leakage test proved to be sufficient.
  • Some Passivhaus products - particularly windows and MVHR units - can be expensive. Budgeting for this is a sensible idea.

Related Links:

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