Simple Design and Great Attitude Delivers Exceptional Results on Passive Standard Timber Frame in Boyle, Co. Roscommon
When choosing tradespeople for a new building project, Roman Syzpura of Clíoma House says that he looks for one attribute above all others. Not skills or experience, but attitude.
On a recent passive-standard new build in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, one of the people he employed onsite didn’t have a background in construction, but was actually an acrobat.
“His attitude was so great and he picked it up so quickly,” says Roman, “that within six months he became my second best guy, achieving great results in terms of general workmanship, and in particular with air tightness.”
Everyone onsite – including the acrobat – received training in Passive House building, either with Roman or with another Passive House expert.
Roman points out too that if a tradesperson has the wrong attitude, quality will always suffer. He recalls one incident, not long after he began working in Ireland, with a highly experienced sub-contractor.
“We were taping windows for air tightness, and I told him that the maximum to tape onto the windows should be 15mm. He did one and it was a little bit over, so I came back to him and said, look, it’s really important that you stay within the 15mm.”
The tradesman took great offence at this, and proceeded to berate Roman for insulting and talking down to him.
“Three months later, I got the call from the client to say that there was tape showing on three of the windows, and this was after skim and paint. The client had spent two days trying to peel it off with his fingernails.”
By contrast, the newly-trained acrobat was open to learning new skills, and critically, says Roman, when something went wrong, he would immediately flag the problem.
He explains that when building to passive standards, air tightness is critical. And because the air tightness membrane is so easily damaged, everyone on site needs to understand why it’s there and why it’s so important to treat it with respect. If it is damaged, it’s vital that whoever damaged it holds up his hand.
“If there are any cover ups,” says Roman, “we’re in trouble.”
On this particular project, the build and design teams started out with several key things working in their favour. The site itself featured a full, unobstructed southern aspect at the back. In addition, despite the fact that the decision to go passive wasn’t made until after planning permission had been granted, the architect produced planning drawings which delivered a layout and a glazing plan that matched passive principles closely.
“The house is basically rectangular, with the long side facing north to the road and south to the back, so it’s perfectly lined up,” says Roman. “The main living areas and most of the glazing was on the south, with bedroom, bathroom and utility to the north.” Because the orientation and layout were so good, and the house itself had a simple, compact footprint, going from conventional to passive design was relatively straight forward.
The simplicity of the layout and the timber frame build method meant that key elements of the project – air tightness and cold bridging – were that bit easier to manage. The house achieved a rating of 0.23 ACH at 50 Pa, an exceptional result that meets the Passive House standard of 0.6 ACH by a very generous margin.
The measures taken to ensure a thermal bridge free construction included a raft foundation with the first three courses in Quinn Lite aerated concrete blocks. The build team used a timber frame with Larsen truss walls and roof structure, and installed Aluclad windows in accordance with Passive House recommended window details, including insulated reveals and sills.
“We chose a build-up that is relatively simple,” says Roman, “and that naturally has no cold bridges…Those choices made it easier to maintain quality on the project.”
As well as ensuring that that everyone onsite is trained on Passive House building, Roman maintains his own skills by taking courses regularly and by reading extensively in this area. This whole process, he says, is made easier if you have a passion for what you do.
“Some weekends when I’m sitting at the computer, and rather than looking at Facebook, I’m looking up other projects or new materials, or I read through Passive House Plus magazine and find a new system I haven’t heard of before and then I dig into that.”
He also delivers air tightness training to a diverse range of industry professionals and tradespeople. Regularly engaging with everyone from architects and engineers to plumbers and plasterers gives him insights that improve his own skills.
“I might be showing the group how to seal around cables and an electrician might say, ‘You’re not supposed to have a broadband cable in the same conduit as a high voltage cable’…That’s how you pick up bits and pieces.”
Roman is keen to emphasise one innovation which he and his team implemented on the build. The initial plan had included a truss roof, but shortly before work began, he realised that this approach would require huge amounts of additional air tightness work – upwards of 900 individual seals.
“Instead, we invented a new way of building a traditional cut roof that allows you to preinstall the air-tightness membrane around the ceiling joists.” It’s a solution, Roman believes, that would make it much easier for traditional builders to achieve passive air tightness results with traditional style roofs. “It’s one of the things I was most excited about on the build. We found a really smart solution there.”
The client, Art Timmins, is very positive about the whole experience. He says that when you’re looking for someone to build your house, they have to fulfil two – and only two conditions. “The key really is that you need someone who knows they’re doing and you need to be able to trust them. That was Roman. He knew what he was about and he was totally trustworthy.”