Join me at NESEA BE14 Passive Building Zone

March 4-6, 2014 at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center

“A friend and co-instructor sneaks up on me and whispers into my ear – everybody should have the opportunity to live in a passive house – then he gives me this giant smile and I know he is dying to tell me something he is so excited about.”

For those who remember, that’s how I started my first blog on the NESEA trade show passive house products in 2012. “I have a dream of my very own passive house…”, was the title.

A year later this trend took off. The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) and its membership organization the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) – the leading passive building research institute and alliance in the US – helped assemble a dedicated area for passive building vendors and organizations. In all, twelve highly impressive manufacturers of passive-appropriate components participated.

For 2014 NESEA took action and built on the success story and overwhelmingly positive responses of last year’s Passive Building place. The organizers blocked out an even greater area this year for this fast growing group of manufacturers.

So we are back! Bigger and better than ever! This time the Passive Building Place includes 21 exhibitors! I will again have the pleasure of guiding a tour on Wednesday, March 5th at 5.30 pm, visiting exhibitors with products and services indispensable to the passive building community. We will also visit some passive exhibitors who are located outside the zone. We’ll get a 3 minute elevator speech on each of the manufacturers’ products, a quick concise overview directly from those who know best. This year the professional film crew of Fine Homebuilding and Taunton Press will capture the tour to post on NESEA’s, the Passive House Alliance’s and Fine Home Building’s websites.

Passive building has traction—as the growth of certified projects above attests. And our roster of exhibitors at PHAUS’ Passive Place is also expanding. Thank you all for participating and putting your weight behind this exciting emerging construction market. Again, you are true leaders in this market transformation to achieve zero/positive energy buildings through passive design. Thanks again for joining:

475 High Performance Building Supply (Booth # 759)

Air Pohoda USA (Booth # 945)

H Window/Energate (Booth # 959)

Huber Engineered Woods (Booth # 953)

Klearwall Industries LLC (Booth # 751)

Intus Windows (Booth # 624)

Mitsubishi Electric (Booth # 707)

New England Fenestration (Booth # 955)

Passive House Institute US/Passive House Alliance (Booth # 753)

Passivhaus Maine/NA Passive House Network (Booth # 862)

Pinnacle Windows Solutions (Booth # 763)

PowerWise Systems (Booth # 856/854)

PROSOCO Inc. (Booth # 949)

Roxul (Booth # 860)

Solar Hot (Booth # 943)

Stiebel-Eltron Inc. (Booth # 749) 

The Energy Conservatory (Booth # 828) 

Transformations (Booth # 844) 

Yestermorrow Design/Build School (Booth # 1036) 

Zehnder America, Inc. (Booth # 864) 

Zola Windows (Booth # 755) 

There are other terrific vendors at BE14 – but time doesn’t permit us to visit all. Please, I encourage you to visit these vendors’ booths during your time on the show floor:

Affordable Comfort Inc. (Booth # 1024)

Bensonwood (Booth # 662)

Dryvit (Booth # 430)

Enovative (Booth # 939)

European Architectural Supply (Booth # 727)

Led Waves (Booth # 612)

Main Green Building Supply/ Northeast Performance Windows (Booth # 622)

National Fiber (Booth # 717)

Nectar Energy – Syracuse Tech Garden (Booth # 521)

New England Homes by Preferred Building Systems (Booth # 917)

Schock USA (Booth # 636)

ShowerStart (Booth # 723)

SIGA Cover, Inc. (Booth # 620)

Stebbins Duffy/Daikin (Booth # 418)

Steven Winter Associates (Booth # 450)

Tremco Barrier Solutions (Booth # 719)

Tremco Commercial Sealants and Waterproofing (Booth #907)

Vantem Panels (Booth # 652)

Viessmann Manufacturing (Booth # 666/565)

Yaro DSI (Booth # 660)

Let’s get to it…once again, organized by passive building design principles:

PRINCIPLE NO.1: CONTINUOUS INSULATION

Roxul is the coming superinsulation material, period. Not yet readily available in the US market, its benefits are attracting building professionals and Roxul is responding. Thank you Roxul!

So, why is this material such a great fit for highly insulated building envelopes? It is versatile. It can be used for roofing, cavity and curtain wall applications, it can be used for sound proofing in interior walls. Stone wool (or mineral wool as it is also called), maintains its R-value very well in extreme temperatures. That’s important for a designer, because the actual R-value of an insulation material varies with temperature. Foam insulation, for example, varies more and loses some of its R-value at very cold temperatures. Instead of the rated R6 it might only perform at an R4.

