Passivhaus buildings are comfortable and require little maintenance, but they do have some important features which are different to many existing buildings. As with any other building type, the design features must be fully understood by the occupants to ensure they are experiencing the most comfortable and healthy internal environments, using the minimum amount of energy. To achieve this it is vital that the architects and services engineers pass on the knowledge that they have gained during the design and construction period to the end user. We always try to follow the ’soft landings’ approach which means the designers and constructors are involved in the building beyond practical completion to assist the occupants to fine-tune the building systems to their needs.

Research into the cost effectiveness of commissioning existing and low energy buildings has been completed by The Executive Committee of the Energy Conservation in Buildings and Community Systems (ECBCS). Their goal was to enable the effective commissioning of existing and future buildings in order to improve their operating performance. The following piece of text and graph are from their research:

“Design, construction, commissioning, and operation and maintenance are typically done by different people and even different companies. By changing the players within a project, knowledge that would be helpful or even important for future tasks is often lost. Due to the difficulty of maintaining consistent information representation, not all data available in the previous phase is made available when transitioning to subsequent phases. Design intent information is no longer kept in working drawings and design specifications, the complete design specifications are no longer available in the commissioning report, and O&M manuals rarely contain information about the insights gained during commissioning. Therefore, information rapidly atrophies during these transition points (e .g., ‘Real scope to information’) and has to be subsequently recovered.”

In collaboration with Alan Clarke (services consultant) we have created this simple user guide to explain the controls of the Larch House and the Camden Passivhaus to visitors and occupants. We are now producing these guides for all projects in the office, which we print out as a large poster and mount sturdily on a board. We fix the poster to the back of a door in the plant room or airing cupboard for ease of reference and also because we want to try to ensure that the information stays with the building rather than getting lost during a house-move. Also if the occupants of the house are interested to know why their house uses so little energy and how to get the best comfort and energy performance, we also offer a meeting with the client to discuss the content of the poster, ensuring they are given the best opportunity to understand the things that they want to know about. We also leave our contact details on the poster in case people have questions.