A first for Havant:Hampshire Passivhaus built in four days is the first of its kind in the borough

A perfect example of the sort of focused and fast-thinking action that housing needs now is a new “Passivhaus” in Havant, Hampshire — the first in the borough. It is the new family home of architect Ruth Butler, who specialises in this type of super-efficient eco-housing; her engineer and Passivhaus designer husband Julian Sutherland, 51; their 12-year old daughter Eva, and their pet puss KitKat, who has his own Passivhaus-accredited cat flap, also the first in Havant borough. Ruth runs her practice from an office at the house while Julian, 51, commutes an hour and 20 minutes to London Waterloo.

This 1,650sq ft, two-storey, three-bedroom house with three courtyards, three bathrooms, a big central family kitchen-diner and an extra, sun-soaked sitting room, took only seven months from breaking ground to full interior finish.

Our green home, built in four days

The walls and roof went up in a mere four days to an exceptionally high standard. Amazing stuff. When they first saw the site in 2012 it was a small brownfield rectangle, home to a derelict St John Ambulance office and garages, down a short lane and overlooked by houses.

The couple had left London to find a plot in the area, having inherited a house that they moved into while looking. They found the site through an estate agent and it was only the second one they visited. They bought it in 2013 and started work on the design.

What it cost

  • Low-energy Passivhaus builds cost about 7.5 per cent more than ordinary builds, but will pay that back in energy saving, typically in about 20 years.

    This is apart from other lifestyle and ecological benefits.

  • Cost of 1,650sq ft home: GBP525,000
  • Value now (estimate): GBP1,050,000

Meanwhile, the neighbours were concerned in case they got something horrible in their midst — yet, by the time the build began, they were all making tea and cakes for the workmen. Now, everyone is friends and enjoying an attractive and super-energy-efficient home. Ruth, 49, went knocking on doors to introduce herself and discuss her plans.

She says some neighbours had helpful suggestions. The result of this inclusive process was that when the designs went to planning in summer 2014, there was only one request, from a neighbour, which was to opaque a bathroom window — easily done with adhesive film. The planners welcomed the design.

The slab was laid in October 2014. The following spring two huge trailers arrived from Austria and the house went up like a rocket, assembled by a crane towering over the rooftops like King Kong, flying entire walls with windows and door holes already cut out off the truck. The panels were fitted together fast by expert carpenters.

Ruth and Julian watched this surreal exercise from a trailer and “our neighbours watched out of their windows with cups of tea”. Ruth smiles at the memory. Now neighbours glimpse a modern family home with a wildflower meadow roof, set as an L-shape round a courtyard with herbs, lemon tree and cordylines in large pots, walls of pretty, orange-pink handmade bricks and paved in English quarry tiles.

Windows on all four sides make every part of this home extremely light. On the south-facing side, for maximum solar gain, are the biggest timber-framed sliding windows that can be made commercially. Entire walls of glass.

The bulk of the house is built from thick, factory-cut walls of cross-laminated timber, clad outside in vertical laths of Siberian larch, which is renewable and weathers beautifully. The larch was hand-fitted, and every screw is covered with a hand-cut wooden plug. It took a long time but it’s a beautiful detail.

Beyond the jaunty orange door the house feels larger than it is, due to its meticulous design, which took more than a year to perfect. Ruth’s top tip to self-builders is not to rush the design. Floors are done in the same quarry tiles as outside and the inside walls are all larch, an attractive pale oak colour but knottier.

The kitchen island is oak, made bespoke around glossy black Ikea units, and the stylish, straight run of stairs with a skylight at the top has oak treads. The sunny, modern “extra” sitting room has giant double doors to the courtyard. The bathrooms are all in a simple palette of small neutral tiles, with energy-efficient taps, and the bedrooms are compact, with plenty of windows.

What a spot: the two-storey, three-bedroom house sits on a former brownfield site (Juliet Murphy)

Three things strike you here: first, how warm it is, with no drafts at all.

Julian notes that they don’t need any radiators — they put three in but they don’t use them. Second, how fresh it smells, which is down to the air-filtration system. Passivhauses have incredibly clean air — much cleaner than outside.

Then there’s the quietness, due to eight inch-thick floors, thick windows, and the absolute precision of how everything fits together, part of the demanding accreditation system. Finally, there is the light. Even though she does this for a living, Ruth says modestly that she still can’t quite believe the light in this house, for until a building is finished, you can never truly experience it.

WHAT IT COST Low-energy Passivhaus builds cost about 7.5 per cent more than ordinary builds, but will pay that back in energy saving, typically in about 20 years. This is apart from other lifestyle and ecological benefits.

Cost of 1,650sq ft home: GBP525,000

Value now (estimate): GBP1,050,000

Architect: Ruth Butler

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