A Westside story

20 Nov , 2020  

Delivered to Passive House standard by Westside Civil Engineering on behalf of Dublin City Council, St Bricin’s Park Block 2, Arbour Hill, Dublin 7 was shortlisted for the Retrofitting / Renovation Project of the Year Award at the 2019 Irish Building & Design Awards. We caught up with Westside director Greg Toolis and project manager Danny Grehan to find out more.

Completed during the twelve-month period up to March, 2019, the retrofit works to St Bricin’s Park Senior Citizen’s Development, Block 2 are the culmination of works that have formed part of an ongoing citywide retrofit programme for Dublin City Council. The works were carried out to exacting standards by Westside Civil Engineering Ltd., who have been the main contractor in several of those retrofits.

This retrofit, which advocates a practical and functional model for modernising existing buildings for elderly residents, has EnerPHit (the first of its kind for Dublin City Council) Passive House Standard Certification for a retrofitted building, which is proof of having achieved a rigorous, thorough and demanding energy efficiency standard. Passive House is a standard of energy-efficient construction that ensures homes are exceptionally comfortable, healthy and affordable to occupy.

The thermal performance of the existing building was improved by 80%, so it was no major surprise to see the project shortlisted in the prestigious Retrofitting / Renovation Project of the Year category at the 2019 Irish Building & Design Awards.

With previous completed retrofits already achieving the NZEB (Nearly Zero Energy Building) retrofit standard, a further improvement on the quality of upgrade was embarked on in this project to achieve minimal energy costs for heating, ventilation and hot water production and to improve comfort for the residents, using renewable energy by means of an air to water heat pump.

The newly upgraded apartments are now high quality homes that meet current space standards, have improved thermal performance and are fully compliant with current Building Regulations. This holistic approach takes into account energy efficiency, sustainable use of housing stock, the residents’ place within their communities and quality of interior design to deliver enjoyable, efficient homes.

Setting the gold standard for any subsequent renovations of apartment blocks to be undertaken by Dublin City Council, St Bricin’s Park Block 2 is an apartment block initially built in the mid-1960s, which consisted of 22 bedsits on a two-storey, brick clad and rendered concrete finish, with concrete tile pitched roof and an external cast-in-situ concrete access deck at first-floor level. It is the middle block of a set of three blocks and was the last of those to be amalgamated and retrofitted.

The scope of works carried out by Westside Civil Engineering comprised: the amalgamation of the bedsits into one-bed apartments; the provision of level access to the ground floor units (which included significant site works, as all the underground services were renewed and surface drainage had to meet SUDs requirements; courtyard lighting was renewed and a new CCTV system was provided); achieving EnerPhit standard, thus addressing fuel poverty with an energy-efficient building (a heat pump provides heating, ventilation and hot water in one integrated system); and also achieving current standards in relation to fire and sound.

The complex is located in a quiet cul-de-sac and is surrounded by two-storey family houses. The retrofit has enabled residents to remain in their neighbourhood but in more appropriate accommodation and makes for sustainable use of the local authority’s existing housing stock.

Most of the materials used had excellent green credentials, in particular the insulation (Isover, Rockwool, E-therm), the passive standard windows and doors (Munster Joinery) and the concrete blocks (QuinnLite). Block 2 achieved a BER average of A3 as well as EnerPHit Certification.

The work at St Bricin’s Park is the culmination of Dublin City Council’s city-wide Bedsit Amalgamation Programme. Many of these bedsits were built in the 1960s and ‘70s and were designed to house one person.

The programme involved combining two adjacent bedsits to create a one-bedroom apartment which can accommodate one or two people. This block has delivered eleven of these refurbished apartments, bringing the total to 35 apartments delivered across the three blocks of St Bricin’s.

While the recent retrofits had already achieve the NZEB standard, Dublin City Council undertook to go further with this pilot Passive House project to achieve a high-performance, low-energy building and greatly improve comfort for residents.

A key challenge in the retrofit was achieving a high standard of air-tightness, which took significant time and work. This paid off due to the skills and dedication of the construction team, who undertook a bespoke Passive House Tradesperson’s Course, along with members of Dublin City Council’s design and maintenance staff. A total of 20 people took this course.

