Friday, 13 January 2017

Do they know what they are talking about? Questions to ask your architect

Are you looking for someone to build a low energy house? Are you worried that they don't know what they are talking about. You probably should be! Here are some questions you can ask to find out. Check their answers with the handy key below, and find out whether you're in safe hands, or whether you should think twice about letting them build a kennel for your pet husky. 

1. I'm interested in Passive House. Can you build one?

a) I can build anything! 
b) Oh yes, passive solar. That's when you just use energy from the sun to heat the house.
c) I've heard of Passive House, but I'm not exactly sure what you need. I'll find out.
d) Yes, I'd really like to build a Passive House.

2. We're thinking about the layout of the house and wondering where to put the bathroom.

a) Oh, you can put it anywhere.
b) It should be on the South side of the house so the sun will get in through the windows and keep it warm.
c) It should be on the North side of the house because it'll be warm anyway and doesn't need south-facing windows.
d) The important thing is to keep hot water pipes as short as possible. You should try to keep the bathroom, kitchen and washing machine close to each other or in the room immediately above or below, and have the hot water source near. 
German scam!

3. These high performance windows seem really expensive, are they worth it? 

a) No, they're a German scam.
b) Yes [aside] I'm being paid by percentage.
c) No, you can just add more insulation in the walls.
d) I know they are expensive, but yes, they usually are worth it for the lower levels of heat loss and higher levels of comfort, unless you want to live in a cave!

4. For the ventilation system, which do you think is better, heat recovery ventilation or energy recovery ventilation? Heat recovery ventilation transfers the heat of outgoing air into the incoming air, while energy recovery ventilation also transfers the humidity.
a) Ventilation? What do you want that for? If you want fresh air, you can just open a window.
b) The best ones are made by the company we always use.
c) People here usually have energy recovery.
d) That's a good question. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. 

Yes, inside
5. I see a lot of houses around here with the hot water tank outside. Wouldn't it be better to put it inside? 

a) Boiler inside? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. That's a good one!
b) We always put the boiler outside. There's no space inside, and it will make the house too hot in the summer.
c) That's an interesting idea. Those things do lose a lot of heat, and it gets pretty cold here in the winter.
d) Yes, I know. I think that's because people are still following building practices from before the invention of air conditioning and insulation and hark back to a time when people didn't live long enough to die of cold in poorly-built houses. 

6. How much more expensive will it be to make a low energy house?

a) It'll be really expensive. We make really good houses already and there's no point in spending more money on this nonsense. 
b) It won't make any difference to the cost.
c) I'm not sure, we'd have to work out what extra time and materials are involved, then calculate the extra price. 
d) It'll probably put between 5 and 20 percent on your budget. Keeping costs down is a big challenge which the building trade really needs to work on. But the extra costs will pay for themselves within a few years in lower heating costs, and you'll have a more comfortable, healthier house that should last longer, so it's a price well worth paying. 

Answer key: 

Mostly a): Keep looking! The building trade is well known for its conservatism and you seem to have found a perfect example.
Mostly b): He (probably a he) doesn't really know what he's talking about, and probably doesn't realise. Or perhaps he assumes you know nothing, and is eagerly waiting to separate you and your money.
Mostly c): They don't have a lot of experience with low-energy building, but sound willing to find out and may be a good person to work with.
Mostly d): This sounds like a great person to build a low energy house.