Exeter City Council have high standards for their buildings. In 2011 they built their first PassivHaus, learned all they could, and formally adopted the idea. All new council buildings now need to meet PassivHaus standards.
If you’re not familiar with PassivHaus, it’s a design framework for low energy buildings. One of the main principles is to create buildings that are airtight. Coupled with good insulation, that keeps heat inside the building. Ventilation is then provided through a heat recovery system, so that incoming cold air is warmed by the outgoing air. Buildings that meet this standard don’t usually need traditional heating systems. The cooking, electronics, and body heat of their occupants provide all the necessary warmth.
Exeter Council have now built houses and flats, terraced council homes, and an old people’s home to these design guidelines. Their most ambitious project is currently underway, a leisure centre called St Sidwell’s Point. It will include a gym, three pools, studios and spa, a cafe and soft play, and it will be Britain’s first PassivHaus leisure centre. The building is expected to use 70% less energy and 50% less water than a normal development of its kind.
There are two other pioneering elements. One is that it has been designed with future climate change in mind, and engineered to handle the expected temperature differences and more extreme weather of coming decades. And secondly, it includes elements of biophilic design (or Building Biology, as they call it) in its layout, use of natural light, and in its high tech pool. In a UK first, the pool will use ultra-filtration techniques that maintain water quality without chemicals. No chlorine here. As far as swimmers are concerned it will feel like fresh water.
With several years of experience now, Exeter has built up a knowledge base in the council and raised skills in the local building trade. Building low energy homes is easier and cheaper. Certain council staff members have even become global authorities on PassivHaus procurement, and now advise other councils and city authorities.
This is something other councils can learn from. Building that first PassivHaus may be difficult, as it will need specialists and could cost more. But it opens the door to the next project, and the one after. The extra investment will pay for itself many times over with better buildings that are cheaper to run.
- For a start, here’s a guide to what Exeter has done so far and what they’ve learned.