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Our Perfect House

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August 13, 2013


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Christina and Stephen Nickel wanted to buy only a small holiday home in Mallorca. They ended up having a high-tech so-called “Passivhaus” shipped over from Germany. Andreas John crosses the threshold.

The path turns left on a narrow crushed stone driveway, bordered on both sides by typical Mallorcan stone walls. We think “deepest countryside” when driving past a desolate farmstead, forgotten somewhere in the rural Mallorcan area between Muro and Llubí. A few hundred metres on we are taken by surprise: On a wide and completely open plot of land –probably once a potato field – stands a modern house, surrounded by gravel paths and ornamental plants which, in this rustic landscape, appear just as strange as a spaceship from the Andromeda Nebula.

At the front door, which can be reached via a large inner courtyard, with an entrance flanked by an idyllic frog pond, Christina and Stephen Nickel – the owners of this both minimalistic and stylishly elegant designer house – await us. A huge H forms the outline. Approximately 400 square metres of total floor space have been divided into four parallel arms, interconnected by a broad, light-flooded corridor. Daylight flows into the entire building via large floor-to-ceiling-windows and pours discretely over the noble wood parquet.

Nevertheless, there is something wrong. Despite the stifling morning heat, which struck us when stepping out on the parking lot, the room temperature is pleasantly refreshing, and there’s no evidence of any air-conditioning throughout the house. As you breathe, you feel no dust or odour particles in the air either. “Controlled housing ventilation,” is Stephen Nickel’s response to my quizzical look. An elaborate pump system regulates the exchange of air throughout the house and provides a constant room temperature 24 hours a day. The surprise effect multiplies when the couple relates that this high-tech structure is a prefabricated building, the components of which were shipped from Germany to the island and erected in only four days – yes, you read that correctly.

Ten years ago the Nickels did not imagine living in a prefabricated passive house on Mallorca someday. “At that time we came to the island to get married,” says Christine Nickel. Here, they also fell in love with Mallorca. During subsequent holidays they began to look for a holiday home. “However, we did not like any of the houses we had seen.”

Thus, the couple eventually came up with the idea of having a home built in line with their needs – which was more easily said than done. “For a long time we were looking for a suitable plot. In the end we chose this romantic piece of land in the interior of the island,” says Stephen. But only then the adventure kicked off. For months the two were trying to convince local architects and building contractors of their plans. “It often took months until we received an answer at all,” he recalls. They also doubted the constantly changing amount of the estimated construction costs. “Some were exorbitant,” he says. After two years of emotional roller coaster-riding, the Germans were fed up with their Mallorca plans. “We were even about to sell the plot.”

However, they began to look on the Internet for providers of prefabricated buildings. And found what they were looking for . . . in Germany. “A pre-manufactured and ready-to-use construction plan exactly matched our ideas,” says Stephen. What about the price? “In some cases, even including transport costs of the prefabricated elements from Germany, prices were considerably lower than those we had been offered on the island for a conventional construction”.

In October 2009 three huge container trucks with cranes arrived on the island. Only a few days later, besides the foundations, all wall parts with windows and the entire roof structure were mounted on the former potato field. As mentioned before, the Nickels’ home on Mallorca is a genuine passive house, meaning: specially insulated walls, and windows and roof achieving an above-average recuperation of the radiation warmth of the inhabitants as well as all household appliances. A sophisticated ventilation system decreases energy loss and regulates room temperature and entry of fresh air. “The separately installed underfloor heating – which, by the way, also cools the rooms in summer – runs fewer than four to five days a year,” Stephen explains.

Installing this intelligent and fully automated heat-air exchange system as well as the remaining interior fittings took approximately one year. “Towards the end, we often had to lend a hand ourselves, because there are few trained technicians and craftsmen on Mallorca to perform this work,” says Christina. Meanwhile the couple has moved their main domicile to the island and is forging new plans. “Even if it does hurt deeply, we want to sell this unique house,” Stephen says. “It is somewhat too big for the two of us.” But they will not turn their backs on Mallorca; on the contrary, the two have already had a close look at another plot on the island in order to build a new, smaller passive house there. “Now that we have had quite some experience of it,” Christina says . . . sounding quite convincing.

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