How to build a low-energy home

Here are some of the best routes to take if your considering building a low-energy home

By Anna-Marie Desouza | 23 January 2017

If you want to build a sustainable new home, the best route to achieving your low-energy goals is by taking a fabric-first approach to design and construction.

How to build a low energy home2

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We’ve all heard the benefits of creating an efficient home – low energy consumption means lower bills, a healthier living environment and much more besides – but how easy is it to achieve and what do you need to consider? In the past, eco homes were often perceived as being against the norm, but with ever-tightening Building Regulations, all newly-constructed dwellings now must consume much less energy in comparison to standard homes built as recently as five years ago.

Building a sustainable home isn’t just about the array of bolt-on renewable technology that you add, it’s about considering the fabric of your home from the outset. While eco technology can go a long way towards helping you achieve a low-energy lifestyle, you need to go back to basics to ensure your tech add-ons can work at optimum efficiency. Taking a fabric-first approach to the envelope of your home means you are prioritising the design and construction to minimise the need for heating and cooling in the first place.

Passivhaus certification, which originated in Germany in the early nineties, is the gold standard of this type of low-energy design. The principles include making use of passive solar gain, using the right amount of insulation, specifying high-performance windows and doors, ensuring good overall airtightness – which will prevent drafts and stop warm air from escaping from your home – and achieving good indoor air quality, provided by a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system.

A qualified architect or similar design professional will be able to help you plan and deliver a home that’s compliant with the Passivhaus principles. If you choose, when your home is complete you can have it certified as compliant via testing and recognition from the Passivhaus Institut. Alternatively, you can simply aim for your property to meet the standard but stop short of going through the process of getting approval.


Efficient building systems

An eco home can utilise pretty much any modern construction method, from various timber routes to blockwork or brick and even insulating concrete formwork. Your goal is to achieve a well-insulated, airtight house and this can only be achieved if the efficiency of the components and materials used is matched by the quality workmanship undertaken.

This is where prefabricated systems come into their own, as they offer a reliable method of achieving a precise airtight envelope. As large components are meticulously made in a factory environment, including allowances for services and such like, you don’t have to worry about holes being drilled into your airtight structure on site by your plumber or electrician.

While many prefabricated systems are built using a timber core, there are other materials to consider that offer different types of eco benefit. For example, dense materials such as brick and concrete offer high levels of thermal mass, which means that during the day, they absorb and store heat and at night this is then slowly released, keeping your home at a comfortable temperature. If you want the best of both worlds, many prefabricated timber homes can be clad with dense materials, such as blockwork or brick, and many interior elements, such as a polished concrete floor, will offer similar benefits of warmth.