Their can-do attitude shone through

Richard & Rachel Stent - West Quantockshead, Somerset

Having lived in their 1930’s 4-bedroom detached house for the past 15 years, on 27th April last year, Richard and Rachel Stent watched the dust rise as it was bulldozed to the ground.  “I’ll never forget the day we moved into this house”, says Richard Stent with a smile, “as it was the day our eldest child was born”.  Since then, the family grew as did the desire for more functional living space and almost 4 years ago, the Stent’s started to look at the options of extending and refurbishing.
 
They later discovered that this was too limiting and costly, and knocking down and starting from scratch proved the better option.  Whilst doing their research, they found out about Hanse Haus in March 2009, at The National Homebuilding & Renovating Show, and eventually settled on building a Hanse Haus passivhaus, which was to be the first built in the UK.
 
Hanse Haus stood out for a number of reasons.  “We particularly liked the idea, that unlike many other companies, we’d be dealing directly with the manufacturer and having visited the factory and sample centre in Germany in June 2009 the quality of the Hanse Haus product was evident.  It wasn’t just this though; we were also placing our trust and investing in the people we were dealing with.  Their can-do attitude shone through”, says Richard.
 
The Stents’ didn’t have any issues with getting the necessary planning permission – partly due to the fact that the site had already had a previous residential dwelling of similar size on it, but the details of Passivhaus standards (including insulation air tightness and energy efficiency) were also included with the application.
 
Whilst they had a good idea of what they wanted in terms of design, Richard & Rachel worked together with a Hanse Haus architect to finalise the specifications for the house.  “The design grew up with Richard and Rachel’s ideas”, says architect, Annette Muller.  “It’s a contemporary family home encompassing lots of natural light.  The living/dining room for example, has huge windows and patio doors, which means that not only is the view over the garden and towards the coast maximised but the natural solar radiation is used efficiently to heat the house.  Also, as is characteristic of our Passivhaus, the precision and detailed technical construction ensures that the house is completely airtight, and that no heat can leak out through joints or gaps”.
 
As Stephen Huber from the Scottish Passive House Centre points out, “the Super-insulated shell and windows, together with a highly efficient ‘Paul’ Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery, take the annual heating consumption down to 13kWh/m².  By use of a modern heat pump and a solar thermal system, the primary energy demand for domestic hot water, heating and auxiliary electricity is cut down to 30kWh/(m²a). This ensures very low running costs and a certain immunity against rising energy prises and shortages – plus (together with carefully selected building materials) this house is on the highest level of emission savings”.
 
Despite this massive cut-down in energy consumption however, the indoor comfort and air quality is still top-of-the-range.
 
“Although energy efficiency and associated low running costs hadn’t been a primary objective when first setting out to build our own house, it became more apparent that these factors did make long-term economic sense.  In the end, the fact that we’ve built the house we wanted, which is also a Passivhaus is the icing on the cake”, adds Richard Stent.
 
Whilst they had a good idea of what they wanted in terms of design, Richard & Rachel worked together with a Hanse Haus architect to finalise the specifications for the house.  “The design grew up with Richard and Rachel’s ideas”, says architect, Annette Muller.  “It’s a contemporary family home encompassing lots of natural light.  The living/dining room for example, has huge windows and patio doors, which means that not only is the view over the garden and towards the coast maximised but the natural solar radiation is used efficiently to heat the house.  Also, as is characteristic of our Passivhaus, the precision and detailed technical construction ensures that the house is completely airtight, and that no heat can leak out through joints or gaps”.
 
As Stephen Huber from the Scottish Passive House Centre points out, “the Super-insulated shell and windows, together with a highly efficient ‘Paul’ Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery, take the annual heating consumption down to 13kWh/m².  By use of a modern heat pump and a solar thermal system, the primary energy demand for domestic hot water, heating and auxiliary electricity is cut down to 30kWh/(m²a). This ensures very low running costs and a certain immunity against rising energy prises and shortages – plus (together with carefully selected building materials) this house is on the highest level of emission savings”.
 
Despite this massive cut-down in energy consumption however, the indoor comfort and air quality is still top-of-the-range.
 
“Although energy efficiency and associated low running costs hadn’t been a primary objective when first setting out to build our own house, it became more apparent that these factors did make long-term economic sense.  In the end, the fact that we’ve built the house we wanted, which is also a Passivhaus is the icing on the cake”, adds Richard Stent.
 
Background

In December 2009 Richard and Rachel signed their Hanse Haus contract. Then, after their old house was demolished, in May last year, the groundworkers laid in the drains, water and other services, as well as the concrete slab and, in preparation for the new house to arrive from the factory in Germany, Hanse Haus’ UK site project manager, Ralph Martin came to inspect the slab to ensure that the site was ready.
 