Also, in making stone wool, no blowing agents are required. The material maintains its physical properties over its lifetime and is dimensionally stable. Its advantages go on. It is non-combustible, “hydrophobic” (another word for water repellent), it can be used as a drain board and in contact with the ground. It provides no food for mold. It absorbs sound very well. And it is a very sustainable material. It comes as batts, higher density boards with higher R-values (depending on density R goes up) and I believe it can also be blown into cavities to make sure all little nooks and crannies are filled. What more do we want? The picture shows a mineral wool application in a superinsulated passive approved curtainwall application, thermally broken.

PRINCIPLES NO. 2+3: BUILD AIRTIGHT & PREVENT MOISTURE MIGRATION INTO WALL

PROSOCO, Inc. is a star among the air barrier systems manufacturers. It uses a liquid applied installation process that can easily be scaled from a small residential building to a 60 story apartment building. You can apply it to frame as well as to massive construction. Fluid exterior application assures evenness and continuity of the air barrier. Builders can dial in openness/permeability by specifying appropriate consistency of the material to meet climate specific hygrothermal requirements on wall assemblies. Prosoco made the news for meeting the Living Building Challenge: the company’s leading chemist figured out how to configure their product without Phthalates, which are considered highly carcinogenic. This achievement will likely result in an industry shift for the better. Kudos to the Prosoco team. The flagship project “the Bullitt Center” in Seattle used their product with amazing results: the blower door test showed a passive building level of air-tightness, under 0.6 ACH50.

Huber Engineered Woods, LLC offers the ZIP-system that many passive house teams have used as their air-tightness approach. In ZIP, the structural sheathing is used as the air-tight layer, and it’s perfect for single family framed homes. All seams are sealed with a special tape that adheres to the sheathing permanently. This is a great approach to “tunnel through the cost barrier”: A material that is already necessary – the structural OSB – can be cross purposed as the air-tight layer and vapor control layer! But careful: this approach is highly climate specific. The passive house consultant needs to pay very close attention to properly locate this air-tight/vapor control/zip system layer within the wall assembly. OSB has only a 0.7-1.0 perm rating.

475 High Performance Building Supply is a Brooklyn, NY based outfit focusing on a variety of European passive house air barrier product imports. They include smart airtightness membranes and tape solutions by INTELLO and Pro Clima and a wood fiber sheathing/insulation product from Gutex, that can also be used as an air tight layer. The company also distributes other European high performance products: triple pane skylights from Fakro, thermally broken fasteners from Schoeck and a through-wall decentralized apartment venting solution with a ceramic heat recovery core from Lunos. The system has a relatively low capacity to really provide sufficient balanced ventilation for new construction, but seems to be a great option for retrofit solutions. Point ventilation sources can be strategically placed after the fact in a living space without requiring space for mechanical installation or running ducts.

PRINCIPLE NO. 4: HIGH PERFORMANCE WINDOWS AND DOORS

The competition has increased and the prices have come down a bit: European windows are still stealing the show in regards to window performance and quality.

H Windows/Energate, Klearwall Industries, New England Fenestration and Zola European Windows are represented in the Passive Building Place for one stop shopping. Intus Windows is a Passive House Alliance US sponsor that is located across the aisle this year.All these windows are great options for the passive building envelope in a cold climate. The installation is quite different from the install of a typical North American window, so buyer and builder: inform yourself upfront to learn about these differences. The Passive Building Place will have installation examples where you can see how it’s done right and discuss the critical differences with the knowledgeable window experts.All European windows have tilt and turn hardware, typically open inward, are durable and very high quality, and use a thicker triple pane package that is in part responsible for the better thermal performance and a relatively high solar heat gain coefficient of around 0.5. The windows come in wood frame (thermally broken and insulated of course) as well as in clad or vinyl. I hear a few window companies will unveil new, even more improved high performance window models at NESEA. Come and see!

