Ireland’s first fully passive retrofit
A new retrofit project in Galway has shown just how far the retrofit of a typical Irish home can go, by bringing a 1960s semi-detached house up to the full passive house standard. The house in Salthill is home to Ciaran Ryan and Mary Hodkinson, who had been living west of Galway City in Furbo, where they had built an energy efficient home in the 1990s.
McGuinness advised the couple to look for a house with a southerly orientation. Ciaran and Mary sold their house in Furbo and rented another while they looked for an ideal retrofit property. With Ireland’s property market having crashed, they didn’t expect this to take long. They looked at seven or eight houses, but none were quite right, and house prices were starting to creep up again.
But they were keen to move to the city, and wanted a comfortable home they would never have to refurbish again. “We’re not going to move again after this. We want it to be really cheap to run, we want it to be warm and dry,” Ciaran says. They planned to buy an existing house and retrofit to a high standard.
Finally they found a semi-d for sale in Forster Park, Salthill for the right price — and with the front facade facing due south. McGuinness came down to see it. “It’s got a nice compact plan, which is very important. The nearer to a cube you can get the house, the easier it is to satisfy the requirements of passive house,” McGuinness says. This was crucial, because the budget wouldn’t stretch to making up for a lack of solar gain with, say, extra insulation.
Ciaran had met Irish architect Simon McGuinness through their mutual connections with Cuba — Ciaran runs a piano tuning workshop in Havana, while Simon is involved with the Irish Cuba Support Group. McGuinness had previously built a passive house in Ballymun, Dublin, and came on board as project architect.
But for McGuinness, the project was about more than one house. He also saw it as a chance to demonstrate how far deep a retrofit could go on a typical lrish semi-D. “I was interested in
doing it for the sake of proving it was possible to do on a budget,” he says. At the outset, he didn’t think it would be possible to achieve full passive house certification. The airtightness target of 0.6 air changes per hour (ACH), he felt, would simply be too onerous. “I didn’t think that was possible in a retrofit, because there was no record of anyone having done it,” he says. He did, however, guarantee the house would get under 1.0 air changes per hour, the Enerphit standard for retrofit. The job came with a contractor in tow. Michael Nally & Sons had already built an extension to Ciaran and Mary’s house in Furbo, and the couple had been impressed with their workmanship. “Nallys had never built to the passive standard before but were quick to learn. They did the one-day training at Ecological Building systems and quickly got to grips with the specification,” McGuinness says. McGuinness also produced an extremely detailed