At 6.30am on 16th June, Richard and Rachel were there to witness their new home being unloaded from the first Hanse Haus lorry, which arrived from Germany in the early hours.
 
“The erection crew prepared the site with a vapour membrane on top of the concrete slab, ready for the walls to be secured on top, and within no time, began to construct the house.  Watching the construction crew manoeuvre the crane to arrange the walls with precision measurement, matching specifically with the ground-works, positioned conduits for waste pipes, etc, was especially impressive.  By lunchtime all exterior walls, each with pre-fitted triple-glazed windows and patio doors, were in place as well as many of the interior walls and we could really start to get a feel for the individual rooms.  By the end of just one day, the ground floor as well as the ceiling cassettes were in.
 
We didn’t get to the site until late in the afternoon the following day by which time the first floor was in along with all interior walls.   Having only seen our new home on paper or as a model image, it was amazing to actually walk around it for the very first time.
 
The 2-day construction culminated with the traditional ‘Topping Out’ or Rickfest ceremony, which I’m told has long been an important component of timber frame building.   The head of the crew known as the ‘Zimmermann’ placed a Christmas tree on the highest point of the house to symbolise the natural elements.  Why a Christmas tree, I asked?  Apparently, it’s in recognition of the evergreen’s ability to survive the harsh winter.  A ceremony was then performed to placate the gods and protect the house from harm. The Zimmermann finished off by smashing a glass against the side of the house in recognition of it being a strong building that would withstand the weather to be thrown at it.  Along with the crew, other Hanse Haus associates and some family and friends that we’d invited along, we raised a toast.
 
Those couple of days were quite extraordinary in that, we went from the foundations to a two-storey house, and other than observing the build, which was evidently top quality and extremely efficient, the only work I did was to give the crane driver a lift home one evening!” says Richard Stent.
 
By kind permission of the Stents’, Hanse Haus held an open day at the house on 11th July.  By this time, the 1st fix plumbing was completed, as was all the electrical work.  The plasterboards were fixed and the baths and shower trays were all fitted.  Screed was down on the floors and the coloured external render had been put on.
 
Everything else was done in the weeks that followed and eager to move out of the caravan they’d been living in, the Stents’ spent their first night in the house on September 1st last year.
 
Specifications

Exterior
The house sits on a 3320m² plot of land, enjoying sweeping views across the Bristol Channel and over to Exmoor.
 
The exterior of the house has an off-white render and a zinc pent roof. There is plenty of off-road parking on the stone driveway and to the rear of the property - accessed from the inside the house, or around either side of the house – is a large landscaped garden.
 
The exterior walls are 30 cm thick.  The house has large triple-glazed windows to maximise solar gain, as well as external blinds, which are a standard product to Hanse Haus homes, although in this case, they are specific to Passivhaus standards.
 
Interior
The house provides 250 square metres of living space. Front access is via a front porch, which is external to the rest of the house, and is preferable on a passivhaus as it acts as an air lock preventing external air from entering directly into the house.
 
A heavy, inner, glass door brings you into a wide, open hall area.  To the right is the plant /utility/boot room, which has a window overlooking the front driveway, and also a separate WC suitable for wheelchair access. To the left is the oak staircase, which came assembled from Germany and was craned into the house as one piece during construction. Beyond the stairs on the left is the snug/TV room, which has windows to the front and side garden.
 
Directly in front is the open plan lounge with access to a separate office on the left, which has a window both to the side and the rear of the property, and also open plan access to the dining area on the right hand side. Large floor to ceiling windows stretch across the back of the house providing sweeping views from both the lounge and dining room, down to the West Somerset coast and across to Exmoor.  These south-facing windows are perfectly positioned for maximum solar gain and ensure that the living areas all benefit from plenty of light.
 
The dining area is integral to the kitchen, which is also accessed to the right of the hall and adjacent to the plant/utility/boot room.  The kitchen was supplied locally and with it’s lime green worktops, there’s a striking contrast with the large cream coloured ceramic floor tiles (in the kitchen/dining areas) and cream coloured units, as well as the black glass-topped dining furniture.
 
The hallway, plant/utility/boot room, and WC are also fitted with the same floor tiles whilst the lounge, office and TV room/snug is laid with an oak floor.
 
The oak staircase winds up from the hall to the first floor, which comprises of 4 spacious double bedrooms, all with en suite facilities.  Directly ahead, the master bedroom, which has double floor to ceiling windows to the back of the house, has a full en suite/family bathroom and also a separate dressing area.
 
