Britain's first timber-framed Passsivhaus on Yorkshire coast

This beautiful home on the Yorkshire coast is the first timber frame Passivhaus in the country. Heather Dixon reports.

When Yvonne Garnett's parents suggested that one day she and her husband Phil might like to move into their Thirties' bungalow, they were delighted. The location was idyllic – close to

the centre of Hunmanby, near Filey, where they had lived for 40 years.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There were wide, open views to the sea from the garden but there was just one snag. Ever since Phil and Yvonne had built a house of their own nearly 30 years ago, they had harboured dreams of building another. They were particularly keen to create a high-spec eco-house – and the Thirties dorma bungalow was anything but.

“We agreed that we would love to to live here, but only if we could knock down the old bungalow and build a new house in its place,” says Phil. “One day we were visiting Yvonne's mum and I was spotted pacing out the plot, just out of curiosity. When I explained what I was doing there was a bit of a surprised silence, then Yvonne's mum agreed that it would be a good idea, especially as the bungalow would have to be fully renovated and modernised even if it remained standing.'

When Yvonne's mum died, they started to look at the options more closely and agreed to see if they could actually get planning permission to demolish the old bungalow and replace it.

“We discovered Ecoarc on the internet and invited architect Andrew Yeats to come and discuss our ideas,” said Phil. “He liked our philosophy and plans and agreed to design a Passivhaus, which would be the first in this district.”

Andrew presented such a comprehensive and persuasive proposal that planning permission was approved without question by Scarborough council. Yvonne and Phil could finally start putting their plans into action, starting by sourcing a company that could supply a green oak frame which would meet high ecological standards.

They discovered Oakwright Green Oak Frame Company which not only could supply a beautiful timber frame, but also their own bespoke, highly-insulated encapsulation system.

“We didn't realise at the time that this would be the first oak frame Passivhaus in the UK,” says Phil.

With the supplier of the main structure taken care of, work could begin on the demolition of the old bungalow. All the rubble was carried off site via 30 lorry loads and a geological survey carried out before the foundations were created, using a raft system of insulated, interlocking slabs overlaid with reinforced concrete which would take the weight of the timber frame and block walls.

“The foundations had to be as flat as a pancake, with just a 5mm tolerance,” says Phil, who was on site most days to monitor progress.

The frame went up within a week but the roof, with its complex design of pitches and valleys, took almost two months to complete.

!We considered having slate tiles but heard that they could come loose in strong winds and we are on a very open site at the back – right on the coast,” says Phil. “We decided to use natural, handmade clay pantiles rather than concrete, and when we couldn't decide on a colour we chose a mix of three. Unfortunately the first roofer who came had very little experience on anything other than a standard roof, so we had to let him go and asked

another roofer to take over. He had to strip the roof clear and start again, so that cost more than we had bargained for.”

The windows were also problematic. In spite of extensive measuring and eight weeks' manufacturing, four of the windows did not fit the openings . Three of the openings were readjusted but the fourth window had to be remade.

“By this point we knew we would never meet our aim of being in the house by October,” says Phil. “We eventually moved in six months later, but even then the staircase wasn't finished. We saw a picture of it in an Art Deco magazine and, because we love the design of that period, we liked the idea of having something similar. We wanted the treads to be the same as the engineered oak floor and to have stainless steel rails, but were told that building regs wouldn't pass it because the gaps between the rails were too big.

“To overcome that we chose glass panels, and ordered the staircase. When it arrived the steel ballustrade didn't fit the shape of the staircase – which is like a helix – and they had to take it back and reshape

it. Then the handrail had to be reshaped because it didn't fit. There was a lot of toing and froing before it was right. The final task was to find a company to create the curved safety glass. It took them four hours just to measure it all. It was very frustrating but we got there in the end.”

Throughout the build, Yvonne and Phil aimed for the best quality they could afford, and only went 10 per cent over budget. The result of their careful research, planning and appreciation of quality is a Passivhaus home which has achieved more than they could have dreamed of – but there was just one last minute hitch.

“When it came to the day of the final tests to secure the coveted Passivhaus status everyone on site held their breath,” recalls Phil. “A window was removed and replaced with a sealed fan to measure the negative pressure in the building. Any leaks of air are detected with a feather. We were expecting to pass the test and couldn't believe it when the figures were way off the mark. Then we realised that someone had left a window open. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the window was closed and the tests confirmed its Passivhaus status.”

*The Passivhaus standard was developed in Germany in the early 1990s. The heating requirement in a Passivhaus is reduced to the point where a traditional heating system is no longer considered essential.

Useful Contacts

Architect Andrew Yeats, Ecoarc,, 01539 822822

Timber frame Oakrights Green Oak Frame Company 01432 353353

Killerby Stained Glass Company

Ventilation system HRS Green Building Store 01484 461705

Kitchen and bedroom units Chapel Kitchens 01423 331417