Where is all the timber needed to construct more Passivhaus buildings going to come from?

This was a question (paraphrased) asked by a person at a recent presentation I gave about the international Passivhaus Standard. They were clearly under the impression that it was easier / better / necessary to use a timber frame construction system to build to the standard.

I shouldn’t have been surprised since I was presenting on behalf of Architype, where I work. Architype are leaders in designing Passivhaus buildings and timber buildings, so the majority of the Passivhaus buildings I presented were timber construction.

It is a common misconception that timber is best for Passivhaus construction.

Ironically, there is also a misconception that ‘natural materials’ are not suitable for Passivhaus, therefore ruling out the use of timber.

Neither is true!

The international Passivhaus Standard is a performance standard: many different construction systems are possible.

041 Passivhaus Construction Not Just Timber
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This is a Passivhaus Basics blog post that gives an overview of a specific aspect of the Passivhaus Standard.

Thermal bridges (sometimes referred to as “cold bridges”) in the building envelope have a measurable impact on energy efficiency and thermal comfort. The impact can be relatively low on buildings that are not very well insulated. However, with buildings that are well insulated and energy efficient, the relative impact of thermal bridging is significant.

Building regulations and codes are now starting to recognise this and in some places, it is required or recommended that thermal bridging be minimised.

The Passivhaus Standard recognises the importance of thermal bridges and the significant impact they can have on the high-performance Passivhaus building envelope. The Passivhaus Standard requires a continuous thermal envelope: this means thermal bridge free construction.

This blog post answers the following questions:

  • What is a thermal bridge?
  • What are the different types of thermal bridges?
  • Why are thermal bridges a problem?
  • What is thermal bridge free construction?

The Passivhaus Standard requires thermal bridge free construction to ensure a robust high-quality building envelope that delivers radical energy efficiency and exceptional comfort.

What is Thermal Bridge Free Construction
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This is a Passivhaus Basics blog post that gives an overview of a specific aspect of the Passivhaus Standard.

In passivhaus design and construction, there are frequent references to the “building envelope” and the “thermal envelope.” Neither are exclusive to the Passivhaus Standard, but both are important aspects of the standard.

A building envelope is the physical separators between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer. The three basic elements of a building envelope area weather barrier, air barrier, and thermal barrier. [Wikipedia]

In simple terms, this means that the building envelope is made up of the walls, floors, roofs (or ceilings), windows and doors that separate the inside from the outside. The passivhaus building envelope is also made up of these elements, but there are some key aspects that make the passivhaus building envelope distinct.

The passivhaus building envelope requires a high-performance thermal envelope, it must be continuous and it is key to the fabric first approach.

028 What is the Passivhaus Building Envelope
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Architecture is often described as the combination of art and science. The role of art in architecture is understandably subjective and open to debate. However, what about the role of science in architecture?

Clearly buildings do obey the laws of science, as they must. And specifically, the structure and services of a building are calculated and designed using physics. Understandably, it is most often these areas of science that get expressed in architecture. We can see this, for example, in the structural expressionism of Santiago Calatrava or in the romanticised high-tech style of Richard Rogers.

Aside from structure and building services, however, does science inform architecture in any other ways? Perhaps not as often as it should! As I wrote about previously, design is central to passivhaus. And science is central to passivhaus design – at the macro level of form and orientation, and at the micro level of airtightness and thermal bridging.

Science is a reason to Love Passivhaus!

020 Love Passivhaus Science
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