 

Pinnacle Window Solutions This company’s star is Alpen High Performance Products’ fiberglass window, the only North American made window on NESEA’s show floor that meets passive house requirements. This window has several advantages over its stellar European competitors. It is light compared to the European windows. The triple and quadruple pane is lighter because it uses a mylar film as its interior “pane(s)”. The frame itself is much skinnier which allows for more glass area and hence more solar gain if so desired. The fiberglass frame is also insulated and dimensionally more stable than vinyl, which at that slender level of frame is an important characteristic. And lastly, it comes with the customary mounting flange, no need to learn different installation protocols — high performance and business as usual.

 

Passive House Institute US | PHIUS is the leading passive building research organization in the United. It has made significant progress over the past year and a half establishing a window data certification program. The new program provides concise performance data verification for manufacturers who want to provide clients precise data for energy modeling, and an easier way to pick and chose windows for their respective climate zone. The right design decisions for various climates are not always obvious. The comprehensive window certificate provides guidance on what window combination of U-value and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient is the best for a particular climate. The comprehensive window certificate will be on display by the window manufacturers that have gone through the program. The data will also be made available on PHIUS’ website.

 

PRINCIPLE NO. 5: BALANCED VENTILATION WITH HEAT RECOVERY AND MINIMIZED SPACE CONDITIONING, EFFICIENT HOT WATER

 

Zehnder America, Inchas made an impressive run for the US market in terms of high performance balanced ventilation. Zehnder ventilators are all rated for efficiency on the European rating protocol, as well as by the Home Ventilation Institute. This is critical to the accuracy of energy modeling for passive buildings. Its two most popular models are Comfoair 350 and Novus 300. The efficiency ratings for heat recovery and efficiency of the input power required to move air are truly exceptional. Zehnder has all climate zones covered: it offers HRV and ERV counterflow heat exchange cores, an insulated box, options for defrost and pre-cooling / -heating / dehumidification through passive closed ground loop heat exchangers and summer bypasses. Zehnder offers a time saving polyethylene 3” ducting system that has become very popular for its ease of installation. More, the Comfo tubes are installed as home runs from the unit to the room, which provides built in sound proofing and makes telephone effects a non issue. (The finished installation does sometimes remind me of spaghetti). The ducts are double-walled, ribbed on the outside, smooth on the inside and provide some level of insulation as well.

 

Air Pohoda is a relative new kid on the block and comes in with a bang: not only does it offer a highly efficient balanced ventilation system with heat recovery; it also offers some new interesting features not seen in ERVs so far. Their model Ultima240E i-ERV is what they call the first smart ERV, able to control the level of humidity in a home. In the hot and/or humid climates of the United States, this could be a market changer. In such climates, it is not the sensible cooling load that drives the design of the mechanical system but the latent load! A good example of that condition is the first PHIUS+ certified home in Austin, Tex. Air Pohoda of course also has regular HRVs with respectable European style performances of heat exchange and fan energy consumption and is currently working on a smaller unit for smaller homes as well. Check ‘em out!

 

The Mitsubishi Electric mini-split heat pump is the perfect space conditioning point source companion solution to the ventilator. Mitsubishi has led the industry in efficiency ratings. Their mini-split systems are quickly becoming the most popular heating/cooling and dehumidification systems for Passive Homes in all of North America including the very cold climates. The units can be obtained in small sizes for single zone and multi zone systems. They have excellent SEER ratings. They are available in three capacities, 9k, 12k and 15k BTU/h, the Hyper-Heat model that works down to temperatures as low as -15 F is available in 9k, 12k and 18k. An excellent, efficient, cost effective way to heat and cool a passive house by point source! This year, Mitsubishi’s larger multi-zone heat pumps are also taking multifamily passive buildings by storm.

 

Stiebel-Eltron Inc. again provides an anchor point for the Passive Building Place. Solid engineering and world class energy efficiency characterize this company. Passive buildings allow designers to account for solar thermal energy in the energy balance. And PHIUS is looking at standard adaptation for the primary/source energy to more accurately reflect the US grid in the certification requirements (sorry, it will get harder to meet this requirement because the US grid is much dirtier than we have assumed in the previous editions of certification targets!!!). Consequently, solar thermal systems will become a very important component to meet the standard as well as super energy efficient and superior superinsulated hot water storage tanks to minimize heat losses of the overall system. And the same is true for Stiebel’s heat pump hot water heater, a true heat pump and not just a hybrid water heater, with an E.S. energy factor of 2.73. Impressive! The superior efficiency of the mechanical system is critical to meet the standards and to assure the lowest carbon emissions and source energy results that passive buildings are excelling in. In PHIUS+ certifications over the past year we have seen increased installations of heat pump hot water heaters inside of the thermal envelope. This confirms what we reported on last year: in super low load homes the heat pump hot water heater contributes to cooling and dehumidification, even in heating dominated climates and the location inside of the thermal envelope makes sense as long one does not only use direct electric heating. Last year the Stiebel team, seeing all the uptake in the passive building sector, was considering to bring some of their ventilation or even compact energy systems for very low load and passive homes that they produce for the European market to the US market. I am very curious to hear how that thought has progressed.

