Max Fordham House
In 2022, Max Fordham House in North London became the first residential building in the UK to be verified as net zero carbon, marking a watershed moment in the country’s drive to achieve a net zero carbon future.
People, and the things they do, generate heat all the time. This should be enough to keep warm inside a home on a freezing, overcast day. Achieving this means that a building is sustainable. This is the first premise of the design of Max Fordham’s house.
Designed and built in collaboration with Max, bere:architects, Price & Myers and Bow Tie Construction, this three-bedroom Passivhaus home is an exemplar of collaboration, innovation and solution-focused design. Set in a tight, urban infill site, previously Max’s garden, the project shows what is possible and achievable as a technical concept for the housing sector. Following completion, it became the first home in the UK to achieve net zero carbon, in line with the UKGBC's Framework.
“An important test bed project for a lifelong environmental innovator”
RIBA London Sustainability Award Winner 2019
The building’s thermal envelope, its ventilation system and its windows are designed so that the heat loss on a freezing cold winter’s day is no more than the heat generated by people living in the house.
The high performance thermal envelope completely wraps the building’s structure, eliminating thermal bridges. The envelope is also airtight, eliminating uncontrolled air exchange. The ventilation provision needed to provide healthy environments is then controlled and minimised mechanically, with heat recovery efficiency in excess of 90%.
As well as providing beautiful daylight, windows allow solar radiation to warm a house during the day. At night, a window typically loses ten times as much heat as a wall. On freezing overcast days, more heat is lost through a window at night than gained during the day. We have altered the behaviour of the windows so that they are net contributors to the building’s heat balance, even on a freezing, overcast day. Automated, insulated shutters allow the windows to become much more insulating at night so that the windows are thermally a net benefit every day. The windows and their positions are designed so that electrical lights are not needed during the day.
“With this stunning, award-winning passive house in Camden, the legendary engineer Max Fordham has produced a simple and beautiful urban home with no wet heating system, that draws on his lifetime of work applying the principles of simplicity, practicality and replicability to the design of building services.”
Passivhaus Plus Magazine
Domestic hot water is the house’s largest energy demand. Solar thermal technology was considered, but introduces the complication of an additional mechanical system and requires valuable roof space - the roof area is already maximised for photovoltaic electricity generation. A rooftop copse of hazel plants on the first floor level contributes to biodiversity.
Heatpump technology aligns well with the continuing decarbonisation of the national electricity grid. A 2-stage heatpump provides the high grade heat needed for domestic hot water quite efficiently year round. While some summertime efficiency may be sacrificed in the second compressor, this is compensated by the high wintertime efficiency and the lack of immersion heating needed. The heatpump’s air-side heat exchanger is located within a suntrap and is controlled so that 24hours worth of domestic hot water demand is produced during mid-afternoon, when air temperature is warmest and the heatpump most efficient. This is also when the roof PV array is likely to be at its most productive.
Other energy demands are small and contribute to the building’s metabolism, meeting the space heating demand.
“The sensory and mobility challenges that come with aging have been thoughtfully addressed with a fully accessible ground floor, quietly incorporating a plethora of adaptations for wheelchair users and featuring many other Lifetime Homes features.”
RIBA London Award 2019
As the house is designed to not need any heating on the coldest day, it needs to be capable of getting rid of heat every other day. The thermally massive structure and windows that open widely help with this. The windows can also be slightly open with the shutters closed, and the shutters are glossy and reflective on their outer face.
Max Fordham House won the RIBA London Sustainability Award 2019 and a RIBA London Award. It was shortlisted for the RIBA House of the Year 2019 and for the NLA Environmental Prize 2021. In 2022, Max Fordham House was 'Highly Commended' at the Camden Design Awards.
“The result is a fearless approach to finding solutions to the numerous complexities generated by an inquisitive approach to how we might live more symbiotically with our planet.”
RIBA London Sustainability Award Winner 2019