To the left is the guest room, overlooking the side of the property, with an en suite shower room and WC overlooking the front of the house. Turning right at the top of the stairs and along the landing, directly in front is another double bedroom, with a window to the front driveway, and an en suite shower room and WC.  Also accessed from the landing is the fourth bedroom to the rear of the house, again with an en suite shower room and WC.
 
All of the bathrooms are fitted with large wall and floor tiles, the bedrooms are laid with carpet and the landing has a wooden floor.
 
The interior walls are 12 cm thick and the house also boasts the Hanse Haus solid wall system, which combines the advantages of timber SIP and solid wall construction.  “The walls have a stud every 300mm and they are completely glued on both sides with OSB boards. That makes them loadbearing and the fixing of wall units, including heavy kitchen units for example, is possible everywhere“, says Hanse Haus architect, Bianca Keil.
 
Utilities

Heating  –  The house has a modern heat pump and a solar thermal system.  There is a reduced underfloor heating area on the ground floor as a back up for cold winter days when there’s been a limited amount of sun to heat the house passively.  There is no boiler.
 
Water  –  Mains water

Ventilation system (with heat recovery)  –  The house has a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery. This system is used for the demand-based supply of air to and extraction of air from low and ultra low energy houses. Used air, which is often contaminated with pollutants, such as moisture and odours from kitchens, bathrooms, etc, is continuously extracted. This regulated room ventilation increases a sense of well being, as it guarantees room air quality and hygiene and what’s more it leads to a reduction in heating energy requirements.
 
Insulation  –  This house achieves outstanding thermal insulation.  With detailed technical construction, particular attention is paid to the building envelope – the shell – to make sure it’s completely airtight, ensuring that no heat can leak out through joints or gaps.
 
Energy Efficiency  –  As Stephen Huber from the Scottish Passive House Centre points out when commenting on the house, “the Super-insulated shell and windows, together with a highly efficient ‘Paul’ Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery, take the annual heating consumption down to 13kWh/m².  By use of a modern heat pump and a solar thermal system, the primary energy demand for domestic hot water, heating and auxiliary electricity is cut down to 30kWh/(m²a). This ensures very low running costs and a certain immunity against rising energy prises and shortages – plus (together with carefully selected building materials) this house is on the highest level of emission savings”.
 
Certification  –  The whole construction process of the Passivhaus and the individual structural elements, such as the walls, windows and roof are verified by the Passiv-haus-Institut in Darmstadt, Germany.  This passivhaus certification provides official confirmation that the building is built to the correct specification.
 

Living

So, what are your overall thoughts on building with Hanse Haus?

The quality and speed of build is excellent.  Also, when the house was being constructed, we watched the crew work with great precision and efficiency, even clearing and tidying as they went.  The quality of workmanship was paramount.  All in all, it’s been a really good experience and I would do it all over again”.  Richard Stent.
 
Has your new home met your expectations?

“The house has definitely met our expectations.  From paper to the finished version, we have the house that we wanted.  We love the big windwows which make it a really light, airy house and it’s position means that, the sun pours in to every room at some point throughout the day....that’s on sunny days of course.  In the design process, there were some things that we weren’t in control of such as the staircase, although we’re really pleased with it.  Like everything, it’s manufactured to a very high quality.  The same goes for the windows and external doors, which are really solid and robust as well as being triple-glazed.  The house is quite exposed and we used to hear the wind whistling through our old house but it’s so quiet now.
 
Although energy efficiency wasn’t a primary objective when we first set out to build our own house, the fact that I don’t have a gas bill landing on my doormat any more, puts a smile on my face.  We had oil-fuelled heating and hot water, in our old house, which cost a small fortune. Imagine how big that bill would have been after the cold winter we’ve had, and the increase in fuel costs.  Our new house feels so much warmer in comparison and that’s without having any heat on”. Richard Stent.
 
Given your experience, can you offer any tips to other self builders?

“It’s essential to be fully involved in the design process of a house and pay attention to the details.  When we went to Germany for sampling of fixtures and fittings, we’d made a decision on where we wanted everything to be placed but over time, you get to reflect on things like the position of the lighting, for example.  Some things have worked out wonderfully well for us but for other things, like the lighting, we had to make a few minor tweaks, as well as a few compromises.
 
I’d also say that, especially if you’re self building whilst also working full time, the Turnkey Service is what you need.  We run our own optometry business so although we were very involved with the design and the fixtures and fittings for the house, our involvement with the actual build has been minimal”.  Richard Stent.

 

 

 

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