Between craft and regulations: experiences with the construction of two “super insulated” buildings in Norway

  • Ruth Woods SINTEF Building and Infrastructure
  • Marius Støylen Korsnes NTNU
Keywords: Craftsmanship, skill, houses, homes, Passive Houses, zero-emissions


Building regulations set standards that aim to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, and thereby to support the development of a more sustainable building stock. The Norwegian government uses building regulations to influence the construction industry, and they directly affect how craftspeople from the industry apply their skills. Regulations are converging with understandings about sustainability, energy use, building materials, and comfort requirements that are circulating in society. In this paper, we investigate the negotiations between the meaning and value associated with the requirements for the material structure and the craftsperson’s role. Two houses in Central Norway are the starting point, where qualitative methods, primarily semi-structured interviews and observation, are used to gain insight into the craftsperson’s view of the Norwegian building regulations. The two houses represent two different building standards. A Passive House in Åfjord Municipality, completed in 2014, and ZEB Living Lab in Trondheim, a zero emission building (ZEB), completed in 2015. In Norway, the building regulations are reviewed every five years. In 2011, craftspeople were constructing buildings to the low-energy standard. This led to an increased focus on “super insulating” building techniques during period 2013-16 when the case studies took place. Starting with a craftsperson’s (in this case most often a carpenter’s) view of current and future building standards, this paper asks what implications the increasing demands for energy efficient and environmentally friendly buildings have on the role of the craftsperson and their application of skill. The paper shows that the construction industry bases much of its activity on Norwegian construction traditions and skill; and that this guides the development of new generations of buildings. The use of established skills and knowledge is both a strength and a challenge when dealing with a new set of building regulations. Skill is a resource to build upon, but it is also influenced by a conservativism that has difficulties getting beyond the extra time and costs associated with new regulations. It can therefore function as a barrier to the use of construction crafts to establish more sustainable building forms within the Norwegian market.

Author Biographies

Ruth Woods, SINTEF Building and Infrastructure
Senior Researcher
Marius Støylen Korsnes, NTNU

Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture

Post doc


Andresen, I., Hegli., T. 2016 The Integrated Design Process. In Zero

Emission Buildings. (Eds) Hestnes, A.G., Eik-Nes, N.L. Fagbokfor-
laget. Bergen. ISBN: 978-82-450-2055-7

Andresen, I., 2017 Pilot Buildings: Lessons Learned. In ZEB Final
Report 2009-2017. ISBN 978-82-690808-1-0 http://www.zeb.

Berardi, U. 2013 Clarifying the new interpretations of the concept
of sustainable building. Sustainable Cities and Society. Volume
8, October 2013, Pages 72-78

Buchli, V. 2013 An Anthropology of Architecture. Bloomsbury. London.
European Norm (EN) 15643-1. 2010. Sustainability of construction
works – Sustainability assessment of buildings – Part 1: General

Direktoratet for byggkvalitet 2011 (Revised 2016) Byggteknisk
forskrift (TEK 10). HO-2/2011

Gell, A., 1998 Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon
Press. Oxford.

Georges, L., Alonso, M. J., Woods, R., Wen, K., Håheim, F., Liu, P.,
Thalfeldt, M., (2017) Evaluation of simplified space-heating
hydronic distribution systems for Norwegian passive houses.
Forthcoming. SINTEF Akademisk forlag.

Goia, F., Finocchiaro, L., Gustavsen, A. 2015 The Living Laboratory at
the Norwegian University of Science and Technology: A Zero

Emission House for Engineering and Social Science Experi-
ments. Passivhus Norden: Sustainable Cities and Buildings.

Copenhagen, 20-21 August 2015.

Gunn, W. 2006. Learning within the workplaces of artists, anthro-
pologists and architects: Making stories for drawings and writ-
ings. In Grasseni, C (ed), Skilled Vision: Between Apprenticeship and Standards. Berghahn Books: Oxford, pp. 106-125.
Gustavsen, A. 2017 Showing the Way. In ZEB Final Report 2009-
2017. ISBN 978-82-690808-1-0

Hargreaves, T., Wilson, C., & Hauxwell-Baldwin, R. 2017 Learning
to live in a smart home. Building Research & Information, 1-13.
Henare, A., Holbraad, M., Wastell, S. 2007 Introduction: thinking

through things. In Thinking Through Things: Theorising arte-
facts ethnographically. Routledge. London.