 

Solar Hot is providing efficient solar thermal systems and hot water tanks. As mentioned above, solar thermal technology is a good way to reduce the source energy in a passive home and it might become more important as we switch to the actual US primary energy conversion factor. We are glad that Solar Hot is joining the Passive Building Place this year, offering a choice to potential passive home clients.

 

 

PRINCIPLE NO. 6: ASSURE QUALITY AND MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS

 

Passive House Institute US | PHIUS  The PHIUS+ passive house and building certification program really excelled in 2013 and continued to grow exponentially (see fig. 1 above). We collaborated with the industry’s best quality assurance systems and requirements such as RESNET and adopted them to passive house and building practices. From the pre-certification process and design review/feedback through detailed quality assurance on site to the final issuance of the certificate and plaque – the process is comprehensive, complete, and diligent leaving little room for anything to go wrong. The result is a superior product we are proud of. A suite of certifications for professionals that hold up to accepted training practices and conventions (including industry appropriate passing rates for exams, continued education requirements, testing through the online testing platform Prometric etc.) assures that the design, construction and quality assurance team has been well educated on climate specific passive building design principles. There have been almost 1500 people who have gone through the trainings since 2008 in the US and Canada. CPHC© Passive House Consultants, certified PHIUS+ Raters and PHIUS Certified Builders work together seamlessly to meet the industry’s highest performance and quality standards. (Upcoming PHIUS trainings calendar.) Well done, PHIUS certification team! The certification has been recognized by the DOE encouraging Challenge Home builders to take the next step referring to the PHIUS+ certification on its website.

 

PowerWise Systems  PHIUS strongly recommends installing a monitoring system to confirm and maintain passive building performance. We’re partial to the inView Passive monitoring package from PowerWise as it is the only one that is customized to passive building principles and systems. PowerWise offers monitoring solutions for all building types, but the system especially developed for passive houses — a circuit-by-circuit energy management and monitoring system, sold us. It is the perfect partner system for the PHIUS+ passive house/building certification to assure quality.

 

Why would one want to add such a system? Despite a very rigorous commissioning and testing protocol during the construction process things can go wrong at a later time. Monitoring systems not only check if the predicted energy performance is being met (and help optimize the systems if there is a discrepancy), they can also be an important warning mechanism in the rare case that there is some malfunction. In very tight houses the indoor air quality can decline quickly if there is a failure in the ventilation system. The monitoring system provides feedback in such cases. Without such feedback the issue might go unnoticed for a long time (you can’t smell or see radon for example!).

 

Specially designed monitoring dashboards for all passive house typical systems components and indoor air aspects are part of the base package. Even a closed ground loop defrost system dashboard is included, which is a very passive-house-specific system. The passive house monitoring package is available as a baseline package as well as a custom package for monitoring needs above and beyond. Information on ordering the system and prices can be found on PHIUS’s website or on the PowerWise website.

 

The Energy Conservatory is a Passive House Alliance sponsor and long time high performance building trailblazer. This team is a terrific knowledge resource as well as equipment resource for all PHIUS+ Raters who are in the business of assuring quality. The Conservatory has never rested on its laurels and has forged ahead as the market for high performance homes kept changing. To their credit, they saw the passive building increase coming a mile away and developed testing equipment that is calibrated to measure the very low ventilation air flows that are characteristic for passive homes. The Mini-Fan Blower Door system development is another such example of market awareness: the duct blaster was repurposed and inserted into a red door, all one needs for a truly high performing very large home to conduct the blower door test!! Infrared cameras, flow blaster accessories, you can find it all at the Conservatory.

