Widely reported in the media in recent weeks has been the news of the rise in the UK energy price cap. The surge comes after sharp increases to global gas demands over the past six months, partially attributed to the easing of pandemic restrictions and unusually low winds in Europe this summer resulting in a lack of renewable energy. This trend has hit the UK particularly hard, as we currently generate 41% of our electricity from natural gas and 28.5% from wind turbines (National Grid Data). In August, the market regulator Ofgem reported that the higher energy price cap would result in approximately 15 million households facing a 12% increase in bills (£139 for customers paying default tariffs), set to be in place from the 1st of October.
With this in mind, it seems more vital than ever to take energy consumption seriously and plan to make homes increasingly energy-efficient. There has been much talk about the advantages of heat pumps as alternatives for gas boilers in the UK. However, even with a pump in place, homeowners won’t avoid electricity price rises altogether. Essentially, this is because a large proportion of electricity is generated by gas in the UK, and heat pumps are powered by electricity, so increasing gas prices mean heat pumps will become more expensive to run. Surely then, it is sensible to reduce the energy demand required to heat buildings in the first place.
One way to ensure homes are more energy efficient is to build according to Passive House principles. Passive House, or ‘Passivhaus’, originated in Germany and is often described as the most “stringent” form of certification. It is a building standard based on a fabric-first approach, with high-quality insulation, no thermal bridging, airtight construction, and mechanical ventilation. Fresh, clean air circulates through rooms via a heat exchanger, which results in excellent indoor air quality. A building constructed according to Passivhaus standards has minimal heating and energy requirements. In fact, experts suggest that a house built to Passivhaus standards can reduce energy requirements by 90% comparative to a standard construction. Therefore, using Passivhaus building principles could reduce the impact of rising energy prices and is aligned with the government’s 2050 Net Zero targets.
New Builds vs Retrofitting: Passivhaus vs EnerPHit
It is essential to apply these principles both to new builds and to the retrofit of existing properties. The Passivhaus standard for retrofit, ‘EnerPHit’, is a slightly more relaxed certification that takes into account the difficulties of retrofit in comparison to a new build. While it is possible to upgrade housing to majorly reduce energy consumption, EnerPHit can be a difficult building standard to meet with some UK housing stock. As such, another option that may be more widely suited to UK housing stock is the AECB Retrofit Standard. This standard uses Passivhaus regulations and provides a more achievable way of improving the energy performance of renovated buildings.
Most importantly, whether embarking on a new-build or refurb project, the crucial point is to ensure an agreed, measurable target. Additionally, it is essential to view projects holistically and understand that each individual change has a knock-on effect on the wider building. As such, each alteration should be carefully considered. Indeed, increased air-tightness and insulation may have an impact upon buildings’ moisture build-up and air quality. This is precisely why it is vital to use standards with proven, measured performance results on buildings.