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Cork City Passive House wins gold!

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A Cork city Passive house that was designed by John Morehead of Wain Morehead Architects has been awarded the first ever HPI Gold Certification. The Home Performance Index (HPI) is Ireland’s first national voluntary certification system for quality and sustainable residential development, developed by the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC).

This project having already obtained Passive House Certification and an A1 rating under the BER system, easily achieves nearly zero energy building (ZEB) in a truly sustainable manner. The criteria considered for the award are: environment, health & well-being, economic, quality assurance and sustainable location.
“This rating highlights the very high-quality features of this house and its sustainability credentials. The home was designed with a great focus on the well-being of the users,” said CEO Pat Barry of the Irish Green Building Council. “It has excellent day lighting, very good indoor air quality and is extremely energy efficient, meaning heating costs should be minimal. “The house has a Building Energy Rating (BER) of A1 and is Passive House certified. It was designed to have exemplary levels of water efficiency and should use up to 85% less than a typical home based on standardised usage,” added Mr Barry. “We were awarded the HPI award for this property and it is some achievement for us, we are beyond happy about it,” said John Morehead of Wain Morehead Architects.

“The house is a nice house, it is very discreet and it sits very well on a beautiful road alongside a series of one off period houses that would have been built in the 1930’s and the 1940’s and they are true to their time.
As to how this Architectural practice got involved with this project? “We met the clients during an industrial project we were doing and they were a part of the design team and we started to review the original house way back in 2005. We had a look at a number of different schemes to try and re-work the original house and in the end we produced a scheme in 2012 and we went on site in November 2014 and the house was completed in September 2016. “We had a protracted planning process which was rather sad and very infuriating for all of us. We applied for planning permission to demolish the existing building and we were breaking the mould a little in that we were doing a court yard style plan to link in the building element because we were trying to chisel out the block of the building as well as getting as much sun as possible in to the court yard whilst almost maintaining the clients’ privacy as well as not impacting on their neighbours,” enthused Mr Morehead. “There would have been a lot of solar studies done for the project and that is how the plan form materialised. In going for planning permission we got our very first refusal ever so we had to appeal it and we won the appeal but we then had to agree on a rear elevation with the planners and that became a very protracted affair,” John went on to explain.

Obtaining good solar gain is a key part of reaching the Passive House standard and there were some problems getting enough solar gains here. The long and narrow site is overshadowed to differing degrees by dwellings on the sides as well as mature trees. The site also faces North-East and it is bounded with 2.4m high walls that obscure any views. John Morehead and Jennifer Kenefick of Wain Morehead Architects came up with the design for the property comprising two-double storey sections connected by a single storey link. The property wraps around an internal courtyard that takes advantage of the sun at all times of the day whilst making use of the site depth. The finished design aims to balance light, connectivity of the internal spaces and integration with the surrounding landscape whilst also maintaining privacy. “It was a rather slow and lazy build but that said, it worked out well and the quality of the house is excellent. The house is running really well and it is extremely stable. The homeowners are delighted with the house. I think it must be rather unique having reared your family in one house and then to demolish that house when they have all grown up and to move back into a new house on the same site for the next stage of their life has been interesting for them.
“It isn’t just the house that is new, the gardens are also new as they have been given a new lease of life,” he enthused.

Throughout the house there are no draughts and there is no need to close doors, there are also very few corridors and doors in the house. Originally the home owners had wanted to install a stove but they didn’t need it due to how well the house performs. Upon entering the house, the living room is immediately facing you, it is looking at the front garden and the court yard, the garden faces out to the West and even though it is on the public side, the garden is screened with bamboo and other plants to disguise the garden from the public in order to be able to use the outdoor space to the best of its ability. When you walk right through the house, you walk by the kitchen, dining and sun room areas and back to the core of the house where the plant and utility area is; this area is all wrapped around the court yard. The kitchen itself is backed on with the pantry which has preparation areas. Upstairs you will find the bedrooms and bathroom.

“We would have looked at other sites for the owners of this house and they would have considered selling up but they came to the conclusion that they had a site and that the location was really good. The HPI assessment confirmed that the location was a really good location as Cork goes. You’re in walking distance of various things as well as having amenities right up next to you,” explained Mr Morehead.

In terms of the layout of the house, the link between the two elements of it is primarily the kitchen/ dining area. The house celebrates the court yard. There are also high level windows in the fact that it is a single storey mono-pitched roof. There isn’t much need in the house for artificial lighting due to the amount of natural light that floods the house. There is also car charging ports so guests can charge their cars when they are visiting the owners of the house.

“The building envelope of the house is all done to a passive standard which is a squeak about building regulations. All of the hot water in the house in generated from the exhaust air going out of the house. There is PV up on the roof as well as natural slate and a lot of natural timber and GGBS concrete used. The carbon count in that house is very low,” said John Morehead. “Having a low carbon count doesn’t have to cost anything; it is how you select your materials. The original house was demolished and in our contract documents we made sure that the demolition went to the right place and that it was properly processed,” he said. As to anything John would change when it comes to this project? “As our buildings are so air-tight we may have put in a more robust strategy in relation to drying out the building because we normally build in timber and there was a light weight block used extensively throughout this house so that is definitely something we would consider doing the next time,” explained Mr Morehead.