Ingold, T. 2009 The textility of making. Cambridge Journal of
Economics, Volume 34, Issue 1, 1 January 2010, Pages 91–102,

Korsnes, M. 2017 ‘Householders as co-producers: lessons learned
from Trondheim’s Living Lab’, ECEEE 2017 Summer Study on
energy efficiency conference proceedings, http://proceedings. (accessed 19 July 2017).

Korsnes, M., Berker, T. and Woods, R., 2017 “Domestication, ac-
ceptance and zero emission ambitions: Insights from a mixed method, experimental research design in a Norwegian Living Lab”, Energy Research and Social Science. Volume 39, May 2018,
Pages 226–233,

Miller, D., ed. 1983 Things ain’t what they used to be. Royal Anthro-
pology Institute. News. 59:5-16

Ministry of local government and regional development, 2012 Good
buildings for a better society

Parag, Y., Janda, K. B. 2014 More than a Filler: Middle Actors and

Socio-technical Change in the Energy System from the “Middle-
Out”. Energy Research and Social Science 3 (2014) 102-112.

Pink, S. 2009 Doing Sensory Ethnography. Sage publications Ltd.

Owens, A., Mitchell, G., Gouldson, A. 2014 Unseen Influence – The
Role of Low Carbon Retrofit Advisors in the Adoption and Use
of Domestic Energy Technology. Energy Policy 73 (2014) 169-179.
Reichertz, J., 2007. Abduction: The logic of discovery in Grounded
Theory. In A. Bryant & K. Charmaz, eds. The Sage Handbook of
Grounded Theory. Sage, pp. 214–228.

Risholt, B., Berker, T. 2013 Success for energy efficient renovation of
dwellings - Learning from private homeowners. Energy Policy.
vol. 61.

Risholt, B. 2016 The Building Envelope: It is not Only about Insulation.
In Zero Emission Buildings. (Eds) Hestnes, A.G., Eik-Nes, N.L.
Fagbokforlaget. Bergen. ISBN: 978-82-450-2055-7

Ryghaug, M., Sørensen, K.H., 2009 How energy efficiency fails in the buildingindustry. Energy Policy 37 (2009) 984–991.

Sennett, R. 2008 The Craftsman. Penguin Books. London.

Standard Norge (2010) NS 3700 Criteria for passive houses and low
energy houses and residential buildings.

Stender, M. 2017 Towards an Architectural Anthropology — What

Architects can Learn from Anthropology and vice versa, Archi-
tectural Theory Review, 21:1, 27-43,

Stortingsmelding om bygningspolitikk, 2012, Ministry of the Environ-
ment, Norway

van Teijlingen E., Hundley, V., 2001 The importance of pilot studies.

Sociology at Surrey University of Surrey. Social researchUP-
DATE. ISSUE 35. ISSN: 1360-7898.

Van Bueren, E., De Jong, J. 2007 Establishing sustainability: policy
successes and failures. Building Research and Information, 35:5,543-556,

Wade, F., Hitchings, R., Shipworth, M. (2016) Understanding the
Missing Middlemen of Domestic Heating: Installers as a
Community of Professional Practice in the United Kingdom.
Energy Research and Social Science 19 (2016) 39-47.

Woods, R., Kjølle H. K., Gullbrekken, L., 2013a Sustainable Low Cost
Housing for the Socially Disadvantaged: The Vassneset
Example. 7th Nordic Conference on Construction Economics
and Organisation 2013. Trondheim Akademika forlag ISBN

Woods, R., Kjølle, K. H., Gullbrekken, L., 2013b Rimelige boliger for
vanskeligstilte, fase 3. SINTEF Byggforsk. SINTEF akademisk
forlag ISSN 1894-2466.

EU Roadmap 2011,
Special Issue Peer Reviewed Articles