Improved thermal comfort was achieved by externally insulating the walls, insulating the floor and roof, and installing high performance external windows and doors. This was coupled with attaining a high standard in air-tightness, eliminating and minimising thermal bridges and using mechanical ventilation with heat recovery systems in each apartment.

The environmentally-conscious project achieves the Passive House EnerPHit standard of a minimum 80% reduction in energy use and minimum 80% reduction of CO2 emissions. As well as providing energy efficient buildings, this approach also avoids further embodied carbon by prolonging the life of existing housing stock. 

The exacting standards required by EnerPhit were a key driver for Westside Civil Engineering to ensure every detail was considered. A combination of liquid applied membranes to existing concrete surfaces and masonry allied to membranes and tapes at ceiling and tapes to external windows and doors achieved the average n50 standard of 0.55 air changes per house and q50 of 0.38 m3/(hr/m2).

There were three inspection regimes (BC(A)R, Passive House and SEAI Deep Retrofit) that required compliance and regular inspections were carried out throughout the project to achieve all the required milestones and record compliance with the specifications and details. 

Westside’s vast experience, qualifications and continuous training were of critical importance in running a smooth project and achieving a high standard of finish. As well as having trained foremen / managers / labourers on-site throughout the project, WCE enforced high Health & Safety practises for their own staff, subcontractors and visitors. These included pre-inspection of paperwork including RA and MS, all safety documentation, certificates, induction training, toolbox talks, traffic management demonstrations and regular site meetings. Their internal safety officer conducted regular site checks.

Overall, the retrofit has been a resounding success (the fact that the response from residents has been overwhelmingly positive speaks for itself!). As this apartment block is representative of apartments from the late ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, built for senior citizens and located citywide, the project showcases successfully that – with high quality construction and finishes – it is possible to reconfigure and renovate modest 20th-century structures into contemporary homes that meet NZEB standards. This can potentially be applied to the remaining Dublin City Council apartment blocks of similar housing stock throughout the city of Dublin.

Needless to say, the client was extremely impressed by the exacting standards delivered by the main contractor: “It was a learning curve for us, to an extent,” notes Westside Civil Engineering director Greg Toolis. “We all took courses and trained constantly throughout the process – even our subcontractors – and we educated ourselves to the level where we’d be extremely confident taking on similar projects.

“Dublin City Council were very impressed and they got a lot of recognition and positive press from it. They have the project up on their website and they also put us forward for a few different awards, including both the ICE Awards and the Irish Building & Design Awards. It doesn’t do any harm to have your name mentioned in those circles. As the first Passive retrofit that they did, this was a flagship project for them and it worked out extremely well. We’ve already discussed further projects but of course it will depend on funding.

“There were a lot of general building works involved, which we’d be very comfortable with, but for the Passive work, we had to upgrade our people and systems. From our perspective, it was extremely worthwhile to do this as we are now in a position to offer this work to both local authorities and private clients going forward.”

Established in County Kildare by Greg Toolis Snr. in 1984, Westside Civil Engineering is an industry-leading general building contractor specialising in new builds, refurbs, retrofits and Passive retrofits. According to Greg Jnr., they have been focussed predominantly on residential work over the past decade, carrying out a lot of work in the capital for local authorities including Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, Fingal County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. At the height of the St Bricin’s Park Block 2 amalgamation / retrofit, Westside had up to 50 people on site, including 15 direct employees

Regarding the strengths of Westside Civil Engineering and the qualities that they bring to the table when working on any job, Project Manager Danny Grehan concludes:

“First and foremost, all works have to be completed to the highest standards. We try to bring leadership on the ground to make it easier for the client not to be overly involved. At the same time, you communicate and collaborate with all the stakeholders until you bring the project to completion, on time and to programme. You have to go above and beyond to satisfy your client. Often this will involve training and upskilling your people.

“You need good men, too, and good communication between management and your staff on site to ensure that the highest standards are always maintained across the board.”

Westside Civil Engineering Ltd.,

Unit 62,

Western Parkway Business Park,


Dublin 12,

D12 V271.

Tel: 01 4604619

Mobile: 087 9094566    

Email: [email protected]

This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, April 2020, Vol 6 No 2