A Victorian home reimagined

The Zetland Passive House is the UK's greenest retrofit and the first home to attain EnerPHit Plus certification in Europe. This  project has achieved a 95% reduction in space heating demand with no central heating system. The aim was to go beyond Passivhaus targets by building the homes in the most ecological way possible without petrochemicals, using only breathable, natural materials, delivering the healthiest, and most sustainable living space.

A laboratory for carbon reduction

The aim for this project was to take a pair of typical ‘hard to treat’ Victorian townhouses and prove it was possible for them to meet the world's highest performance standards set by the Passivhaus Institute, and that this could be accomplished without compromising the buildings heritage. 


The townhouses succeeded in becoming Europe's First Passivhaus Enerphit Plus Homes. Featuring Nobel prize winning super material graphene and a host of world first technologies and unique solutions, the 125 year old properties seamlessly marry the beauty and character of a period property with the world's highest standards of energy efficiency.  

From the street the building looks classically Victorian with its decorative path, finials, stone steps and ornate porch. The only hint of the wealth of technology within is a subtle copper strip that blends into the traditional Victorian brickwork to disguise a super-insulated sidewall. Even a world first Passivhaus stained glass solution has been carefully incorporated. 


The modernised rear facade consists of slimline glazing units set in Organowood cladding, angled towards the sun to maximise solar gains. This articulated cladding is “pre-fossilised”, resisting rot and UV degradation for 30 years untreated; just one of many examples of extreme durability. The copper guttering and downpipes are expected to last over 120 years! 


Pushing boundaries and driving technological change is at the heart of this project. Another world first hidden in the roof is Siga Majrex intelligent building membrane. Adopting biomimicry, it uses cactus inspired technology to keep the building fabric dry and airtight. A DHW solution halves typical consumption through a legionella control that enables water to be stored at just 43°C, whilst another world first ‘tank with thermocline control’, halves energy consumption again! The tiny amount of energy required is easily covered by the 11kW PV system.


These exemplar homes are designed to remain comfortable and warm year round without a central heating system, whilst maintaining superb air quality. The team have also exceeded the Passivhaus Institute’s requirements by specifying a petrochemical free building fabric, focusing on natural, breathable materials that avoid harmful off-gassing. 


The properties revolutionise occupants’ lifestyles, with wonderfully comfortable and healthy environments wrapped up in Victorian charm. With Zero energy bills and minimal maintenance costs, they can expect to save £50,000 over the first 10 years of ownership (applies BRE’s standard figures for average annualised maintenance costs). 


The Zetland Passive House project was always intended as a valuable case study that would not only inspire others to follow suit but share vital information on how it can be achieved. Pushing to the world's highest standard has led to the creation of hundreds of techniques, details and products that Ecospheric freely share with the construction community. 


With national media coverage, the homes have become a talking point, initiating discussion amongst building industry professionals. With over 200 architects, policy makers, developers and RSL’s touring the properties thus far and a further 12 months of open days planned, this project is achieving its goal of influencing and spreading sustainable building practices.

The transformation: 
from rental house to Passivhaus

Explore the gallery below to learn about the transformation of the Zetland Passive House.

