Interior Designer Magazine

Perfecting the Passivhaus concept


Tom McLoughlin, Director of Elevation1618 and Spruce Agency, discusses the continued evolution and integration of the Passivhaus concept in design.

The global agenda, to reduce carbon emissions, has been gaining momentum in recent years. As people grow more eco-conscious, there is an increasing clamour for green options in every aspect of consumerism. With this comes a compelling need for architecture and design to adopt measures that minimise energy consumption.

Strategies for constructing eco friendly dwellings have been around for years. The undisputed gold standard for green buildings is Passivhaus architecture. Yet, despite the relevance of Passivhaus in today’s world, there remain specific aspects about it that are yet to be tapped into.

Beyond big windows, power-saving appliances, and re-purposed furniture, how do you design spaces with the Passivhaus concept in mind?

Passivhaus Architecture?
The Passivhaus architecture was developed by professors Wolfgang Feist of Germany and Bo Anderson of Sweden in the early 1990s. Their goal, to create structures that use minimal energy for heating and cooling, while providing the maximum level of comfort to the residents. Passivhaus buildings consume between 75 to 90 percent less electricity compared to ordinary buildings.

A Passivhaus construction concept has fundamental principles that set it apart from other architectural designs. Passivhaus buildings have thermal insulation that regulates the temperature, keeping them warm during the winter and cool in the summer. Their unbroken airtight barrier prevents air from leaking and heat from escaping. The buildings utilise a ventilation system that supplies fresh air to the rooms while keeping internal humidity at an ideal level. They also feature triple-glazed windows that trap heat when it’s cold. During the hot season, people can open the windows to let out any heat build up. Lastly, the design limits, if not wholly eliminate, thermal bridges to prevent heat loss, moisture-related damage, and health issues related to breathing in mold spores.

The Passivhaus approach applies to residential and commercial buildings, whether they are new constructions or retrofitted projects. A structure must meet the criteria set by the International Passive House Association to attain Passivhaus certification.

A building can be energy-efficient but still fall short of the Passivhaus criteria. You need to ensure that your materials are sustainable, non-toxic, and eco-friendly.  For instance, wood adds timeless elegance to homes and is a good material for many buildings. But solid wood not only costs ridiculously high; cutting 22 mature trees to build a standard 2,600 square foot house is ultimately detrimental to the environment.

You can still get that classic look with engineered lumber, which takes fewer trees to make.  However, ensure that the wood comes from a responsibly managed forest, and the harvesting did not threaten the ecosystem or the local community.

Consider engineered products made from rapidly renewable plants such as bamboo, hemp, or rice straw.  More importantly, opt for ones free of volatile organic compounds and other harmful chemicals like formaldehyde.  The same applies to paints, adhesives, furniture, and fabrics.

Use reclaimed or recycled ceramic, stone, metal, timber, and glass salvaged from other construction projects.  If you want to add accents using rugs or tapestries, go all-natural with organic textiles such as seagrass and wool.  For flooring, check out genuine linoleum, made of cork dust, pine resins, solidified linseed oil, and ground limestone. To find out more about how to offset carbon there are carbon literacy courses online to fully understand why there is a need to use these materials and the wider impact of doing it.

Adoptive Appliances
Many people considering a Passivhaus design often wonder how they get rid of moisture from showers or odours from cooking in an air-tight, well-insulated space. Usually, this leads to another question: are there specific appliances tailored to a Passivhaus? The answer is, there is none.  The secret to keeping the air clean is proper ventilation, and Passivhaus is known for its brilliant heat recovery ventilation (HVR) system. This technology controls condensation, removes damp, stale fumes, and ushers in clean, filtered fresh air.

But there are many energy-efficient appliances available for those who don’t mind shelling a little bit more cash.  Some of the very basic are induction cook tops, which use less energy than gas and ordinary electric stoves, washer-dryer combos with heat pump technology, water-saving dishwashers, and low-energy fixtures and low-flow taps.  Consider using renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and heat pumps, to run electrical tools and appliances.  In addition, ensure your appliances are the appropriate size; bigger ones tend to consume more electricity.

Bring sunlight into the building through energy-efficient, insulated glass windows to provide natural light during the daytime.  Letting in light illuminates the interior while keeping the room warm.  Brick, concrete, water store heat when the sun hits them, then slowly emit the warmth when the sun is out.

Stay local
The primary purpose of a Passivhaus concept has always been energy efficiency and comfort. But it doesn’t mean you can ignore beauty and aesthetics, especially when it comes to interior design. The minimalistic functionality of a Passivhaus makes it pretty daunting to experiment on, yet who says you can’t play with style and colours?

Although Passivhaus may have a more Scandinavian feel to it, you can always incorporate what you think makes it feel more like home, from local rugs to customized light fixtures to personalized wall hangings.  Find out what your clients want by asking them to tell you their story, then get ideas from it.  Their interests and preferences are most likely a reflection of their culture and what they value most.

Be adventurous. You can go rustic with oak planks, red bricks, and exposed wooden beams.  Try recreating an English country home with shelves of books, reading nooks with overstuffed armchairs, and potted plants on huge picture windows.  Opt for industrial interior design with antiquated finishes, re-purposed metal accents, and bold paintings. Or jump on the bohemian bandwagon with vintage rugs, brightly coloured furniture, and floral patterns.

Conscious choices
The idea that interior design carries social, environmental, and ethical responsibilities is nothing new, but it has been growing in popularity.  Social consciousness encourages designers to consider the human and ecological aspects of design.  In other words, how can interior design impact people’s lives for the better? How can it contribute to reducing carbon footprint and compliment the zero carbon architecture designed by architects?

When it comes to the human aspect, designers should consider their clients’ sensory experiences.  Designs should be aesthetically pleasing and soothing to the senses.  However, they should be, above all, functional.

Designers should apply design principles that promote sustainability and ecological responsibility.  It includes focusing on energy efficiency, low environmental impact, less waste production, and a healthy and safe home environment.  Furthermore, designers should think about longevity and flexibility to prevent materials and products from being discarded too often.  Not only will this save the environment in the long run, but at the same time help the clients cut costs on future repairs.

Elevation1618 is a specialist architect and interior design marketing company, based in the UK. Spruce Agency is a specialist marketing agency for kitchen brands and companies. Tom McLoughlin has vast experience from his many years leading several agencies in digital marketing and has an in-depth knowledge of the architect and interior design sector and the marketing that is required to succeed.

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