 

Transformations is one of the leading zero energy home consultants and builders in the Northeast. This firm is “zeroing in” so to speak on the sweet spot between passive and zero, which makes it a uniquely positioned company. Transformations just recently partnered with Bluestone RRSI, Building Science Corporation and PHIUS on a successful grant application to NYSERDA to rebuild Staten Island to Passive House Standards. We are all thrilled about this project and can’t wait to get started on it. As for Transformations: we will see more stunning and groundbreaking work from this company in the near future, I can almost guarantee it!

 

 

PRINCIPLE NO.7: SPREAD THE WORD, SHARE THE TALE AND TEACH ALL YOU HAVE LEARNED

 

The leading national advocacy, education and membership organization for passive building professionals in the US is the Passive House Alliance, a program of the Passive House Institute US. Passive House Alliance US | PHAUS co-organizes the annual North American Passive House Conference, now in its 9th year. It is the biggest educational event in North America in regards to technical information sharing by the community of passive building practitioners. The 2014 conference is scheduled for September 10-14 in San Francisco – San Mateo.

 

The Alliance also conducts ongoing webinars and offers opportunity for its members to share experiences, knowledge and information on new passive products, design challenges in different climates, and business and marketing issues. Membership also offers discounts for all training and conference events as well as for PHIUS+ certification. The alliance has grown significantly. There are today 14 chapters across the nation in all critical climate zones with three more in the works. PHAUS lists all educational events offered by PHIUS. All educational opportunities including the professional PHIUS Certificate trainings are listed in the Passive Building University. The schedule is complete through the end of June. More trainings will be announced for the second half of 2014 soon.

 

Passive House Institute US | PHIUS engaged in 2012 to developing a new modeling tool based on all our learning from projects across varied climate zones.The renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, PHIUS and Owens Corning collaborated on a next generation passive building modeling tool – WUFI© Passive – which is now being taught by PHIUS as backbone tool of the CPHC training. The tool combines the monthly static energy balance with dynamic and hygrothermal capabilities. An eye opener for anyone who has tried to design a passive project in a North American climate zone using a simple energy balance calculator (and did not entirely believe the results). WUFI Passive will revolutionize our industry, once the word gets out. An introductory training for WUFI Passive is scheduled for Boston for April 24-25 at the Fraunhofer CSE in Boston.

 

Yestermorrow Design/Build School Yestermorrow has grown into the most successful educational partner of PHIUS. For the third year in a row, I arrived in Warren, Vt., this past December to find a full CPHC class. The demand for passive building classes prompted Yestermorrow to host the PHIUS Certified Builders class in April. (The class is sold out, but we’ve just scheduled another Builders program for Baltimore, May 10-13). Yestermorrow classes are unique. The CPHC class for example  is the only offering that provides all in person instruction (no online portion). It is absolutely intense: eight consecutive days conclude with the exam on the afternoon of the last day. People are on site 24/7, form study and discussion groups beyond the class time and prep for exam together. Yestermorrow provides an unforgettable learning experience with a retreat flavor.

 

Passivhaus Maine/NA Passive House Network is advocating for passive homes in the Upper North East. This non-profit organization conducts local seminars and educational events to spread the word about the benefits of passive homes and construction. It is a place where professionals who are already immersed in the field or those who are interested in getting involved can go to share or to get more information. This group is sharing the booth with the NA Passive House Network located in California, which is another advocacy and information sharing platform in the West.

 

I owe much gratitude to NESEA and NESEA staff who all have been terrific friends over the past few years. I like to say thank you for your support and trust. I admire that you constantly have your eye on the prize, pushing ahead, identifying the most important issues, and zeroing in on where we need to be in the future. It has made NESEA the leader in energy efficient construction and this team will maintain that leadership, shaping its conferences and educational offerings. My utmost respect. Thank you for allowing me to contribute to your event!

 

Looking back and ahead at passive building

Today PHIUS delivers its CPHC training virtually and and across the country, and in partnership with organizations like Yestermorrow and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It all started with the first class in Urbana, Ill., in 2008, pictured above. Bottom row, from l-r:  John Essig, Dave Brach, Mary Graham, Katrin Klingenberg, Laura Briggs, Jonah Stanford. Second row: Christina Snyder, Luis Martinez, Jim Olson, Lance Wright, Paul Eldrenkamp, Hayden Robinson, Henry Gifford, David White, Graham Irwin. Back row: Katia Sussman, Tim Moran, Ian Schnack, Al Hothan, John Highland, Gino Mazzaferro, Mark Hoberecht, Ed Shank, Bogdan Zagorowski, Jesper Kruse, Steve Robinson, Matt Howard, Tim Eian, Harold Finigan, Vahid Mojarrab, Tad Everhart, Marc Rosenbaum

I wrote in my last post about how my diagnosis with MS motivated me to rebalance my lifestyle and nutrition. One other positive by-product has been an opportunity to reflect. Once again, reflection and mindfulness – like good nutrition – have always been a goal. But the MS forced the issue by slowing me down (at least for awhile).

