Ukraine fundraiser - 18 June 2024
Friday 14 June 2024
 9.9°C   ESE Strong Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Energy / ‘We must build better’ architect says as he moves into new Passive House

Allen Duncan: 'we must build better'. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

WITH energy costs set to stay high for the foreseeable future, one way of combatting Shetland’s high levels of fuel poverty is to ‘build better’ houses, according to local architect Allen Duncan.

And to prove the point, he has just moved into his newly built ‘Passivhaus Plus’ near Clousta, a building that produces more energy than it requires to stay comfortably warm.

Any excess energy will be fed into the local grid once the moratorium on doing so is lifted, which is expected next year when Shetland will be connected to the national grid.

The very spacious and extremely well-insulated timber frame building sits on an exposed north facing site with spectacular views over the Voe of Clousta which can be admired through a series of large windows.

Duncan, originally from Lerwick, has spent the last seven years determined to show that not just Passive House but ‘Passivhaus Plus’ standards are possible and affordable even on a site with very little sun light in winter and at 60 degrees north.

His new home at Skeotaing has just become only the 8th fully certified Passivhaus Plus in the UK and number 156th in the world.

The building site in April last year.

“I wanted to build a comfortable low energy, easy to maintain house that would be a demonstration that the Passivhaus standards can work even up north in the Shetland Islands,” the 67-year-old said.

Overlooking the Voe of Clousta.

Duncan has been working as an urban designer in London for many years and is also a lecturer at the University of Greenwich. His new home is part of his PhD research into sustainable transition management.

He said: “I want to grow older looking at the sky and the sea knowing that I had done my best to reduce my carbon footprint but at the same time be warm and share any lessons I have learned in the process.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News


With the Scottish Government, and its Green minister for zero carbon building Patrick Harvie clear that Passive House standards will become the new norm for house building from 2024, Duncan is convinced that long-term building to a higher standard makes sense financially and environmentally.

“A Passivhaus provides healthy clean indoor air and really needs no heating system so there is considerable savings in maintenance and at least a 90 per cent saving in energy bills,” he said.

“In Shetland we have no cheap mains gas and the number of days when heating is needed is high compared to the south of England or even mainland Scotland, so it is clear to me that the Passivhaus standard works and is cost effective when cost in use is considered.

“It is based on solid tried and tested building physics. I have not found anything better.”

The building boasts an array of high-tech renewable solutions which on balance, Duncan insists, are cheaper in the long term than the more conventional way of heating a home:

  •  43 JA385W solar panels, each with individual solar edge optimiser;
  • roof mounted Viessmann Solar Thermal glass tubes for hot water;
  • electrical power storage via three 9.7kWA solar Edge batteries;
  • Stiebel Electron 8kW ground source heat pump linked to five bore holes each 47 metres in depth;
  • two water tanks, one 500 litres for hot water plus one 200 litres for underfloor heating;
  • triple glazed NorDan doors and windows with thermal breaks and custom designed spacer bars;
  • quintuple glazed Velux rooflights;
  • the walls of the building are insulated with 300 mm Kingspan (PIR) sheeting, while the floor has 240 mm insulation plus a 100 mm Marmox thermo block insulation board to avoid thermal bridging problems.

At an estimated cost of around £900,000 building the house was not cheap. However, with a living space of around 550 square metres, the building cost per square metre comes in at about £1,600, which compares very favourably with standard house building costs.

Duncan says it is clear to him that if “cost in use and energy costs” are factored in, Passivhaus projects are already cheaper than conventional house building.

“Studies done a while ago suggested that in three to five years, Passivhaus projects are cheaper and that saving will continue for the life of the building,” he said.

“Some ‘at cost’ municipal and not for profit housing providers in Germany and Austria argue that Passivhaus projects are now cheaper to build because no heating systems are needed and maintenance is lower.

“Energy costs are now much higher so the payback time should be faster. We must build better, and the best is Passivhaus!”

One of the local firms involved in the project was CASE Shetland. Its managing director Ewen Adamson said the company provided a range of site specific engineering services, including the topographical survey, ground investigation, access road design and foul/surface water drainage.

“It also proved to be a valuable professional development exercise for our staff, as Allen was more than willing to share his extensive knowledge of Passive House design throughout the process.

“Whist the scale and cost of this particular development will be well beyond the scope of most people, it does serve as a valuable ‘proof of concept’.

“It demonstrates that a Passive House Plus can be constructed in a harsh marine environment at 60 degrees north. It also showcases a range of technologies which are becoming increasingly popular in new build projects, with Solar PV and battery storage playing a key role in this.

“The build was undertaken by a local contractor, which is testimony to the skill and workmanship of the construction sector here in Shetland.

“The Scottish Government is seeking to further tighten building regulations in 2024, hence the drive for this kind of highly energy efficient construction will only intensify.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.