Despite the global economic downturn, TV schedules remain replete with property programmes, a fair proportion of which pander to our desire for escapism, with their innovative, grand designs.
However, an award-winning architect based at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, has now demonstrated that cutting-edge design and affordability are not mutually exclusive.
Professor Gokay Deveci, of the University's Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Environment, has applied his world-renowned expertise in sustainable housing to design the first certified Passivhaus in Scotland.
With the Scottish government aiming to cut carbon emissions by 42%, more than a third of 1990 levels by 2020, one of the main ways of achieving this will be by making homes more energy efficient.
Professor Deveci, assisted by colleague Gary Smollet, has designed ‘Tigh-Na-Cladach' or ‘house by the shore' - an affordable housing scheme for Fyne Initiatives, the commercial subsidiary of Argyll based housing association, Fyne Homes, comprising 14 semi-detached houses overlooking the beautiful Firth of Clyde in Dunoon.
The scheme is the first in Scotland to be officially accredited by the Passivhaus Institut in Germany. This voluntary construction standard is only awarded to buildings meeting rigorous energy efficiency criteria. A passivhaus house is an energy-efficient building that has year-round comfort and a good indoor climate, without the use of active space heating or cooling systems. Total energy use, including space heating, all appliances and domestic hot water must not exceed 120 kWh/m2 per year. The heating requirement is reduced by means of passive measures to the point that there is no longer any need for a conventional heating system.
Professor Deveci, who is also a senior member of the University's Institute for Innovation, DEsign and Sustainability (IDEAS), said, "Over 40% of the UK's CO2 emissions come from houses, yet by 2016, the Government has decreed that all new houses must be zero-carbon. Consequently it is of the utmost importance that we apply our knowledge of building design, and the technology that is currently available, to producing houses with a minimal carbon footprint."
Achieving this at Bethania was not straightforward, however, as many features of the houses were unfavourable for energy efficiency. For example, they have no south-facing windows, and their long, slim and tall shape with relatively small floor space, could have led to heat loss from the relatively big exterior surface area. "Of course the biggest challenge", Professor Deveci added, "was the fact that these buildings were designated as affordable housing, meaning we were working to an extremely tight budget."
Undaunted, Professor Deveci applied his extensive knowledge and experience in the field of environmentally sustainable architectural design, to surmounting these hurdles. A closed panel timber system from RTC Timber, specifically developed to Passivhaus levels, was used for the shell. Combined with triple glazed windows from ‘Internorm' and a highly efficient ‘Paul thermos 200DC' MVHR (mechanical ventilation heat recovery system), this ensured that the Passivhaus criteria were met.
The heating requirement for the whole house is 1,600 kWh/year, which is approximately a tenth of what an average house uses. A solar thermal system further reduces the energy bill for hot water by over 50%. "In fact, it takes less than the equivalent of three tanks of diesel to heat the house for a year," said Professor Deveci.
The houses are equipped with a Mechanical Ventilation System with Heat Recovery. The two bedrooms and the lounge are constantly supplied with fresh air, whereas the kitchen and bathroom are extracted constantly. Before the extract air leaves the house, it passes through a heat exchanger, which extracts the heat and transfers it into the fresh supply air.
Another important feature of a Passivhaus is extreme air-tightness, which is necessary to minimise heat loss. "This was a challenge for a timber frame building," said Professor Deveci. "However thorough planning and detailing, as well as the careful workmanship of John Brown (Strone) Ltd, produced a fantastic result."
"I am absolutely delighted that the Bethania houses are the first in Scotland to be awarded Passivhaus status, as it proves that sustainable, energy efficient design is possible on a restricted budget. Affordability has not been achieved at the expense of architectural design or construction quality, and the design solutions we arrived at meet the requirements of best practice in environmental sustainability.
"The success of this project is down to excellent team-work, and I am very grateful to my clients Fyne Initiatives, John Brown (Strone) Ltd contractors and the Scottish Passivhaus Centre (SPHC), which played a key role in providing energy efficiency consultancy, and supplying vital Passivhaus components."
Professor Peter Robertson, University Vice-Principal and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Commercialisation, added, "I am absolutely delighted that Professor Deveci's work has been recognised by the Passivhaus Institut. To be awarded this prestigious status reflects his commitment, and indeed that of the entire University, to researching and applying environmentally sustainable solutions to the global issue of reducing energy waste and emissions, to which housing is a major contributor. This type of research activity is going to be crucial in enabling society to make an impact on global climate change."
The ‘Tigh-Na-Cladach' housing scheme is now almost complete, with residents able to move in by March.
Always looking towards the next challenge, Professor Deveci is currently working on the designs for Scotland's first zero carbon home, in Midmar, which is awaiting planning permission for a wind turbine.
To view the Bethania development please follow the link below: