Day 1 of the International Passive House Conference in Frankfurt saw the official opening of the conference and arrival of hundreds of delegates from all around the world. According to the official list of delegates, there is a reasonable contingent from China, South Korea, the UK, US and Canada. Most attendees are from Germany or other nations within Europe and also Russia. We are the only Australian attendee, and there are 3 from NZ.

Frankfurt is hailed as the Passive House capital of Europe, and “it is likely we can extend this boundary beyond Europe”. This is truly the capital of sustainable building practices.

The main message of the opening plenum sessions was the business case for Passive House, which has long been established and is now reaching a much more mainstream level of application. Wolfgang Feist noted that the “energy efficiency of buildings is indispensable for facing the challenges of climate change”, and in this sense he has delivered the tool for delivering truly efficient buildings.

The Ministry of Finance recognises the importance of Passive House in the state of Hess. It is a cost-effective solution, and results in the social improvement of housing in the region. The business case for this Ministry also extends further – while Germany often produces a surplus of its own energy, sold to the EU “grid” for down to 4c/kWh, when in deficit they are forced to buy electricity for anything up to €4/kWh. It simply makes sense to implement the efficiency measures to ensure this never happens.

A further speaker noted that trades are one of the pillars of Passive House’s implementation – something I am quick to concur. Without the successful delivery of the project by the construction team, the many months of careful design and documentation means very little. In Australia, the construction of our Passive House projects will be the big challenge, not because of lack of ability, but lack of experience in this area.

A very interesting presentation from one of Frankfurt’s biggest construction companies, ABG Frankfurt:

  • 25% of people in Frankfurt live in apartments they have built;
  • 2/3 of their apartments have been retrofitted for efficiency, a project they will continue;
  • All new builds are to the Passive House standard;
  • They have been building Passive House for 13 years, and have completed 2000 PH apartments. By 2014, another 4000 will be completed;
  • PH is so economical, it has been established as the best way to build social housing;
  • Additional costs are 5-7% of project costs, and this is quickly recovered;
  • While it took a while to convince the CEO, the first project of 19 flats was a runaway success, with a lottery type system required to sell apartments after huge interest in the project;
  • Generally, owners can expect to spend €1/m2 per month on heating an apartment. This first project saw bills of €6 per month for a 107m2 apartment;
  • Demand in subsequent projects has always exceeded supply. The company spends very little on marketing of these projects now as there is no need;
  • The target for all of the company’s project is to be architecturally beautiful and serve as landmarks in their own right. No-one should be able to tell on sight that the building is Passive House;
  • A development of 200 apartments in Hansaallee Westend: Metering and billing of tenants is more expensive than the actual energy costs, so they don’t bill tenants. They had to get an exemption from local laws to do this, with the law subsequently changed to incorporate exemptions for low-energy buildings.

More to come…