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Mark Elton, head of eco design at Cowan Architects, is certain that Passivhaus energy efficiency technology is the new care home ‘must have’ for healthy, happy clients and financial gain.

Whatever the weather, winter or summer, care homes must protect their guests from excessive temperature fluctuations. Certainly the need for warmth will not have gone unnoticed in the care industry where heating is one of the single biggest costs. But being too hot can also be a problem.

There are a lucky few in the UK who never have to worry about being too hot or too cold because they live in a Passivhaus, with high levels of thermal insulation. They enjoy year-round internal comfort for typically 80- 90% less heating demand – and therefore cost – than used by conventional new housing.

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I believe that managers of care and nursing homes should begin to harness this technology, just as they do on the Continent, as a cost-effective alternative.

With 36,000 excessive UK winter deaths annually amongst the elderly, warmer homes and higher quality ventilation means healthier residents. In places like Belgium, Holland and Germany, it is becoming the norm. While there may be a small percentage increase in build costs, there is a clear and quantifiable reduction in running costs and an increase in asset value.

The refurbishment, or retrofit, of care homes can also be done to achieve significant energy efficient upgrades using Passivhaus technology. Retrofit typically involves adding insulation to walls, roofs and, where possible, floors to eliminate heat losses, alongside window upgrades and improvements to (or replacement of) heating and ventilation plant.

Whether new build or retrofit, the secret to achieving such colossal savings lies in the will of the client, the skill of the architect and engineer, the science behind Passivhaus and the craft of the builder to come together harmoniously. Each Passivhaus design is based on regional weather data to intrinsically tailor it to its locality, then accurately recording the potential heat losses in the design (through walls, floors, roofs, windows etc) and matching them with the energy input from day-to-day living, solar gains and conventional heating. The design and form of the building facilitates this by orientating towards the sun and keeping a relatively compact shape.

The big differences with Passivhaus standards lie in five categories: the level of thermal insulation; the use of triple-glazing with energy efficient framing; the elimination of cold spots (or thermal bridges); achieving a more air tight shell; and the use of ‘heat recovery ventilation’. Passivhaus is all about making a building so comfortable to be in, that the need to put the heating on doesn’t even occur.

The building shell also needs to be air-tight, so that all that warm internal air isn’t leaking to the sky. Of course, rooms still have to be ventilated, but the Passivhaus solution is to do this in an energy efficient way to ensure clean, healthy air to all rooms is delivered silently and continuously, whatever the weather.

Tags : DesignInnovation
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The author Lee Peart

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