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Passivhaus boasts impressive results

The BBC’s Inside Out programme recently took a visit to what is the UK’s largest Passivhaus development, near Saffron Walden in rural Essex.

This kind of coverage is great news, as it raises the profile of the super energy-efficient building technique that may have a greater up-front cost, but has significant cost-saving and energy security implications for years to come. The presenter seemed genuinely staggered to learn of even the possibility of £120 annual energy bills, let alone the reality of it.

The programme did not however cover the knock-on effect of people living in energy-efficient housing – an increase in household income. According to the landlord, Hastoe Housing Association, rent arrears are virtually zero on the development, compared to a 3-4 per cent rate generally across its stock.

Spending less on energy and struggling with household expenses less seems a logical connection, but it’s something that has previously flown under the radar, as Kevin Hartnett, the Association’s business development manager, explains:

The findings will make the business case more attractive for building more Passivhaus homes. It’s not something that as a sector we have looked at before.”

The scheme is not going to be the largest of its kind in the UK for much longer. Citu, a Yorkshire developer is building 107 homes to Passivhaus standard in Sheffield. But this is not a competition - sustainability always needs a trailblazer, and no doubt those that took the plunge in Essex will be delighted to have set the benchmark for growth.

Once again, added value is to come from the Sheffield scheme, with the developers aiming to aid the development of a local, co-operative spirit. Citu’s Chris Thompson explains:

Our energy efficient houses will go further offering people more than just a home, as we hope to transform the site from a property development into a community through its design and co-operative principles. Our plans include options for an onsite bakery, nursery and creative workspaces.”

The localisation agenda is very much a bedfellow of the sustainability movement in general. Coupling high levels of energy efficiency and other social and recreational facilities on people’s doorsteps offers some hope of a more affordable, neighbourly and possibly even happy future.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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