LABC Awards 2014 Winner
  • The only EPC Band A home/office in County Durham and home to new bold design
  • Winner of the 2014 National LABC Building Excellence award for Best New Home
  • Non-certified passive house with a SAP Energy Rating of 97
  • Total annual energy cost approx. £300

Sustainable building design – Conservation Area

Phil Newbold and his wife Joy sold their house in 2008 and started looking for a building plot to build their own low-energy house in County Durham. They found a plot in Upper Weardale in 2011 with what they thought was detailed planning consent. It turned out the planning consent had expired in 2009 so the vendor had to re-apply and was refused due to changes in the Council’s Environmental Policies. Even though the foundations for the house were already cast on site, the vendor had to employ a Planning Consultant to renew the planning consent (with 15 conditions). Phil & Joy finally secured ownership of the plot in January 2012 for £70k and work started on site in March 2012

The plot is 345 sqm and is the former walled garden of an adjacent property in a small hamlet of 18 houses near St John’s Chapel in Upper Weardale. The village is in a Conservation Area and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the River Wear. When Phil opened discussions with Planning on the 15 planning conditions, he found the planners were fairly inflexible and not really interested in his aspirations to build a low-energy passive house

The Conservation Planning Officer in particular was not interested in the Government’s energy conservation agenda at all, just conservation of the local vernacular building style. The Planners insisted on retaining the L-shaped floor plan of the original planning consent with random local stone walls, chimney stacks, natural slate roof and sliding sash windows. Thanks to draconian planning restrictions, out went any hope of being able to build a Certified PassivHaus. Another planning application was required to retain and rebuild some existing outbuildings on the site and for the contentious addition of solar thermal and PV panels on the roof

greendale cottage front elevation
Front Elevation

The house is a 2-storey, detached house of 116 sqm (over 2 floors) with an additional non-habitable attic plant room and store (with limited headroom) of 46 sqm. The L-shaped plan has max external dimensions of 10.8 x 8.2m. There is a small yard with stone outbuildings (now re-built) at the rear and a south-facing cottage garden and patio at the front. There is an existing stone double garage, outbuilding (log store) and a forecourt providing parking for two cars

The ground floor comprises an open-plan Dining Hall and Kitchen incorporating the stairs to the first floor, a separate Lounge, a WC/cloakroom, a Utility Room and Store Cupboard. There is a small, half glazed Porch over the front entrance door adjacent to the south-facing patio

The first floor comprises a Master Bedroom, a Study Bedroom, a Bathroom & WC, a Guest Bedroom with En-suite Shower & WC and a Linen Cupboard. There is staircase access to the attic Plant Room & Store which houses the 250-litre hot water tank, expansion vessels and the MVHR unit / air ducts

The Study houses Phil’s Office from which he runs his Architectural Design & Project Management Company. Not only does Phil’s Office enjoy very low-energy accommodation but the elimination of commuting makes his business fairly sustainable in spite of the relatively isolated location

The U-value of the timber-framed building fabric is 0.1, the windows are 0.9 and the air-tightness is 0.59 at 50 Pa. They have no central heating system apart from the woodburning boiler stove and the house is being maintained at 21 deg C. The Paul Novus 300 MVHR system is 94% efficient

greendale cottage rear elevation
Greendale cottage rear elevation

Work started on installing electricity and water service connections into the existing stone garage on the site in March 2012 plus a drainage connection to the main sewer. They moved to a small, rented cottage nextdoor to the plot in April 2012. They had one sunny week in May during substructure blockwork and then it started raining. It never stopped raining (or snowing) for about 10 months and 2012 turned out to be the wettest summer for 100 years

They cast the concrete floor slab over 450mm of EPS insulation in June. July was wet and was spent installing drains and services while waiting for the timber frame to be fabricated by a local company, Swift Timber Homes. The double stud walls, Posi-joist floors and I-beam roof were erected relatively quickly during August, in spite of the continuing wet weather and restricted site access. Swift Timber Homes also provided all the internal partition walls and staircases

As the timber frame was erected, Phil inserted continuous Intello membrane with taped joints around the perimeter of the upper floors and roof in order to ensure good levels of air-tightness. Phil also installed any long, lateral MVHR ducts through the Posi-joist floors while the floors were being constructed. All the drain pipes and services penetrations through the floor slab and external walls were fitted with air-tight grommets including external lighting cables

By September 2012 the roof structure was watertight but they just had holes where the doors and windows should be. Just as the October rains turned to snow in November, the Green Building Store (GBS) mock-sash, tilt & turn, triple-glazed windows and doors arrived from Lithuania, some weighing up to 70kg each. Phil applied special air-tightness tapes internally and weather-tightness tapes externally to all the frames before getting a local joiner to help him install the doors and windows in the prepared openings. They finally had a water-tight shell by Christmas 2012

