New Build


Architect and designer John Morehead of Wain Morehead Architects Limited did an outstanding job on a spectacular passive house on the edge of a bay in West Cork in recent times.

Story Highlights
  • “We went on site and began working on this project around 2014.”
  • “The energy load of the property is quite low.”
  • “We enjoy working on all of our projects but this one was particularly enjoyable.”

T he two-storey house which is 281 square metres is most certainly an eye catching one, with its breath-taking views and spectacular design, it is a house that would fit right in overlooking the Hollywood Hills or as the home to a very well-known film star. The clients of the property bought a small-holding eight years ago, and they held the passive house standard at the outset as an indefinite ambition.

The project ran into difficulties and delays due to rather large quality issues with the original window supplier but thankfully the Austrian window manufacturer Optiwin stepped up to the plate with the replacement windows. Before contacting the aforementioned architectural practice, the clients had already successfully secured planning permission for between a four to five bedroomed house ‘of a much more traditional design’ which had been designed by a local architect.

“Our practice would be synonymous with low energy and passive house design. The clients approached us with a design that they already had and they wanted to see if we could bring the property up to the passive house standard. They had spent almost five years waiting for their planning permission to come through,’’ said Architect and Designer over the project John Morehead.

“The clients asked us if we would give the property a twist and we discussed it with the previous architects and they told us to go for it. The planning process had comprised the various architectural approaches that the original architects would have had. “We went on site and began working on this project around 2014. The project should have taken around one year but we ran into difficulties half way through with the window contractor, which meant that there were serious problems keeping the building dry as it is a wooden-framed house. The problem with the windows extended work on the project until in or around April of 2016.

As soon as the windows were in place, both the architect and the main contractor worked hard to keep energy demands down. The energy load of the property is quite low. Active heating and cooling where needed is thanks to a Nilan Geo 6 geothermal heat pump whilst a Nilan Compact P heats the hot water using the exhaust air as well as powering the ventilation system.

“We monitor all of our houses and this house is performing very well, we are very pleased with it. I think the attraction to a passive house compared to low energy houses, (passive) houses are designed in such a way that they don’t overheat and they don’t have thermal issues,’’ enthused John. There are seven different wall types with the three basic wall types comprising of a cavity wall, a timber frame and block on flat externally insulated with the Baumit system with various systems applied.

The structural design of the property made things slightly more difficult in terms of achieving air-tightness with Mr Morehead’s design calling for the integration of the structural components into the overall building envelope although doing this without having to battle with unforeseen thermal bridges required some innovative work by the structural engineer, Conor Coburn.

Mr Coburn used ‘Parallam’ a product which is a form of engineered wood which is made from clipped veneer strands laid in parallel alignment and bonded with adhesive. A PV system is also installed in the house with this particular system including a Sharp 250W polycrystalline panel with a SolarEdge inverter and power optimisers on each panel which increases the output whilst also offering a full monitoring of the overall system.

A Geo 6 is fed by 600 metres of 40mm horizontal collectors half of which are buried in a field with the other half buried in tight coils which are strategically located in the garden approximately 180m in two layers under the rainwater soakaway and then 60m vertically coiled surrounding the concrete septic tank.

A Nilan unit comes with an integral secondary 250L cylinder for domestic hot water which can be preheated by the Geo 6 but it also has a back-up electrical element. “I think the client likes the quality of the passive house, the assurance and the third-party certification that happens with a passive house.

“This was an all gloves off house design where we wanted to try to show that you don’t have to build a stereotypical passive house to achieve the passive house standard. In Ireland, we are blessed with very mild (weather) conditions where you can use far more expansive areas of glass than you can in other countries.

This house is built on an incredible site with beautiful views and we were able to integrate them (the views) into the design without compromising the energy or comfort performance of the house, he explained. “The site itself would just blow your mind and it is a place that you would have to take advantage of. When the vegetation grows around the house, it will settle the house in much more than it is, as it is a little bit up on a hill as it stands.

As to the layout of the stunning property “With the layout of this particular house we had a lot of views looking to the west and overlooking the bay and we wanted to create a house that maximised the space whilst avoiding corridors at all costs. This type of a house isn’t draughty so you don’t have to close rooms off to get comfortable and we also wanted to create a space that not only interacted with outside visually and by physical connection but one that also had different lighting levels within the house,’’ imparted John.

“The layout of the house is unusual in that everything circles around the stairs. It is designed as a family home with teenagers and we wanted people to be able to use the space in the house but also have their own individual spaces as they required them.

“In the utility room, there is also a drying rack which dries the clothes rather than you having to run in and out to get clothes. The kitchen features a Neff oven as well as an attentively chosen SMEG cooker extractor for energy performance and aesthetic reasons with the extractor gliding up from an oblong panel in the worktop when it is switched on. This SMEG unit also includes high performance carbon filters meaning that the warm air from the extractor is being filtered to a very high standard which means that the air can be recirculated into the room.

The extraction is concentrated on the kitchen and bathroom in particular meaning any cooking smells remain in the kitchen. The kitchen also features a vertical Liebherr 345L frost-free freezer which uses approximately 130KW of electricity per year. A low energy larder fridge by Liebherr was also purchased due to its controlled humidity and Bio Fresh doors. A high efficiency dishwasher and washing machine both of which are by Bosch and use approximately four litres of water each per wash.

“All of the plant room areas, the utility room and the pantry are on the north side of the house, there is also a guest bedroom on the north side of the house with lovely views overlooking the bay. Off the main hall there is a separate study area and then you come around the stairs and you can go straight in to the kitchen or you turn left and go in to the dining room/living area which overlooks a solar reflecting pond which we would have in a lot of our houses. Then you have the sun room which is facing south,’’ explained Mr Morehead.


The utility room is home to the washing machine as well as a raised tower of approximately 1.6m to accommodate two drying racks. At the top of the tower, there are two extraction vents for the MVHR system which draws air through the tower, aided by two remotely openable clerestory windows to assist with the drying of the clothes on a ‘fine day.’

“The staircase is a two-storey element and that is used for stacked ventilation where the building can be naturally cooled without the use of fans. The hotter the house gets, the more that ventilation works. “Upstairs there are three bedrooms, a bathroom and an enlarged landing which is like a lounge area which then leads on to a first-floor terrace which has excellent views,’’ he added. “This house is certified as an A1 BER house and the rating is really done on the design of the house.

The house runs on 9.9 watts a square metre and it has a primary energy demand of 60.1. Most importantly it has almost half of the NZ requirements. The property has an EPC of 1.3 and a CPC of 1.56 so that is quite significant. “The property is air-tight tested. The house has a heat pump, it has a mechanical heat recovery ventilation unit which also provides 80% of the hot water in this particular house.

“We enjoy working on all of our projects but this one was particularly enjoyable considering what was thrown at us with the windows. It was a very interesting project not just from an architectural perspective but also a humanity one. It was amazing to see how people rowing together could actually get out of a serious problem and that was wonderful to see,’’ revealed John Morehead.

“Any one of us would love to live in this house but it is designed to suit the client’s needs entirely. They’ve got their stamp on the house already. I love the staircase area in the house and how it segregates the individual spaces and I really like the quality of light coming down the staircase area. “There is northern and southern light coming in to the same space and it is wonderful to see! There is a lot of Bamboo used throughout the house and it (Bamboo) and from a carbon footprint it really adds value to the whole project and it is a beautiful product to work with. “The clients are delighted with this house,’’ he added.

    Words: Emer Kelly Pics: Wain Morehead Architects Ltd and gm-photo.com

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