And I was reminded of what a rich and wonderful journey it’s been, and how far we’ve come together.

When I set out a dozen years ago, it was not simply to advance passive house principles. It was to help shrink our carbon footprint—and the effects of climate change. Passive building seemed then as it does now to be a critical part of the solution.

I started by building my own residence in Urbana, Ill. Then Mike Kernagis joined me as construction manager on two affordable passive houses built in partnership with the City of Urbana. One other affordable home was built in 2011, and we designed three private homes. And, the Solar Decathlon Home 2009 came home from D.C. after placing second, bringing the number of passive homes in the Champaign-Urbana area to eight.

The reaction — from points far and wide across the country was — so strong and positive that we assembled the first English language CPHC (Certified Passive House Consultant) training program in 2008.

It’s been a whirlwind since then. In 2009 we founded the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) and communities of our trainees coalesced in their respective regions, forming groups such as PHCA, PHNW, NYPH and PHNE. PHAUS, a PHIUS program, has added more than a dozen chapters under the PHAUS umbrella nationwide.

Most important, we deliver the training nationally and virtually now, and the community of PHIUS-trained CPHCs (now 550+ strong) started building real, successful projects across North America’s climate zones. Some of the bleeding edge heroes of the effort include Dan Whitmore, Jan Fillinger, Win Swafford, Tad Everhart, Blake Bilyeu, Randy Foster and Tessa Smith, Alex Boetzel and Stephan Aiguier, Rob Hawthorne, Margo Rettig, Jesse Thomas, Joe Giampietro, Graham Wright and Sam Hagerman in the Northwest. In the Bay Area, the torch was carried by Allen Gilliland (the first NZE home in Calif.), Graham Irwin, Rick Milburn, Nabih Tahan, Lowell Moulton, Katy Hollbacher and Prudence Ferreira.

The Northeast honor roll: Laura Briggs, Paul Eldrenkamp, Marc Rosenbaum, Peter Schneider and J.B. Clancy, Mike Duclos and Paul Panish, Alan Gibson and Matt O’Malia, Svea Tullberg, Jesper Kruse, Stephanie Bassler, Jesse Thompson, Laura Blau, Tim McDonald, Chris Benedict and Henry Gifford, Dennis Wedlick, David White, Ken Levenson, Jordan Goldman and Stephanie Horowitz, Andreas Benzing, Julie Torres-Moskovitz.

David Peabody, Adam Cohen, John Semmelhack, Michael Hindle, Barbara Gehrung, Alan Abrams and Dan Levy have led the way in the Mid-Atlantic region; Chris Senior, Clarke Snell and Jeff Buscher in the Carolinas; Ed Shank and Mark Hoberecht, Eric Lang, Pat Murphy, Mary Rogero and Faith Morgan in Ohio.

In Kentucky, Ginger Watkins and Michael Hughes have been leaders; way up North Stephan Tanner, Tim Eian, Carly Colson, Rachel Wagner and Mike LeBeau carried the banner. Lance Wright and Brian Fuentes sparked the community in Colorado; Joaquin Karcher and Jonah Stanford in New Mexico; Dave Brach in Salt Lake; Vic Weber in Idaho; Ross Elliott and Natalie Leonard in Canada; Thorsten Chlupp in Alaska: Linda Metropulos, Laura Nettleton and Michael Whartnaby in Pennsylvania; Tom Bassett-Dilley, Mark Miller and Patrick Danaher in Chicago. Finally, Dave Stecher, Dylan Lamar (who also did the first IP version of PHPP while at PHIUS, a critical step), Ian Schnack, Ryan Abendroth and Darcy Bean helped blaze trails back at home in Urbana, and later on their own in Phoenix, St.Louis, Portland Ore. and Pittsburgh. Pa.

There are more—like Corey Saft who had the gumption to build a passive house in Louisiana. We learned so much from that project. Surely I am omitting people – I apologize for any memory lapse. The point is, there’s no substitute for all of your commitment. I feel privileged to be part of your community.

