North East & Yorkshire

Steel Farm: The way forward for sustainable construction?

CENE Awards Steel Farm - Passivhaus

Shortlisted for three CENE Awards, Steel Farm is the first cavity wall Passivhaus building to be constructed in the North East of England. 

The term ‘Passivhaus’ refers to a specific building construction standard which significantly reduces energy consumption – by 80% when compared to Building Regulations.

For a traditional home, similar in size to that of Steel Farm, the average fuel bill in the North East per annum has been estimated at about £1250. As a Passivhaus building the equivalent fuel bill that could be expected is about £260 per year- an astronomical saving.

The economic and environmental benefit of this construction method led Trevor and Judith Gospel to approach Mark Siddall of LEAP: low energy architectural practice, to construct a Passivhaus building on a 70 hectare organic farm near Hexham in the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Planning permission was granted in 2011 and work began on site in July 2012. Mark was approached for the project due to his keen interest in building performance and his established background as a designer. He was project architect for 25 award winning, Passivhaus Certified dwellings at the Racecourse Estate, Houghton-le-Spring.

Planning restrictions dictated that the facades on Steel Farm be natural stone and of traditional appearance to suit the area. In order to assist with the construction of the structure a number of design and specification refinements and innovations were employed, including a 300mm wide cavity walls, double Bobtail trusses and innovative airtight systems for masonry and timber frame constructions.

Advanced water efficiency measures were also employed on Steel Farm to minimise water use and DHW energy demand.

Speaking about the technologies used, Mark Siddall said:

“Steel Farm has advanced an understanding and appreciation of traditionally built residential Passivhaus construction. Having now used a range of construction technologies to deliver Passivhaus buildings the opportunities and challenges of introducing advanced construction technology into architecture are becoming apparent. LEAP is positioned to continue to develop its specialism across a range of scales of construction and building types whilst enabling clients and contractors to minimise risk.”

CENE Awards Steel Farm - Passivhaus

Due to the technical nature of the Steel Farm development several contractors were reluctant to take on the build, JD Joinery and Building Services did however eventually win the contract. Joe Dixon, Director at JD Joinery, gave an insight as to why he took on the challenge, he said:

“Everyone who initially saw the project ran a mile! I decided to take on the project as I know that this method of construction is the way forward, it is where the construction industry has got to go. Saying that, I still did think it would be very complex and difficult, but in truth it wasn’t, the build just required more planning and preparation.

“We had plenty of meetings and briefs with Mark, so at every stage of the build we were fully prepared.”

When asked about his relationship with JD Joinery, Mark said:

“There was definitely an educational process involved for the contractors; I held a number of workshops with Joe’s construction team explaining what aspects would be key to the development. Everyone really did roll up their sleeves and rose to the challenge; JD Joinery can only be commended for the work they carried out and I look forward to working with them again in the future.”

CENE Awards Steel Farm - Passivhaus

When asked about Steel Farm being shortlisted for the CENE Awards, Mark added: “It’s great to have a project listed; it serves to demonstrate that innovation doesn’t only occur in larger companies and on larger projects. Furthermore it highlights the fact that Passivhaus design can, in the right hands, be achieved practically and affordably. On a personal basis I am finding that the experience of being shortlisted is tremendously gratifying, especially now I have got my own practice.”

JD Joinery and Building Services

With nearly a decade in business, JD Joinery and Building Services is a contractor specialising in new build and refurbishment projects and recently carried out works on the CENE Award shortlisted Steel Farm development.

The company was set up by former Police Detective, Joe Dixon and when asked about his change of career, Joe said:

“I used to have my own business back in 1995 and then I joined the police force. Nine years ago I decided to return to my roots and set up JD Joinery and Building Services.

“Since then we have gone from strength to strength and I have now got 24 guys working for me. Following on from the success with Steel Farm I am excited to continue my relationship with LEAP.”

When asked what the company prides itself on, Joe added: “Customer service is my central concern on any project.”


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