Building a Paragraph 55 Passive House (Passivhaus)

A new build ‘House for Life’ in Devon

Plot ready to go

The house plot is as seen above, but it also includes a strip of land beyond the wall, which will become a ‘hidden garden’. The wall is well over two hundred years old and surrounds what was the kitchen garden of a classic Georgian country house estate. The planning process started early in 2015 and it was finally approved early in 2016 under the “Paragraph 55” exception (see here for an interesting explanation of that, and note that in the July 2018 version of the National Planning Policy Framework it has become paragraph 79) after being presented to the Devon and Somerset Design Review Panel (see here). It is being built using Passive House principles, with the goal of being a certified Passive House – see here for more information, or go here for an excellent book about it. Construction began in October 2017.

The architects are McLean Quinlan who only design individual homes and who are very much architects and designers; so as well as the house itself, they cover all of the interior design, fittings and finishes, and lighting, and are finalists in the Interior Architect of the Year section of the 2018 BD Architect of the Year awards.

The very contemporary build is principally a single storey, flat-roofed, four-bedroom house with a partial basement taking advantage of the sloping nature of the site. The internal dimensions are approximately 300 square metres for the main floor and 100 square metres for the basement. The main floor will have four bedrooms, with the rest of it being open plan but divided into various zones, while the basement will have a large  living space plus the plant room and a large storage room. While being contemporary and clean, the external design of the house reflects its siting next to a classic walled kitchen garden. It has a glass roofed courtyard-style room at its centre, and a “virtual path” running right through the house along the line of the former garden path between a gate into the walled garden and the gardener’s cottage on the other side of the house. It has a simple but elegant brick front, matching the old wall, with a discreet entry porch and a slim window opening to one side, while its most distinctive feature is a contemporary glass oriel window emerging through the wall. The rest of the house sitting behind the front wall is dark rendered with a large proportion of triple-glazing. Construction is by advanced SIPS panels manufactured off site and consisting of a mixture of standard and bespoke panels.

NS elevationsEW elevations

The house will be designed and built on Passivhaus principles, utilising air-source heating, a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system, solar power generation, electric and thermal energy storage, super-insulation, triple-glazing throughout and low energy lighting. Its layout and orientation is designed to maximise the benefits of natural solar heating. It is expected to be at least energy neutral overall, and very likely to be a net contributor to the grid.

Landscaping will incorporate newly planted trees to reflect its partially wooded surroundings and its past life as an orchard. At the front, the garden will be more formal, echoing the symmetry of the original kitchen gardens, at the side there will be a small copse of Himalayan birches, and at the rear it will be less formal and will merge into the woodland and meadow-like landscape beyond. In the front garden there will be a new, lower wall opposite the old wall, using the same brick as the front of the house. The old wall will be under planted with an abundant herbaceous border including shrubs for winter interest and espaliered fruit trees, giving passers-by a glimpse of how the original Georgian walled garden would have utilised its high brick walls. The front boundary of the plot will be planted with a native hedge, which will hide the cars from the lane and partially hide the house itself.

There is a parking area for several cars at the front of the plot, immediately off the minor road.

The interior will be highly contemporary and relatively minimalist using natural materials such as wood, clay and stone and the highest standard of fittings and finishing.