An estimated 35 Scottish schools - either recently completed or under construction - are aiming to meet the international Passivhaus standard for energy efficiency, which can cut a building’s heating energy use by up to 80 percent. Designing this way also delivers exceptional levels of interior comfort, wellbeing and durability.

As the country aims for net zero, a proposed ‘Scottish Passivhaus equivalent’ policy for new build housing will be consulted on this summer – and there’s a lot to be learned from the education sector.

This quiet revolution in the way schools are built largely came about when The Scottish Futures Trust set clear funding criteria to ensure new schools are energy efficient, not just on completion but throughout their lifespan.

Almost overnight, designing to Passivhaus standards became the go-to way for councils to secure funding, because it delivers what it says on the tin – it ensures a school’s actual energy use is extremely close to the amount predicted by models. As architects of four Scottish Passivhaus schools – one complete, the other three in progress - we are certainly witnessing a rapid transformation of the Scottish school building sector.

Our first Passivhaus project was a small extension to an existing Edinburgh primary school that opened last year. It was constructed using structural timber which we felt would make airtightness detailing easier on the project. As it can be replenished and recycled, it’s also good for embodied carbon, and creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. Working with Tier 1 contractors and Passivhaus consultants on the project team, we had to develop good design solutions to attain the quality assurance required to achieve the Passivhaus standard alongside fire and other building regulations.

With this experience under our belts, we’re now working on three much larger Passivhaus schools. One is a four-storey extension to the Victorian Trinity Academy in Edinburgh; the others in Dundee and West Dunbartonshire are new-build community campuses.

The swift adoption of Passivhaus in education bodes well for the proposed equivalent policy in housing. Our experience indicates that the Scottish construction industry is up for the Passivhaus challenge and can easily adopt the technical and quality assurance requirements. It also demonstrates that the Scottish Government’s efforts to introduce Passivhaus quality and energy efficiency for new homes in Scotland is achievable. And why stop at housing? We’re currently working on a Passivhaus leisure centre, so this way of building could potentially spread right across the industry.

Ultimately, what it takes to make Passivhaus a reality is commitment and collaboration. Having clients who understand that it delivers longer-term affordability and a wide range of benefits is the first step to success. Co-operation and buy-in is needed across the board, including from subcontractors and stakeholders. The trail-blazing Scottish schools already adopting the Passivhaus approach have shown that with the right mindset, it can be child’s play.

Ryan Holmes is Director at Holmes Miller