Triple-Glazed Mock Sliding Sash Windows
Triple-Glazed Mock Sliding Sash Windows

The same local joiner helped Phil line the internal face of the timber frame (walls and roof) with 90 8’ x 4’ sheets of Smartply 18mm OSB 3. Joy then taped the OSB joints with about 60 rolls of Tescon air-tightness tape using a heat-gun to dry the joints. Phil also taped the joint between the OSB and the ground floor slab and fitted grommets on any pipe or cable penetrations through the fabric

Phil then drilled nearly 300 100mm dia holes in the internal OSB lining for the Warmcel insulation to be injected into external wall and roof voids. The Warmcel insulation is a cellulose fibre made from recycled newspaper and was injected under pressure over three days. The holes were re-sealed with air-tight patches. This now resulted in a water-tight, insulated shell which was now much quieter

The Paul Novus 300 MVHR unit arrived from Germany (via GBS) in early December and was located in the attic plant room. The solar thermal panels and HW tank arrived on site and it took five men with long ropes to haul them up a long ladder onto the roof. The plumber was then able to install all the first fix plumbing, connecting up the woodburning boiler stove, hot water tank and solar panels

Using local stone, the stonemason managed to get the external stonework up to the ground floor window cills before the first serious snow arrived in November. As the coldest and longest winter for 50 years followed the wettest summer, progress on the stonework almost ground to a halt, mainly due to low temperatures. Phil continued to install the MVHR ductwork through the Posi-joist floors, leaving space for drainage, plumbing and electrics. When all the air-tightness measures were complete, the blower door air-test gave a result of 0.59 (PassivHaus requires a reading below 0.6)

The internal OSB on the external walls and attic ceiling was lined with 50 x 38mm battens to create a 50mm services zone for pipes and wiring. After all the services had been installed, the void was filled with 50mm PUR insulation board before a lining of 12.5mm Duplex plasterboard & skim was added

greendale cottage kitchen

The external stonework struggled to get up to first floor level by Christmas 2012 thanks to the continuing horrendous weather. Despite laying over 60 tons of type 1 stone over the area around the site, the house was surrounded by perma-mud which endlessly paddled into the house. Rainwater harvesting is an eco-feature that is definitely not necessary in this part of the world!

In the following year, the weather initially went from bad to worse but the stonemason managed to make some slow progress on the stonework in early January 2013 when a couple of weeks of mild weather arrived. They also managed to get the limestone flagstones ground floor finish laid and the walls and ceilings boarded and skimmed on the ground and first floors

The second fix joinery work filled the house with sawdust and nails again while plastered walls and ceilings were being painted by Joy. Meanwhile Phil helped the joiner to install the Ikea kitchen units and the plumber and electrician to install sanitary ware, socket outlets and light fittings. Phil also started building the twinwall stove flue system through the floors up to the roof. The stonemason built a stone fireplace in the Lounge using old stone during periods of bad weather

Phil & Joy decided to move into the house on 1 February 2013 and as the chimney for the stove was not yet finished, they had to borrow a 1.5kw electric heater. The outside temperature was -5C but the heater maintained an internal temperature of +18C, switched on only during the day

The Woodfire F12, room-sealed woodburning stove in the lounge has a back boiler that provides up to 8.5kw to hot water in the winter and also heats towel rails in the bathrooms and a heat-leak radiator in the linen cupboard. Solar thermal panels provide most of the hot water in the summer, topped up with the immersion heater, assisted by the output from the 1.5kW solar PV panels

The solar PV panels had been installed and working since December 2012 but Phil discovered that they could not get the FiT until they had an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). They could not get an EPC until they had a completion certificate from the Building Control Officer. They could not get the BCO completion certificate until the stove flue, stonework, roof slates, electrics and rainwater goods were finished. This was finally achieved in October 2013 and the EPC confirms the primary energy use as 16 kWh/m2/year. The threshold for a certified Passivhaus is 15 kWh/m2/year

Phil & Joy have now occupied their new home for just over 7 years and they are finally beginning to appreciate what all their hard work has achieved. They have kept the boiler stove burning in winter evenings using scrap wood and have no other fuel bills apart from electricity which is currently running at £65 a month, excluding the FiT and RHI payments. The silent MVHR system in effect recycles the heat generated inside the house while constantly providing filtered, fresh air

Phil & Joy have managed to self-build the first Band A (SAP Energy Rating of 97) near-passive house in County Durham and have a warm, comfortable home in which to live and work without any significant heating bills. More importantly, they have proved that it is possible to build a real low-energy home / office in a Conservation Area and AONB which fits in with the local architecture while addressing fuel poverty issues head-on. In May 2014 the house won Best New Home at the Northern LABC Building Excellence Awards and went on to win at the National Awards in London in Nov 2014

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