A lull in activity during the Covid pandemic gave timber and panel distributors James Latham and innovative Passivhaus housing specialist Kiss House the space to rethink and reinvent – and ultimately unite to prove sustainability works.
Historic experience and Passivhaus building came together as Kiss House approved Latham’s new carbon calculator, which enables buyers and specifiers to understand the carbon footprint and sustainability of every timber product sold by Latham’s, including top ranking WISA plywoods.
The calculator, developed with experts from Bangor University’s Biocomposites Centre in Wales, ranks products under two categories. First the carbon footprint measured for the finished product, its transport to a Latham’s depot and warehousing until it leaves their site, the second assessing the product’s credibility based on Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which provide published data such as certification of sustainable sourcing.
Keep it simple
“There’s a lot going on…” is the understatement from Kiss House founder Mike Jacob. There are patents pending, the first two Passivhaus homes in Reading being built this year, demo house is under construction, trials of enhanced fibre insulation, in-house Passivhaus-standard window manufacture starting this spring and a timber residential low rise construction kit in the pipeline. But there’s also the ‘holy grail’ of sustainable housebuilding…
Mike Jacob, a philosophy graduate who got into construction by accident and came up with the Kiss ‘keep it simple’ House concept round his kitchen table always believed in doing things differently.
“The Kiss House product is a pre-designed, customisable, Passivhaus standard home that’s manufactured off site. This is the alternative to employing an architect because it’s already been engineered, so we take the risk, not the customer,” Jacob explains.
“The most striking example of our thinking is the ground floor system. Everybody said ‘You can’t do it’. I found an engineer to test our idea and six months later he said ‘You found the holy grail!’.”
Plywood through and through
Kiss House uses WISA-Birch Premium and WISA-Spruce in ways even Mike Jacob never believed possible when he took a master’s degree in architecture and became a chartered construction manager, just as interest in low energy construction was gaining ground in the early 2000s. “My enquiring mind wanted to turn everything on its head,” he explains. “I worked on bespoke houses, using different materials and techniques, always starting from scratch. How could we do things better?
“Then we got breathing space. Now our entire building system is made from scratch using plywood, which we switched to during our intense research and development in lockdown, and other timber materials that we process into components. Wood is renewable, we can work it off site because of the weight and manufacture accurately. We use WISA plywood for walls, precision engineered structural columns and wall linings instead of plasterboard. We use less material more efficiently and it’s easy to transport and everything can be recycled or repurposed. Now UPM have incorporated BioBond glue for binding plywood, that’s another reason we look to them for innovations.”
“UPM are market leaders and WISA is a known brand and quality from the right sources. Latham’s solidified that relationship when Stuart Devoil asked us to be ambassadors for the carbon calculator.”
Speaking for James Latham, Stuart Devoil added: “We have 265 years’ experience in timber supply and innovation. The calculator came from a ‘Wouldn’t it be good if…’ idea and downtime during the covid lockdowns. We wanted to help customers decide why to buy particular products. But I was interested in getting the message to people way before than before they made their specification and buying choice. If you’re an architect and part of the spec is carbon reduction this is a resource on the carbon value of your building.”
“We spoke to Kiss House to validate that idea and the synergy was great. Now they are using WISA-Birch Premium in their new head office and demo space in Reading. They have confirmed our concept is proven with UPM products performing so well they have an exciting expert designer and developer incorporating them into revolutionary Kiss House homes.”
Photo: Kiss House