Victorian period homes
The Zetland Passive House was originally built in 1894. This photo from 1905 shows a house on the street with stained glass windows and an interior which housed high ceilings decorated with plaster coving and cornicing. It would have been a very comfortable home for a family in the Victorian era.
Shared rental housing
By 2016, when the property was purchased by Ecospheric, the homes had been used as shared rental housing for decades. Years of renovations meant the original stained glass and Victorian decorative features had been removed.
Victorian reimagined
These Victorian houses are just one of the 8 million pre-1930's homes in the UK which will need retrofitting to meet zero carbon targets. Ecospheric's vision was to show how far we could push the boundaries of sustainable retrofit, while also preserving the homes' architectural heritage.
Reusing existing materials
As much as possible, existing materials were preserved and reused. Roof timbers, floor joists, floorboards, the staircase and over 200 tons of bricks were saved from landfill.
Structural thermal breaks
Thermal bridging is a source of heat loss when heat transfers from one material to another. We installed thermal breaks on the end of this steel beam to prevent heat loss from the timber A frame which would be attached to it.
Recycled insulation
Going Passivhaus can mean a lot of insulation. These homes required 2 arctic lorry loads - about 100 pallets - of insulation! We used blown cellulose insulation made from recycled newsprint as well as wood fibre insulation.
Preserving and insulating
The original floor joists have been preserved with wood fibre and cellulose insulation put below and between joists.
Floor membrane
The floor joists were covered with an airtight, breathable membrane.
Retrofit challenges
In order to preserve the front bay walls, they had to be painstakingly dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt in order to accommodate the large amount of cavity wall insulation
Blown insulation
Blown cellulose insulation is a great option for retrofits as it can fill the awkward spaces in older buildings and is relatively economical.
Using chimney voids
Chimney voids were used to house ventilation ducting and electrical wiring to maximise space.
MVHR ductwork
Airtightness tape is used to seal up the opening around the ventilation ducting to ensure an airtight seal which prevents heat loss.
Intelligent roof membrane
Hidden in the roof and wall build up, the Siga Majrex intelligent building membrane provides an airtight barrier whilst adopting biomimicry; using cactus inspired technology to keep the building fabric dry.
106 details
Every roof, wall, and floor build up required careful design and consideration resulting in 106 separate detailed drawings
A trailblazing hot water tank
The Zetland Passive House is one of the first installations of the Mixergy hot water tank. A novel technology that is powered by solar technology and heats only the amount of water needed. This smart tank is also app enabled so the amount of water it heats can be controlled from a phone.
Ventilation and heat recovery
The Paul Novus 300 MVHR (mechanical ventilation and heat recovery) system is able to maintain an even temperature throughout the home by capturing heat and redistributing it. The 2kw post heater which sits atop the MVHR is able to heat the air flowing through on particularly cold days.
Fresh air... always
The filtration system in the MVHR means that dust and pollen are filtered out, so air within the house stays clean and fresh.
Solar PV
Aiming for EnerPHit Plus certification means these homes also produce energy. That energy comes from solar PV panels on the roof which power the home's appliances as well as the Mixergy hot water tank and the MVHR system.
Natural lime plaster
Lime plaster was used to finish internal and external walls. It has a number of benefits including moisture buffering, crack resistance, breathability, and the absorption of carbon dioxide during the curing process
Decorative plaster
Traditional handmade plaster cornicing and ceiling roses produced in Yorkshire by The Coving Warehouse restore the Victorian charm to these homes
Old floorboards, new look
Floorboards were pulled up, cut up and relaid in a chevron pattern. The floors were sanded and finished with a natural wax.
Copper rainwater goods
Ultra durable copper guttering and downpipes are expected to last 120 years, keeping maintenance to a minimum
The finished product
These two homes have achieved a 95% reduction in space heating demand and an air pressure test result of 0.86 air changes per hour. On top of that, there are zero energy bills.
Classic Victorian Style
From the street the building looks classically Victorian with its decorative path, finials, stone steps and ornate porch
Graphene infused paint
The interior walls have been finished with a lime paint formulated with graphene technology. Graphene is a nobel prize winning super material which is 200 times stronger than steel and extremely flexible, making this paint incredibly crack resistant.
World's first Passivhaus stained glass
For this project, we needed to develop triple glazed stained glass windows and doors that met the Passivhaus standard. We think this is the first example of exterior stained glass used in a Passivhaus.
Spacious living room
Space has been maximised by removing the chimney breast and moving the bay walls out to accomodate insulation
Low energy antique lighting
For this project, we partnered with lighting designers Agapanthus Interiors in Stockport. This family business lovingly refurbishes beautiful antique chandeliers and light fixtures which are rewired for LED bulbs.
Grey water recycling
The space-saving toilet recycles grey water by storing dirty hand wash water in the basin and using it to flush the toilet. Such a simple way to save on water!
Locally sourced materials
All the kitchen cabinetry has been handmade using locally sourced hardwood by John George Fine Cabinetry.

The timber is waste-wood harvested from local parks and green spaces where trees needed to be removed.

The worktops are made with Welsh slate and all appliances are triple A rated for energy efficiency.
V & A timber supports
The V and A timber supports are one of the most distinctive features of this house and something we get asked about a lot.
We wanted to avoid using steel beams which have a very high embodied carbon with inherent thermal bridging issues.
Timber is a renewable material with better thermal performance.
And, triangles provide a much stronger support, so that’s why they’re there.
Plus, we think they look really cool.
Direct air feed wood stove
The lounge features a DiBT accredited wood stove. This stove draws air from outside the building envelope which means it won't create draughts. This sofa and armchair are by Ecosofa. They are handmade using natural materials and organic fabrics with no fire retardant chemicals.
Tiny house principles
There are no extensions on this house.
Building extensions means using more materials and always results in more envelope by which to lose energy,
so we’ve adopted tiny house principles to maximise space and utilise it to the greatest effect.
We lowered the floor to create double height space and offer Al-fresco access to the garden, without need for an extension.
Pre-fossilised wooden cladding
The back of the house has a completely different style from the front. We worked with Guy Taylor Associates to design the modern rear elevation. Exterior wall insulation has been clad with pre-fossilised timber which is designed to last up to 50 years without maintenance.
Maximising solar gain
Windows on the back of the property are angled southward to maximise solar gain. The size of windows are smaller on the top floor to avoid overheating.
Master bedroom Woodleigh
The master bedroom in Woodleigh features a handmade bed by John George Fine Cabinetry. The headboard is made with French walnut and inlaid brass. John George also designed the William Morris armchair. The antique chandelier is by Agapanthus Interiors.
Stained glass bay windows
Ecospheric developed these Passivhaus standard stained glass windows to complement the style of neighbouring homes on the street.
Master bedroom Ingleside
The master bedroom in Ingleside features the Ecobed by Longbeds.com. This is organic, vegan upholstered bed was designed with sustainability in mind using FSC certified timber, and organic flax, linen, and coconut fibre produced in a carbon neutral factory.
Sustainable interiors
We have partnered with a number of environmentally sustainable companies and artisans to furnish the home. A full list can be viewed on our suppliers page.
First floor bedroom
This contemporary styled bedroom overlooks the back garden and features recessed LED lighting.
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© 2021 by Ecospheric Ltd.


Ecospheric Ltd

Lymm Hall


WA13 0AJ