Preston Retrofit Disaster

An external insulation contract in Preston, run under a government energy saving scheme five years ago went horribly wrong. Up to 390 homes were affected with water penetration, mould and damp.

Four years on the problems, some of them severe, have only been rectified for some of the affected households. Occupants, many elderly and on low incomes, have in some cases reportedly been forced to pay for repairs themselves.

Although the story was well-known to many directly involved with retrofit policy-making, the story had hardly been told outside those circles, but with the help of Preston Council and some of the other people involved, I wrote an article for Passive House Plus, which also features a number of Preston Council’s photographs showing just how extensive the damage was to some of the affected homes. It can be read here: Disastrous Preston retrofit scheme remains unresolved

I did get to visit the area after that article was published, and have since given a couple of talks on what I saw. You can view/download the slides to the one given at an event in April 2018 (organised by Community Energy England and Carbon Co-op): Lessons from Preston – when retrofit goes wrong

 

Grenfell Fire

Like everyone, I was horrified by the events of June 14, 2017. I felt additionally anguished because I had written so often about poor standards and corner cutting in construction, without ever imagining the consequences would be so devastating. But we knew, didn’t we, that risks were – and still are – being taken.

I wrote a long piece for Passive House Plus looking at the background to the catastrophe: in particular, examining how such highly combustible cladding might have come to be used. That article is here: Grenfell Tower – how did it happen?

I also wrote a follow-up piece on the concerns of many fire experts that too much information about product testing was being kept secret due to commercial confidentiality – and that that the information that was kept secret, might have led to better design choices had it been available. The story also contained calls for combustible materials to be banned entirely from tall buildings as they are in several other countries. A further news item reported Dame Judith’s shock at the lack of accountability and the obvious opportunities for corner-cutting in mainstream construction

And I contributed to some of the very thorough coverage of the subject in Inside Housing magazine – you can read the relevant articles here and here (you may need to create an account to read these if you are not an IH subscriber).

UPDATE: Now the Public Inquiry has opened, a great deal more information is becoming available. Sessions and background evidence submissions are being posted in the inquiry website here. Dr Lane’s is one that has been reported as containing a huge amount of important detail. If anyone finds anything they think needs wider coverage, do get in touch: mail “at” katedeselincourt.co.uk.

Uni teaching block launches large Passivhaus in the UK

Case studies for Passive House Plus: new build

UK’s largest passive building opens to 2,400 students and staff

University of Leicester – the new Centre for Medicine

Completed early this year, the new Centre for Medicine at the University of Leicester is by far the largest single building in the UK to meet the passive house standard — and not surprisingly, its design and construction posed tough new challenges on how to meet the rigorous low energy standard on such a large, complicated building. December 2016

 

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A healthy retrofit scheme for London residents

Retrofit case studies for Passive House Plus

South London scheme delivers better health for residents

The original houses, with the new build homes beyond

A sensitive development of social housing in Lambeth combines three new passive houses with six low energy flats carefully constructed inside an old Victorian terrace. With the emphasis on good indoor air quality, residents are already reporting improvements in health & well-being since moving from their old accommodation. Oct 2106

 

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Archive keeps its cool the Passivhaus way

Hereford archive chooses passive preservation

Hereford County Archive

Safeguarding historic documents and other artefacts requires super-stable environmental conditions. This has usually been achieved by using masses of expensive and energy-hogging heating and cooling plant, but a new approach for Herefordshire Council used the passive house approach to conserve energy, money — and the county’s precious historical archives. Nov 2015

 

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‘Icebox’ modern house gets cosy makeover

1960s ‘icebox’ transformed into warm and bright eco home

Generous insulation behind timber boards on this 60s retrofit

 

A deep retrofit of this 1960s block-built home turned it into a modern ultra low-energy home that emphasises wood, light and natural materials. Aug 2016

 

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Passive school learning refines the design

Building a better passive school

Wilkinson School, Wolverhampton

The team behind a series of passive house schools in Wolverhampton have used the lessons learned from in-depth monitoring of the first two buildings to make the third even better — and cheaper to build. Oct 2015

 

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Natural materials make a warm, homely Passivhaus

Ledbury passive house embraces warmth, wood & light

The ‘modern organic’ style of the Ledbury Passive House

For the builder and his client, aiming for the passive house standard was just one part of an environmentally conscious approach that put natural, healthy materials to the fore.

The style of the house inside and out is what the owner calls ‘modern organic’ – white paint and render, and lots of natural wood. The carpentry is beautifully finished, with charming bespoke touches. Not everyone expects a passive house to be like this…Nov 2015

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Cold is not the whole story – what the health services need to know about housing

An AECB consultation response

This document was written in response to a NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) 2014 consultation on producing guidelines for health authorities on tackling excess winter deaths and illnesses. It was written (mainly) by me, on behalf of the AECB, teaming up with Severn Wye Energy Agency and the STBA (Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance) – who also contributed information.

While at the time of this consultation the deleterious impact of cold living conditions on health were well known – prompting the consultation – poor indoor air quality was less discussed.

Yet of course, air quality can be very poor in cold homes: people will block out any draughts they can – including the intended fresh air supply from a ventilation fan or vent – especially if they are in fuel poverty. This only increases the risk of condensation and mould – already high in a dwelling with cold, uninsulated surfaces. And more and more evidence is piling up of just how bad mould in particular is for people’s health and wellbeing. Continue reading

Electric Heating – time to come in from the cold?

While there are well-established technologies to produce electricity without fossil fuels, decarbonisation of heat is struggling to get under way. Recommended strategies include expansion of low carbon networked heat and possibly the decarbonisation of gas – though these are still only happening at a scale (and with dubious carbon credentials, see PH+ Iss 15 – district heating). However, the commonest proposed means for decarbonising heat is via electrification.

Electrification of heat raises a number of questions about the ability of our power systems to produce enough low carbon electricity and their capacity to transmit it.  But it also represents something of a u-turn in building services design. Continue reading