The house that Huf built
German building firm Huf Haus are bringing their cutting-edge, energy-efficient building service to Ireland this year, and they have a lot to teach us about green living. Con Power reports
Johnny Cash's 'Forty Shades of Green' understates the position here nowadays with environmental issues ruling the roost. But brace yourself for a new hue -- and a 'green (r)evolution' to boot.
Renowned German building firm Huf Haus will be launching its cutting-edge, energy-efficient building service in the Emerald Isle later this year and is aiming to teach Irish builders a thing or two about what being truly 'green' really means.
The firm made a huge impact here some years ago when the Channel 4 'Grand Designs' programme waxed lyrical about its construction techniques.
Viewers marvelled upon seeing a Huf house erected by retired British couple David and Rita Iredale in a jaw-dropping four days with the utmost Germanic clinical precision -- despite delays at the foundation stage caused by a local concrete firm, and later by a tardy crane driver.
The Iredales were "flabbergasted" by the end result, while British architectural guru Kevin McCloud was equally impressed.
"If Mercedes built houses, this is how they would do it," he declared in genuine awe at the German construction engineering produced during the course of his show.
The family-owned firm Huf Haus lays claim to being the European market leader in contemporary post-and-beam architecture. It has an annual turnover of €100m and promises to deliver a systems-building breakthrough in this country.
"The green (r)evolution home is our major contribution to environmental and climate protection," says Georg Huf, president of Huf Haus. "We look forward to launching our services in Ireland, which we know is very focused on the issues of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability."
Established in 1912, Huf Haus has developed its range of luxury timber frame houses with the express intent of bringing environmental sustainability to a new level. The company produces only about 150 houses each year, of which about 40pc are exported worldwide.
In the 70s, Huf Haus significantly redefined its post-and-beam constructions, using a reduced-design language, large areas of glass and open-plan floor layouts. The timeless glass and timber buildings, with clear modernist lines, are unmistakable features of all Huf houses, which are constantly enhanced in line with latest technical and design trends.
The firm is targeting six to eight Irish clients in its first year here. This might appear modest -- but attaining this goal will prove challenging in the current economic climate. German timber frame firm DaVinci found the Irish market a tough nut to crack and has closed its marketing operation here.
Huf houses cost around €2,000 to €2,500 per square metre -- roughly two or three times the level a quality system-built home usually costs in this country. But don't think pre-fab when you think Huf Haus -- think 'wow factor' contemporary design, hi-tech methodology and 'quick build' par excellence.
Still, it is possible to buy a quality timber-frame system-built product in this country at significantly lower prices.
Apart from the long-established Kingspan Century operation, German Passive Homes, in Greystones, Co Wicklow, represents the powerful Forshem Group and will provide stiff competition for the newcomer.
The Iredales were delighted with their Huf Haus purchase. However, the major fly in the ointment for them was the exchange rate factor. They failed to build this element into their calculations.
Irish buyers will have no such worries, though they will have to factor in extras such as regular window cleaning at as much as €500 a pop if the German 'glass house' option takes off here.
From pouring foundations and erecting the structure, it generally takes around three or four months before occupation. A trip to Huf HQ will also be required to hammer out personal specifications and fixture/fit-out details.
"Huf houses are definitely not cheap," says the very appropriately named Huf marketing chief Michael Baumann (his surname is German for builder).
"They cost quite a lot, but are not expensive at the end of the day.
"They are the Rolls Royce of homebuilding -- and what everyone aspires to."
Prospective buyers can view a range of Huf houses at a show village near Frankfurt -- all decked out in the latest contemporary interior designs, at build prices ranging from around €500,000 to €2.5m plus.
The most expensive Huf home yet -- at around €10m -- has been built for a private client in Switzerland.
Huf houses are 'third generation' in every sense. Founded by Johann Huf in 1912 as a carpentry business, the firm was expanded by his son Franz, completing such projects as the German and Arabian Pavilions at the World Expo in Brussels.
The company then broke further ground by shifting to the production of pre-manufactured wood panels and turn-key construction.
Currently headed by Georg and Thomas Huf, the firm has now embraced the new 'eco-era' with a vengeance. Its major innovation lies in the fact that all constructive timber parts have been provided with a high efficiency insulation layer, eliminating the usual thermal bridges.
"We have remained true to our architectural visions while managing to retain the classic design which our many customers appreciate so much," says Thomas Huf, chief architect and co-president of Huf Haus.
All glass panels are triple-glazed panels and with a rock bottom low u-factor. This is accompanied by the most advanced energy services, utilising heat pumps and self-regulating measurement/control technology.
Huf Haus can provide individual solutions for all types of regenerative energy systems, including controlled ventilation, solar-thermal and photovoltaic systems. The firm even supplies 90pc or more of all fixtures and fittings, down to door handles, light switches and integrated piping.
Huf houses meet stringent new energy savings regulations in Germany, stipulating a 60pc reduction in energy requirements for new homes by 2012. It remains to be seen, however, how the German specifications are received by the notoriously conservative Irish planning authority, and our national standards authority.
The preponderance of glass in the German design could, for instance, prove a stumbling block. The firm has, however, already overcome such obstacles and successfully completed a major nursing home in Co Sligo.
Maggie Moran is the Irish representative for Huf Haus, and she is currently helping two prospective customers to plan and design new homes in Wicklow and Sligo.
The Irish agent is currently negotiating the requisite certifications from the appropriate authorities. Huf Haus's partner architect in Ireland is Dublin-based Denis Byrne Architects. This award-winning practice recently won the international architecture competition for the new Bord Gais networks national distribution control building.
"The impending launch of Huf Haus in Ireland will provide a compelling opportunity for new homebuilders to choose an architecturally advanced building with built-in energy efficiency and environmental sustainability," Ms Moran commented.
House Cost: A round €2,000 to €2,500 per sqm (depending on size)
Contact: Tel 01-8749197; e-mail: Dublin@huf-haus.com