Poster Presentation

Poster Presentation, PH Tagung, May 2011, Innsbruck

Poster Presentation at Passivhaus Tagung, Innsbruck, May 2011


A Passive House in Montenegro


We are a retired British couple who have chosen to build a family home in Montenegro. James’ previous work in an EU Mission in the Former Yugoslavia was a key factor in our decision to stay in the region. We found a plot in the ancient town of Risan in the Bay of Kotor in May 2007. We chose to build a Passivhaus because we both believe in energy conservation and in being as sustainable as possible. Anke’s brother was the spark in this as he has been teaching such concepts for over 20 years.

Google Earth, Adriatic Boka Kotorska

Risan from the sea

Project Aspects

As well as our former normal day-to-day businesses, both of us have spent time in the UK on unpaid work pro bonum publicum. Therefore naturally we see an important part of our Passive House project as helping in the transfer of knowledge to our chosen country of residence. Our concept is for our house to be a practical example from design through finished construction to use. We have discussed our ideas with a variety of development agencies, inter alia ADA, GIZ, UNDP, EBRD and the World Bank. So far no concrete project has resulted, mainly because everything is conceptual until we are granted planning permission. Non-Montenegrin suppliers of materials and equipment would be encouraged to set up links with Montenegrin companies.

The specifications for the house provide a practical example in the Government’s moves to promote greater energy efficiency. The house will help to promote construction techniques for low-energy buildings among professionals in the construction industry, including local government officials and the appropriate faculties of universities and other higher educational establishments. As part of this, Prof. Dr. Dušan Vuksanović of the Architectural Faculty at the University of Montenegro, an expert on energy efficiency, is helping us satisfy the Montenegrin regulations (some of which he has written). Finally, as an integral part of the build, full traceability will allow us also to promote environmental management and quality control techniques to those working with us.

Design Factors

Our first design was done by a young local architect for a 3-storey house, in sympathy with the traditional architecture in the Kotor Bay area. We later met an Austrian architect from Graz, then working on a GIZ energy efficiency project, who summed up that design as ‘it will never be a Passive House’. Elisabeth Nöst-Kahlen has since provided us with a more effective 3-storey design and the excellent idea of devoting the bottom floor to space for exhibitions and seminars. We will live on the two upper floors, which includes space for family and friends when they visit. Prof Vuksanović is our consulting architect in Montenegro.

Unlike Passive Houses in Central Europe, a major factor for us is summer cooling, as outside temperatures reach into the mid 40s. while winter temperatures rarely go below zero. Living near the coast – the sea is about 800m away – moisture is another factor. Most houses along the coast suffer from damp because of inadequate ventilation, which is not a problem for a Passive House with its essential ventilation system.

Other features include rain water harvesting and grey water recycling. We also have to have a septic tank for black water, as there is no sewage system in Risan. Risan has an annual rainfall of about 3 metres. As an indicator of rainfall, where we live at present we have put up a 100litre tank to collect rain water. Recently it filled up from empty in 4 hours. We are 10km from the wettest place in Europe, Crkvice, where precipitation is about 5 metres annually, though that is about 1000m above sea level.

We are in an earthquake zone. The last serious one affecting the coast here was in 1979 measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale & IX on the Mercalli scale, killing 101 people and seriously damaging many houses.

House from south-west Plan of bottom floor, office/ exhibition area

Plan of middle floor; Plan of top floor

‘Le Beton’ front, and side

The plot from the south

Planning Factors

Risan is in Kotor municipality. Our plot has a concrete structure (we call it ‘Le Beton’) built illegally about 20 to 25 years ago. As this does not appear on the official Detailed Urban Plan (DUP), we have to wait for a revised DUP to be approved, on which the concrete does appear. In May 2007 when we bought our plot, we were told that the DUP for Risan was being revised and should be ready in about a year. Until the new DUP is approved by the municipality, we cannot submit our own plans for the house, so must wait. Waiting is a Balkan pastime! The Mayor assured us in early April 2011 that it would be through by the end of that month. In May 2011, we have still to learn of a precise date when it will be approved by the Municipal Council. We have heard recently that it has still to receive the final approval of the Ministry in Podgorica, the hold-up being in the Department for Cultural Heritage, as apparently there is a major development planned on a site of archaeological interest. From that same meeting with the Mayor, we do at last know the ratios of footprint (20%) and living space (80%) to our gross plot area so we can now get on with detailed design.

Building taxes are levied on gross not nett areas. Normal building here is a reinforced concrete frame with brick infill, maximum 20-25cm thick. We have still to finalise the wall construction, but clearly it will be twice that thickness to achieve the necessary insulation values. This reduces available floor space, something which is not taken account of in the planning regulations.

Materials and Products

A major concern is the availability of materials and products for the house. We have been encouraged to see an increase in the availability of higher insulation materials, for example autoclaved aerated concrete blocks and high lambda value bricks. We have still to check out doors and windows, although the triple glazing which is needed in Germany and Austria is not necessary on the Adriatic coast.

Another challenge is disposal of the materials from ‘Le Beton’. The normal method here is to take them up the nearest mountain and tip them into the valley from the roadside. Clearly that offends us but we still have to find a proper way of dealing with the waste.

The ventilation system is a key component of the house. We are discussing solutions with a range of suppliers, some represented here at the PH Tagung, some based in Montenegro.

A challenge is to find workmen who can build to the quality required. Close supervision will be essential, especially as most workmen cannot understand or read drawings.


Eco-House Risan Project

James Collins & Anke Harris-Collins O.B.E.,

PO Box 10,

85337 Risan,