Building a Paragraph 55/79, energy positive, carbon negative, Passive House

A new build ‘House for Life’ in Devon

House Front 0720

The house is built next to a high wall, well over two hundred years old, which surrounds what was once the kitchen garden of a classic Georgian country house estate. A strip of land beyond the wall  has subsequently been added as a “secret garden”.

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 was designed and built using Passive House principles, and has now been officially certified by the Passivhaus Institut  – see here for more information, or go here for an excellent book about it. Construction began in October 2017 and we moved in in December 2018. There’s more informatio about this on the “eco” page of this site.

The architects are McLean Quinlan who only design individual homes and who are very much architects and designers; so as well as doing the overall architecture of the house itself, they cover all of the interior design, fittings and finishes, and lighting.

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 has four bedrooms, with the rest of it being open plan but divided into various zones, while the basement has 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 black rendered with a large proportion of triple-glazing. Construction is by advanced SIPS panels manufactured off site in Devon and consisting of a mixture of standard and bespoke panels.

NS elevationsEW elevations

The house has been 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. The performance figures for the first two years show that it is carbon negative, energy positive, and running cost negative, so we like to think of it as a power station and a bank! It generates some 40% more power than it consumes. The water supply is from a borehole on site.

Landscaping incorporates newly planted trees to reflect its partially wooded surroundings and its past life as an orchard. At the front, the garden is more formal, echoing the symmetry of the original kitchen gardens, at the side there is a small copse of Himalayan birches, and at the rear it is less formal and effectively merges into the woodland and meadow-like landscape beyond. In the front garden there is 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  has been planted with a native hedge, which will hide the cars from the lane and partially hide the house itself. The hedge sits on top of a bank which has been seeded with wild flowers.

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

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

Having started the build in October 2017, we were “in by Christmas” (just) of 2018, so it was a fourteen month build in the end, having lost maybe a month to the “beast from the East”.

2020 Award Season

Some awards are being postponed until next year while others continue, albeit on a slower timetable.  Current status:

Short-listed for the RIBA 2020 Awards for the South West region, which have now rolled forwards to 2021 as the RIBA juries could not visit in 2020 .

Short-listed for the international Dezeen 2020 architecture awards for a rural home (the only European house in the shortlist).

Long-listed for the international AR House awards 2020

The architects have been short-listed for BD architect of the year for individual homes, including this one.

Articles about the house

Architects’ Journal


Pasivhaus Trust

RIBA Journal