Dormont Park Passivhaus development

Dormont Park Passivhaus development
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The development

Dormont Park, on Dormont Estate, is an award winning development of 8No. new homes for long term affordable rent developed, owned and managed by SLE member Jamie Carruthers.

Completed in August 2011 these homes were built to the very exacting Passivhaus standard, an industry benchmark of superior quality low energy housing well above what was required of building standards at the time and which, even today (April 2019), in energy efficiency terms is way ahead of the current building regulations gold standard. Super insulation, triple glazing, very high air tightness levels, no cold bridging and an efficient mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system mean that these houses effectively heat themselves.

The heat produced in these two- and three-bedroom homes by solar gain and from the occupant’s daily activity – such as cooking, washing, movement and the use of appliances – is retained within the building and is used to keep the homes at a constant 200C even in winter. Hot water is all from renewable energy generated either by roof-mounted solar panels in the summer or a small log burning stove, that uses wood from the estate, in winter.

Even 8 years after it was completed the development remains pioneering, innovative and a leader in affordable rural housing.  In May 2019 the development continued to be the largest of its kind in Scotland and the only one to be built to Passivhaus standard by a private landlord in the UK.

The community context

No new homes had been built for affordable rent locally for more than 50 years yet studies by Shelter and by Dumfries & Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust indicated a local demand for 40 new affordable homes. The Estate is off mains gas and knew from experience the difficulties tenant occupiers faced with high energy bills.  Despite efforts by the estate over 25 years to improve the energy efficiency of its existing stock of primarily pre-1919 homes tenants were clearly suffering from the stress associated with fuel poverty.

Whilst not being actively involved in the promotion of the development the local Community Council fully supported it.

Community benefits (incl. tenants)

The provision of new homes that offered very low energy bills has clearly had a significant impact on the households’ living costs. Since they were built a two-year study has shown that the heating, lighting and hot water for a three bedroom (6- person) house cost as little as £100 a year – about a tenth of the average heating cost alone for a similar home in the UK and about half that for a modern EPC ‘A’ rated home – and that total energy costs were only around £500 a year. These savings have a major impact on household disposable income and critically, in a rural area where car dependency is high, making other expenses, such as travel, more affordable. The estate hopes that a second study into energy performance and air quality will get underway in the summer of 2019 to demonstrate that these savings are not just in the short term but continue into the medium term too.

The best testimony to these new homes, however, comes from the tenants who live there:- 

  • “For the first time in my life I have been able to afford to buy a new cooker”;
  • “Because we are spending so much less on fuel bills we can now afford to spend more time together as a family” 
  • “We hadn’t had a holiday in 20 years until this year”.

Significant health benefits are beginning to emerge too from living in a constantly warm, well ventilated and condensation-free indoor environment as warm, fresh, filtered air continually replaces moist stale air in the building. This is an important factor in reducing the risk of any respiratory diseases or allergic conditions. And it not just the elderly who benefit but children too as improved indoor air quality and thermal comfort lead to better educational outcomes.  This is what some of the tenants have said:-

  • “I always had chilblains until I moved here”
  • “I used to sit in front of the fire all day just to keep warm.  Now I can do things outdoors that I couldn’t do before” (Crohn’s disease sufferer) 
  • “I’m allergic to everything and suffer from asthma but I haven’t had an attack since I moved here”
  • “This is the first winter in all our 38 years of married life in which we have felt warm”.

Domont Estate has an agreement with Dumfries & Galloway Council to make available 4 of the 8 homes to those on the Council’s homelessness list.  The remaining 4 homes are offered to prospective tenants on the basis of local priority need.  One of the houses is occupied by a retired farm worker and his wife who, instead of having to move to an urban housing estate, can continue to live in the countryside close to where he used to live and work and where their friends are.  With 4 of the 8 houses occupied by families with children this has benefitted local schools too.

Benefit to the business

Additional rental income benefits the estate business into the long term.  Very low energy bills give security of rent and few voids so that rent arrears become a thing of the past.  Building houses to such an advanced environmental standard offers future proofing against adverse legislative and political change.  The opportunity for firewood sales further enhances estate income.

Wider benefits

The development has been referred to in a number of industry journals, was winner of the Rural Development of the Year and runner-up in the Environmental Excellence category at the Scottish Home Awards in 2012 and has won two prestigious Green Apple Awards.   Dormont Park was commended in the Design and Innovation category of the RICS Scotland Awards 2012 and is listed in SEDA’s 2016 publication 100 Sustainable Scottish Buildings.  The development is recognised by Scottish Government as an exemplar in its Greener Homes Prospectus and on its Inspirational Designs website. 

Dormont Park has featured in Shelter Scotland’s 2015 report to Scottish Government on Housing and Wellbeing and referred to in Professor David Sigsworth’s Strategic Review of Fuel Poverty Policy which reported to Scottish Government in late 2016.

The development has hosted many visitors since it opened in 2011, among them housing associations (both large and small) from across Scotland, town planners, building engineers, architects and town planners. Several MSPs and 2 Scottish Government Ministers have also visited Dormont Park, including Housing Minister Kevin Stewart MSP who said, following his visit in March 2017: “I welcome the Passivhaus approach to helping remove the threat of fuel poverty and I hope to see more in the future.”   South of Scotland SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has also praised the development saying recently: “Dormont will play a big role in reducing fuel poverty – it is fantastic to see a new affordable housing development delivered by a private sector landlord.”

Jamie has also given presentations on the Dormont Park development to a number of Scottish Parliament Cross Party groups and Passivhaus conferences and seminars.

Building to Passihaus standard requires skilled trades people and this is evidenced by the fact that a local construction company has sent some of its employees on a Passivhaus training course.  Increasing skill levels improves incomes in a low wage economy.

Conclusion

Dormont Park has delivered vital, high quality new homes to a part of rural Annandale with the support of the local community and this after many years’ practical experience of the need for such homes and the contribution they could make to an established rural business.  The development has helped secure a part-time job on the estate as well as stimulating local firms in the supply chain to train their employees in more sustainable construction methods.  Dormont Estate has led the way in Scotland in the provision of more sustainable housing, and its innovative approach has driven local economic growth.  The development is an exemplar in the management of land for the benefit of the local area.