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The energy-saving sports centre

St Sidwell’s Point opened its eco-friendly doors in April 2022... and what a building this is! The stylish facilities include three swimming pools, a 150-station gym, two fitness suites, a spin studio, spa, cafe and creche.

Just as importantly, it contains lots of hidden features to keep the costs low.

It's the first leisure centre to be built to the ultra-energy saving Passivhaus standard. This gives carbon savings of up to 70%, with much lower energy bills than you'd expect with a conventional building.

It's also been modelled to withstand predicted change in climate up to 2080.

The materials have been carefully chosen to create a pleasant environment for exercise and relaxing, with good air quality, pleasant air temperatures and lots of natural lighting.

The Passivhaus design and efficient ventilation system means the hall will always be nice and warm without any nasty cold draughts.

St Sidwell's Point website

Eco-credentials: Built to Passivhaus standards

Committee operator: Exeter City Council

Value: c. £35 million

The vision for an innovative, low-carbon leisure centre

Exeter City Council commissioned a sports facility with a spectacular swimming pool as its jewel in the crown.

To keep the energy bills down, they incorporated features including:

  • Super insulation.
  • Triple glazing.
  • A water treatment system that doesn't use much chlorine.
  • Eco-friendly ventilation. 

The pool halls are south-facing to let the sunlight in and keep heating costs at a minimum. The fitness gym and studios are north-facing, to reduce the need for cooling.

The technology

The Council wanted to use the Passivhaus methodology, which is the gold-standard for sustainable buildings.

It was considered groundbreaking to apply the techniques to a leisure centre. 

How they realised the dream

Design team approach

The Council commissioned a team with specialist knowledge of sustainable design. They liaised with the Passivhaus Institute and the University of Exeter.

Technical collaboration

The team used modelling programmes to predict the performance of alternative building configurations and orientations. The studies showed that an unconventional orientation would work best under future climate scenarios.

The dry areas of the building (such as the gymnasium, cafe, and creche) could overheat and, therefore, would be better on the north side of the building.

The wet areas (such as the pool changing area) would need heating almost all-year-round.

They also considered how to reduce heat losses between the different areas. 

Key sustainability features

The building was designed to be sustainable.

Here are some key features:

Reduced energy demand through the orientation and planning of the building
Thermal zones to minimise heat transfer
Extensive south-facing windows to maximise daylight and solar gain
Vertical core natural ventilation
Increased thermal boundary
Increased relative humidity for reduced evaporation and reduced air change rate
Micro-filtration of pool water
UV water disinfectant with minimum chlorine dosing
Carbon dioxide sensors and variable volume ventilation systems for optimum air quality
Night purging (cooling) using mechanical ventilation
Pool sampling water harvested for flushing toilets

Sustainability stats

Energy performance targets

(Passivhaus values in kWh/m²/year)

Space heating demand (pool hall) 40

Space heating demand (all other areas) 20

Cooling demand (fitness gym) 22

Pool water heating demand 73

Domestic hot water demand 0.7

Total electricity demand 120

(all ventilation, lighting, applications, pool water treatment and circulation)

Thermal envelope U-values

(Passivhaus values in W/m²K)

External walls 0.131

Floor slab 0.130

Roof 0.090

Glazing <1.050

The team

Client Exeter City Council

Lead Architect SPACE & PLACE

Building envelope Architect and Passivhaus designer Gale & Snowden

Project and cost management Randall Simmonds

Engineer Arup

Climate modelling Exeter University

Leisure consultant Continuum

Main Contractor Kier

Certifier Passivhaus Institute