Frank McDonald environmentalist/journalist

Frank McDonald, former environment editor of the Irish Times, writes about the need for economical houses here:


Picture from article published in Dublin InQuirer by Caroline Brady

Yes, all this sounds great. It is possible to do. We have tried to do this since 1991. Just a few obstacles…. : Our Irish government, various state bodies and County Councils do their damndest to make it as difficult and expensive to build a compact house as they can.

Sometimes I wonder  if they know what they do when they make up endless new regulations on: heath & safety, fire & energy, certifications & approvals, the list goes on and on. Then these nincompoops change the rules back (sort of..-nobody knows) and pretend there was no damage done. (I think of the certified certifiers and new very expensive BCMS system, the internet based management system for planning that is still there) 

Compact is square, cheap to build and to heat.

Compact is square, cheap to build and to heat.

Concept Hibernia 113 1200sqft passive 3br family home

Hibernia 113 1200 sq.ft passive 3-br family home

Yesterday I was reading about Galway city council creating costs of 7200€ for a family in Oranmore for simply digging a hole and connecting to the water-mains. This must be considered borderline criminal.

Our authorities, falsely called civil servants, certainly need to come off their high horses with endless demands on others while being almost comical in their incompetence (think Irish water and local roads for example)

Sketch curved roof single storey compact home

Sketch curved roof single storey compact home Hibernia 113

Compact houses of 1-2 bedrooms can be built very economically if the state backed off.

Accept the following facts:  The planning costs, connection-fees certifications and all other (un-necessary?) costs hit the small house relatively harder than a large house. A modest 40 m2 passive house can cost 2500 €/m2 when all is said and done. But a large luxury house of 300m2 could be built for as little as 1100€/m2.

Atlantica 41 in a more radical shape, concept with charcoal black rendered walls and metal roof.

Atlantica 41 in a more radical shape. Concept with charcoal black rendered walls and metal roof, marble effect box-shading to south.


Another example is our backwards ESB / electric regulators that forbids washing-machines in the bathroom so they end up in the kitchen in small dwellings. In most modern countries the washing-machine is located in a wet-room (i.e the bathroom in a small dwelling), with floor trap and tanked floor for safety against water-damage. Cheap installation with plumbing in one place.

The exorbitant costs of house-insurance in Ireland is the topic for another day, but it is related to un-necessary water-damages from poorly build bathrooms and washing-machines in the kitchen too.

Lars Pettersson, Passive house enthusiast

Lars Pettersson, Passive house enthusiast

Come and visit us to see how it can be done this coming weekend!

“International passive house days/ NZEB”

We are open all Saturday Nov 14th,

Welcome, Lars Pettersson

Atlantica 61 with upstairs. 105m2 - 1115 sqft. In single storey this is a 60m2 - 650sqft compact home

Atlantica 61 with upstairs. 105m2 – 1115 sqft.                                                                                As single storey it becomes a price efficient compact home of 60 m2 – 650 sqft



Jim, who recently hosted International Passive House Days / Near Zero Energy Buildings – open days in his home, came up with a few pertinent questions. I am sure he is not the only one having thoughts about these issues…. Jim wrote:

Lars, We had a successful weekend for the passive house open days. Over 20 people came to visit. A couple of questions came up that I could do with an answer to:

—Jim: Why would you install a stove that draws air in from the room rather than a sealed unit with a balanced flue to the outside?

Passive two-storey house participating in International passive house open days and Near Zero Energy Buildings open days 2014

Passive two-storey house participating in International passive house open days and Near Zero Energy Buildings open days 2014

—Lars: I see no reason for separate air-supply if that is what you mean. It draws in cold air to the house with constant heat-losses as a consequence. It is difficult and time consuming (costly) to install a cold air supply. And hard to get to fit right onto the stove. The only time needed is at start up of fire when the draft is weak before the heat builds up in the flue/chimney. Our Swedish HRV-units have a function called “fire” that reduces the extract air for a few minutes to let the drag in the chimney build up when the fire is being lit. I have however no personal experience of this trick, for me it has always worked well without that. Another simple solution is to open a window a little for a minute or two while the stove is lightened.

—Jim: Why not install an extractor fan that recycles the air back into the room ?
—Lars: No, this is a very bad idea with all the grease and dirt coming from a kitchen extraction fan. The closest thing is our small HRV unit by Luftmiljö AB. This is only for smaller houses and apartments where the HRV unit is installed above the cooker in the kitchen and is integrated with the cooker-hood. There are still two outlets so that the dirty air is never mixed with the recovery-process.

—Jim: What is the issue having a smaller water tank so that the solar panels heat all the water up more of the time?
—Lars: Yes, a very good idea, a tall narrow 200 liter tank will heat up much faster and stratifies well so that higher temperatures are achieved at the top. The drawback is that the capacity is so small that the system would frequently overheat, boil and go into stagnation. You could only have < 1.8m2 collector area for a 200 liter tank to avoid boiling. I actually have this in our Swedish (now holiday home) house, with 1,8m2 vacuum-tubes, it never boils and gives all the hot water we need in the summer. But with such a small collector we get practically nothing in the late autumn, winter and early spring. To have a small tank and more collectors, you need to have a second larger tank as well, that can act as a sky white sun

Our current thinking after using small systems with 1.8m2 collectors up to large systems with up to 50m2 collector area connected to large seasonal store tanks:

a) Use 200 liter tank as tank 1 in utility room.
b) Use a larger tank as tank 2. This can be between 400 lit and 2000 lit. Should be well insulated and located in a dry insulated utility, basement or nearby garage.
This works as weekly storage/buffer/overheat protection. Dimension the collectors so that boiling and stagnation cannot happen.
c) Overheating and stagnation ages the components including the fluid and shorten the lifespan of the installation.
d) In Ireland we notice that 5.4m2 vacuum-tube collectors is the maximum collector (aperture) area to be used with a 400 liter single tank. In other words, we recommend a minimum of 74 liter tank volume /m2 aperture area to avoid stagnation.

Once a day in winter is all it takes to heat a passive house. With a stove you gain independence.

Once a day in winter is all it takes to heat a passive house. With a stove you gain independence.

—Jim: Everyone was generally impressed with the house and we hope they took the basic principles on board. We had a range of people from a couple living locally who were just curious to couples looking to build, those underway a bricklayer looking to expand his knowledge and an architect.

Hope it went well for you too

Regards, Jim

—Lars, It was good in Galway too, we had more than 30 visitors on the Saturday. Thanks you for your comments, we all need to share some of our experiences of modern passive construction. Thanks again, Lars