St Sidwell’s Point is the first Passivhaus leisure centre in the UK. Set to open in spring this year, the new leisure centre, procured through the Southern Construction Framework (SCF) for Exeter City Council, is a super energy efficient building, which is expected to achieve an annual energy saving of up to 70%.

As the leisure centre has been built to stringent Passivhaus standards, Joe O’Connell, and his team responsible for delivering St Sidwell’s Point introduced an innovative approach to ensure Passivhaus Standards were exceeded.  Here Joe shares more about why the Passivhaus passports were so important, training 2,000 people to work to these building standards which is set to leave a lasting legacy in the South West

What is a Passivhaus Passport?

“It’s the certification that Kier has developed for its operatives which is achieved after they had completed a series of theoretical and practical training modules related to Passivhaus construction and specific to their trade. Essentially it was their ‘pass’ to be able to work on the site and the fact that they had obtained their passport was marked on their induction. As Passivhaus is still in its relative infancy within the industry, it’s an important milestone for people to add to their skills and experience.”

Why did you feel you needed to introduce the Passport?

“The training introduced Passivhaus principles, the essential controls in delivery and an understanding of the positive benefits to the end users, wider community and our environment. Each trade had specific training on 3 of 6 risks connected to their work. The upskilling of the supply chain also means that they can take this knowledge and experience to other jobs in the future.

“To achieve the required air tightness for Passivhaus, we were required to have a greater degree of quality and focused construction over that of a traditional build. We had to have a good process in place to ensure that each part of the build was as strong as it could be without compromising the overall air tightness.

We knew we would have large supply chain involvement including 71 different trades in this build and realised it wouldn’t be feasible to have site managers checking every detail.That led to the idea of the Passivhaus Passport to act almost as a ‘safety net’. We developed the modules with our consultant, Warm and then rolled out the training across the wider team”.

You said that the passports are bespoke to different trades. Why was this necessary?

Some trades, for example groundworks, M&E and façade are integral to achieving the air tightness rating, which is essential for Passivhaus certification, so their training was very detailed and complex around minimising thermal bridging, for example. 

We had to put together very specific training modules and seek input from the relevant manufacturers too.  It was a fantastic opportunity for people to further their knowledge and skills in their respective trade.

How did people react to the training and having to work on a Passivhaus site?

I think it had the potential to be daunting and pressured and that’s part of the reason we developed the passports. Rather than a draconian ‘checking every detail’ approach, we wanted the operatives to feel like they were on the journey with us and to feel empowered to do the job. It was a conscious decision on our part to invest in training and the development of a ‘no blame culture.’

Part of the training was explaining why we’re doing it and being very clear that we wanted people to take ownership of their work.  

The collaboration with the client, consultants, supply chain and project team has been the outstanding strength of this project. The culture we developed was underpinned by trust which was evident in every relationship – honest conversations discussing the challenges and collaboration in finding the solutions.

Dom Bailey, construction trainee, shared this feedback with us: “I am so proud to have been part of the St Sidwell's Point construction team. During my time on this project I have learned so much and the Passivhaus training has been a big part of this. Opportunities to gain hands on experience in delivering a Passivhaus a project don’t come along that often and I will be able to use what I have learned and the experience and responsibility I have been given to help me in my future career”

The ‘no blame culture’ sounds interesting. Tell me more about that.

With Passivhaus, even minor damage to the insulation and the membrane can affect your ability to achieve the necessary air tightness and achieve the full accreditation. Mistakes happen though so we had to encourage the team to tell us openly so we could work collectively to fix them. That’s part of the reason we achieved our air tightness rating of 0.3m³/hr/m²@ 50Pa against a target of 0.4m³/hr/m²@ 50Pa, which is 20 times stricter than building regulations.

If we didn’t have that culture, a culture we’d instilled through the development of the Passivhaus Passports, I don’t think we would have achieved that rating and we wouldn’t have understood why – it would have been like trying to find a needle in a haystack, working out if it was this scratch to the membrane or that gap in the insulation.

The air tightness result is fantastic. Were there any other knock-on benefits of the Passivhaus Passports?

We had a much more consistent workforce on the site throughout the duration. On a traditional build, you might have different sub-contractors or operatives on different days, but we didn’t have that here because of having to go through the passport process. So, we ended up with a consistent group of people working to a common goal and that contributed to the quality and safety of the project.

I think another important benefit is around legacy. We’ve upskilled 2,000 workers and given them a different view of what good looks like. They’ll take that with them wherever they go next and I’m incredibly proud of that.

St Sidwell’s Point is a UK first and flagship Passivhaus project. Will we be able to use the Passivhaus Passports and the approach we’ve developed here elsewhere?

This project has really left a legacy, it has touched the hearts of everyone who has been involved, from right from the start though to delivering on site and including the team who will be providing the new leisure services for the people of Exeter.

We’ve welcomed visitors from across the country to learn and see first-hand how we were delivering an industry-first standard. I’m proud to say that other regional businesses within Kier will be introducing the Passivhaus Passport approach to their select projects.  We can truly say we’ve had a far-reaching effect - right across the UK!”

Passivhaus is a leading international low-energy design standard with over 65,000 buildings, built and tested to the Passivhaus standard worldwide. We are proud patrons of the Passivhaus Trust and have developed Passivhaus projects across numerous sectors. To find out more please click here.

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