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Achieving Sustainable Outcomes Through MMC and Passivhaus

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With an increased societal awareness of how our actions influence, shape, and affect the environment and climate around us, the buildings we create must play their part in achieving the target of a net zero carbon civilisation, by minimising the impact of embodied and operational energy through construction and in use.

HLM have committed to achieve the sustainable outcomes of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge on all our projects five years ahead of the target and as we move towards 2025, one sustainability standard our projects are increasingly being required to meet is Passivhaus. The criteria for achieving Passivhaus certification are rigorous, with the parameters based on proven building physics that deliver outcomes without the performance gaps so often experienced with traditional building methods.

A key component of Passivhaus is a fabric-first approach, which provides excellent thermal performance through maximising airtightness and reducing thermal bridging. Successful delivery calls for simple, robust detailing, good quality construction, and understanding of the Passivhaus requirements across design and delivery teams, but perhaps the principal benefit of Passivhaus is the excellent thermal comfort and air quality experienced by the users, and the demonstrable improvement that this can have on their wellbeing. Reduced energy usage over the longer term also assists owners and operators by reducing running costs.

When considering the use of MMC, we need to think broadly about the types of spaces that are required and the MMC approach which best suits a particular building location. HLM recently joined the Construction Innovation Hub’s Platform Design Programme as a Design Industry Partner. The HUB has undertaken research into commonality of spaces across government departments, including Education, Justice, Defence, Health and Housing, which provides evidence that there is cross-sector opportunity for standardisation, a key factor in successful MMC delivery.

By adopting an approach to Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) as part of an MMC strategy, it is feasible to utilise 3D volumetric modular, 2D panelised, and other MMC or hybrid systems to prefabricate standardised components in a controlled, factory environment. By doing this, significantly better tolerances can be achieved than is the case for traditional forms of construction. The multifarious MMC types offer some well-known benefits to construction projects, including reduction in programme; consistent delivery of high quality and dependable detailing; improved safety for workers on and off-site; and enhanced efficiency with less waste and lower overall energy inputs.

Clearly then, for designers striving for Passivhaus and carbon reduction in projects, MMC offers significant opportunities to deliver the consistency and quality of construction required to achieve certification for new buildings, in various sectors. Moreover, by maximising the amount of construction undertaken in factories offsite and by minimising the number of deliveries to the operational site, the impact of construction on local communities and the wider environment is minimised. The synergies between MMC, Passivhaus and other sustainability measures are therefore well worth pursuing in the drive for inspirational, innovative, and sustainable buildings.

At the heart of all building design must be to provide for the needs of the end users: we need to create spaces that meet their various operational and programme requirements in efficient, cost-effective ways, and with a focus on achieving sustainable targets. HLM are currently working on Two Bridges Academy in Bristol, just one example of how an MMC approach can result in highly efficient, yet aesthetically pleasing designs. The Academy forms part of the Department for Education’s ‘sustainability pathfinder’ study and is designed to be Net Zero Carbon in operation, while pushing the boundaries of an MMC-based design.

HLM have experts who can not only work with you to develop projects that deliver sustainable outcomes, but also to consider how an MMC approach can deliver significant additional benefits for most building types.

To find out more, contact Dan Brown, Head of MMC Delivery: [email protected].