A private house located in North London has become 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.
Located in the London Borough of Camden, the house was designed for, and lived in by, Max Fordham; the British designer, engineer and pioneer of sustainable design who founded the 250-strong building services engineering firm of the same name, and sadly passed away earlier in 2022.
Max Fordham House achieved net zero carbon for both operational and construction carbon, making it also the first building of any type to achieve this feat. Operational verification is based on assessing a year’s actual in-use energy data, while construction verification is based on assessing the emissions associated with the buildings’ materials.
The achievement was made in line with the UKGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Framework, which is the method most widely recognised by the built environment industry. Max Fordham LLP was also the first business to have all of their offices verified as net zero carbon for operational energy, in line with the UKGBC’s framework.
The RIBA award-winning house was designed by Max Fordham LLP in collaboration with bere:architects and Price & Myers, and built by Bow Tie Construction. Max Fordham himself was also an integral member of the design team.
How Max’s house became net zero carbon:
Max Fordham House is a prime example of how net zero homes can become a key part of the UK’s housing solution. It is a certified Passivhaus, widely considered to be one of the world's most rigorous low-energy design standards, and incorporates exemplary standards of insulation and draught proofing.
Optimised to use as little energy in operation as possible, the home’s energy efficiency measures include triple-glazed windows that are carefully designed and positioned so that electric lighting is not needed during the day. These windows are a net gain in terms of solar heating, as the innovative internal insulating shutters close when heat would be lost at night. The house requires so little heating that on completion in 2019, Max held a literal “housewarming” to raise the home’s internal temperature and avoid the need for heating for many months.
The all-electric home features a roof mounted PV array that meets around 25% of the home’s energy demand, with the remaining electricity supplied by a 100% renewable energy tariff, meaning no offsetting is required for the home to achieve net zero carbon in operation.
Importantly, the home is attractive, light and spacious. Its brick exterior blends in seamlessly with the neighbouring buildings and it was carefully, and deliberately, designed to provide Max with a comfortable home for his final years.
It is practically impossible to construct anything–a building or otherwise–without creating some carbon emissions. Max Fordham House was predominantly a new building with some elements of existing structures re-used. To minimise carbon emissions during construction, concrete with low carbon cement replacement was used alongside many natural materials, such as timber for the roof structure, window frames, and façade; internal insulation made of woodfibre; and flooring made from cork.
To achieve net zero carbon for the emissions created during construction, an investment in offsetting schemes was made at the voluntary cost of £70/tonne. This is far higher than the market rate but is recommended by UKGBC and the treasury to accelerate funding and incentivise reducing emissions first.
Finn Fordham, one of Max’s sons, said: "My Dad loved living in this amazing house. It's incredible how it needs almost zero heating. And it's lovely to imagine how he would chuckle and beam at the news of another accolade, now awarded beyond the end of a lifetime. That lifetime was one devoted to beautiful design and engineering. Part of its legacy should be that the principle behind the house is emulated around the world."
Ali Shaw, partner and principal engineer at Max Fordham LLP, said: “It was my privilege to provide a pair of hands to help realise Max’s vision and to give him a comfortable, tailored home for his final years. The house being Passivhaus certified and now becoming the first to achieve Net Zero Carbon status is a great way to honour Max and his huge contribution to the delivery of sustainable buildings.
“Max’s house is a built example of his legacy: it shows how a beautiful home can also meet the highest sustainability standards. As a practice, Max Fordham have been pioneers in sustainable, low energy and low carbon building design for over 50 years. Our partnership wants to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency the world is facing, so we are committed to sharing what we learn with the rest of the industry to help us get there as quickly as possible.”
Paul Batty, consultant and former partner at Price & Myers structural engineers, said: “I felt honoured when Max phoned up and asked us to work on the project. Working on Max’s house was a great privilege for our practice, and an absolute delight personally. Sam Price was one of Max’s oldest friends and we are justifiably proud to have helped produce the UK’s first verified net zero carbon residence. It’s a fitting reminder of Max’s innovative approach to environmental engineering and sustainability.”
Yetunde Abdul, head of climate action at UKGBC, said: “Max Fordham was one of the first organisations to verify their own office buildings as net zero carbon using UKGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Framework in 2020, and it’s fantastic to see this leadership extended to include Max Fordham’s very own house. Achieving net zero carbon in both construction and in operational energy using UKGBC's framework is not just an industry first for a residential property but for any built asset, making this a truly pioneering project.”