The QualiBuild project has developed a dozen questions for professionals who are committed to delivering Quality Building in design and on site, and who recognise that an informed and upskilled workforce will improve the quality of the Irish building stock.
What is your profession/company?
I operate a company called Passivate, offering a range of services in low energy and Passive House design & build. I’m a certified Passive House designer, and also an NSAI-accredited thermal modeller.
Who or what most inspired you to seek your current career?
I worked on site as a carpenter for a number of years, and it was very obvious to me that things could be done a lot better. So I started to research improved building design and construction practices, which led me to Passive House. I went back to university to do a Masters in Energy Management and Renewable Energy Resources, and that led me to set up the company.
How would you describe your typical day?
There wouldn’t be a ‘typical’ day. You never really know who might call in the morning and what they might need. But generally, it could include anything from carrying out a PHPP, modelling & designing junctions using thermal analysis software, running condensation risk analysis, or carrying out a site-visit to inspect on-going work, or meeting clients to discuss their projects. I’m also starting to get more and more enquiries from people who have issues with recently constructed buildings, which are often down to inadequate construction quality or failings in the design process.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
Really one of the most satisfying things is speaking to clients a few months after they’ve moved into their houses, and to hear from them how happy they are with the environment in the building, and the surprise at how little energy they’re using to keep the house warm. Passive House really works.
How would you describe your attitude towards quality on site? Is there any one thing in your career that changed your attitude towards quality and low-energy construction?
There are two important things that really affect the outcome of a project. The first is attitude and the second is knowledge. It’s very important to have people involved in a project who have the right attitude, who’ve really bought into the concept of what you’re trying to achieve for the client, and who are totally on board with that. If anyone involved in the project has a poor attitude towards it, it can make the process difficult for everyone involved and inevitably affects quality.
The second is knowledge, in that most trades and professionals don’t yet know how to construct low-energy buildings, or perhaps aren’t even fully aware of all the aspects of important parts of the regulations such as Part L or Part F etc. But at least if they have the right attitude and are willing to learn, they will be motivated to learn how and what they need to do, and will do their best to achieve it. This is hugely important. It’s great to work with trades who have worked on a few Passive Houses before, as they can really instil confidence in their abilities, but similarly it’s great to talk to tradespeople at the end of a project who’ve done a great job and learned a lot in doing that, and really appreciate how important it was for them to have put everything they’ve got into it and can see the quality of the outcome.
Are there any projects that you have worked where you felt the whole construction team really delivered quality? What were the key ingredients that you believe led to this?
Two come to mind. One was a certified Passive House in Mount Merrion. It was a demolition and new-build of a detached bungalow. From day one the clients were completely determined that it was going to be a certified Passive House, and that really had a ripple effect on the whole project. Everyone involved knew that if you weren’t there to deliver Passive House quality in whatever you were doing, there was no place for you on that project, and that’s the way it should be. It always makes it easier when the client is completely on board with it. The timber frame company, Advance Timber Craft, were incredibly meticulous in their workmanship and really delivered. The architect, Des Crabbe of OA Studios, really put everything into it, so that was really a project where the right attitude and determination led to an incredible project, a real show piece.
Another project which is currently on site and going for certification is a detached house designed by Zeno Winkens in Wexford. The builder has no experience of Passive House construction, but is someone who takes pride in his work and completely took on board the nature of the task. So the right attitude is there. The site itself is kept meticulously clean, which is vital, and the attention to detail is second to none. Couple that with a client who has demanded Passive House certification from day one, and an architect who has already delivered a certified Passive House for Francis Clauson in Bunclody, and you have the right ingredients for achieving a certified Passive House. But again it comes down to having the right attitude and a willingness to learn.
Do you have any materials that you particularly like working with that make it easy to achieve a good result?
Not particularly. Generally, the most common construction forms I come across on projects are either wide-cavity masonry or timber frame. But there are other methods such as ICF and SIPs which work just as well. I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Is there any one tool that you cannot be without when you are designing or on site and why?
The two most important pieces of kit that I use are the PHPP and Psi Therm, a thermal analysis software. As a smartphone user, I have an excellent sun surveyor app which is brilliant at showing exactly when you will have or lose the sun at certain parts of the year at any site, that’s very handy. Something else I just picked up is a thermographic camera from FLIR which attaches to the micro USB port on the phone. It’s not a fully calibrated device, but it’s excellent for taking snap shots of issues in buildings and checking for air-leakage and discontinuity of insulation. For something that you don’t even notice in your pocket, it’s fantastic.
Where do you go for new information about the industry, standards, materials, systems, etc?
Passive House Plus magazine is the obvious choice for anyone looking for the latest technology or interesting case studies in low-energy and Passive design and construction. As part of the job as an NSAI-accredited thermal modeller, I’m also required to keep up to date on the latest ISO standards and industry conventions relating to the analyses that I carry out, so that’s hugely important. The NSAI provide great feedback in that regard.
Is there any one thing or things about working on Irish Building sites from a quality perspective that you find disappointing? Have you any suggestions as to how it could be remedied?
One thing that’s a major bugbear of mine is housekeeping on site. Notwithstanding the health and safety aspect of having rubbish and debris around a site, I also think we underestimate the effect it has on people working on site when they are constantly surrounded by stuff lying around that really should be in a skip or in stores. We need a shift in attitude on that.
The second thing is that we still have a huge number of trades completing tasks on site, but actually not 100% sure of why they’re doing it the way they are, but rather just that ‘it’s always the way we’ve done it’. I think people are often afraid to stop and ask someone around them for advice, or go off and do a bit of research. There is plenty of learning material freely available, but we’re really not learning enough. Trades on site seem to be the last people who get told anything, and yet they’re the ones who are building it! The idea that that’s ok needs to be changed all the way from the top down.
Is there one thing that you notice is changing on Irish building sites over recent years?
Not particularly. If anything, I’m concerned that things I’m witnessing on larger sites these days look like they haven’t changed much in almost 10 years since the peak of the bubble. We’ve had significant changes in many aspects of the regulations in that time, and yet really the knowledge levels on site have largely stayed the same.
What advice would you give to students/apprentices/workers starting out in the construction industry?
Firstly, only start to work in the industry if it’s something you truly want to do. There is no point in going to work every day in something that doesn’t make you happy, because you won’t be able to really apply yourself and do great things. Secondly, try to identify some aspect of your trade or skill that you’re good at and that appeals to you. It’s better to be an expert and specialist in one or two things than to be simply average at a lot of different things. It’s really a fantastic industry to work in, and you can do very well in it if you’re in it for the right reasons.
Passivate was established in 2010 by Andrew Lundberg. With over 9 years experience in the construction sector managing high specification turn-key fit-out solutions, Andrew holds an honours degree in Analytical Science (DCU) and a Masters in Energy Management and Renewable Energy Resources (University of Ulster) with a thesis on Passive House performance in the Irish climate. He is a Certified Passive House Designer, qualified thermal modeller and expert consultant and trainer in the PHPP & Therm. He has also completed courses in wind- and air-tightness installation (SIGA), hygrothermal analysis of buildings (WUFI) and has completed his formal education in preparation for the Project Management Professional examination (PMP).
Andrew lectures extensively on Passive House construction theory, use of the PHPP, thermal bridge-free construction and thermal modelling of building junctions to all relevant international standards.