We are headed toward our 9th Annual Conference, and today, in addition to CPHC training, we offer PHIUS Certified Builders Training, and a PHIUS+ Rater training that enables HERS raters to accurately rate passive houses. These programs are relatively new, but the Certified Builder program is always sold out and already the community of PHIUS Certified Builders is approaching 100; and the Rater community is right behind it.

We’ve forged strategic partnerships with the likes of the U.S. DOE, Building Science Corporation, RESNET, Rocky Mountain Institute. We’ve also established  relationships with the prestigious Fraunhofer IBP, Owens Corning and Oak Ridge National Lab—a partnership that produced WUFI Passive. WUFI Passive is a fantastic software modeling tool that is making passive energy modeling easier, more accurate, and integrated with WUFI hygrothermal analysis. It’s a commercial grade software tool with a streamlined GUI and the most powerful passive and hygrothermal modeling capabilities on the market. It is, simply, a leap forward.

Looking back, I see there was another critical group—and I mean critical. Let’s call them the passive house skeptics. They’ve ranged from Marc Rosenbaum to Joe Lstiburek to Martin Holladay.

When I set out to prove passive house principles in the United States, I was energetic, armed with information from the German PHI, and … a little naïve. Passivhaus was new to me and the majority of people I talked to about it. And I thought—like a lot of like-minded people—that I’d discovered something brand new.

After I built my own passive house in 2002, and we started getting some attention in the mainstream and trade press, I began hearing from energy conservation pioneers. On one hand, they were excited to see conservation back on the front burner, after interest in it trailed off back in the 80s.

But some were also a bit miffed. I didn’t understand it at the time – and misunderstood it as resistance to change. It was quite the opposite. It was the notion that this passivhaus or passive house was new that was irksome to them.

Indeed, I learned that the foundation principles that distinguished what I called passive house in English or passivhaus in German were not at all new. Superinsulation, high-performance doors and windows, removing thermal bridges, energy recovery ventilation/minimizing mechanicals, managing solar gain. A group of pioneers — including some in my own backyard in Urbana at the University of Illinois—had formulated these concepts decades earlier.

What we have learned – and I say we because we’ve learned it side-by-side with CPHCs and builders who’ve faced real-world challenges across climates—is that this group of early pioneers had valid misgivings about passive house as formulated in Europe. The concerns included the small-house penalty, North American issues with latent humidity, and the cost-effectiveness of investing in the envelope as opposed to renewables. The biggest concern: deep disagreement that a single numerical standard for all climate zones could make sense.

Reasonable people can and will disagree. But on the single standard, we at PHIUS have come to agree that a one-size-fits-all-climates standard is flawed, and is a major factor holding back adoption. I, like a lot of people, found the notion that a single number could work for all climates magnetically attractive. But in our experience designing, building, certifying and monitoring, we’ve concluded it doesn’t work. That’s an important departure, but not a disagreement about passive house principles being the best place to start for high performance building.

That’s why we’re engaged with Building Science Corporation in testing climate-specific standards that use the peak load calculation (which underlies also the European standard) as a baseline. (BTW, again—climate-specific doesn’t necessarily mean “easier.” In some climate zones, we expect the standard to tighten.)

Now, make no mistake: When interest in conservation waned in the United States and Canada in the 80s, the efforts of Drs. Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist to formulate passive principles for Europe were heroic, and Dr. Feist’s continuing efforts with PHI have been invaluable. In particular the PHPP was an important step toward putting modeling within reach of passive house professionals. We owe them gratitude. But the work of our entire community, the advancement of building science and innovation must quite naturally go on. There is no holy grail here.

Some lament the differences that exist within the passive building community. To be sure, some of the harsh rhetoric and hurt feelings have been regrettable (and, I think, entirely avoidable moving forward). But we see different and competing ideas as healthy and necessary. It’s only natural that as a community grows, it grows more vital and diverse, and that competing views—and to be sure, competing interests—arise.

The entire passive house community, regardless of scientific position or organizational loyalties, is pulling toward conserving energy and reducing carbon emissions, while constructing extremely comfortable, healthy and resilient buildings. And we agree that passive is a great way to do that. But honest competition has always driven growth and innovation. Trying to put a lid on ideas suppresses growth, and leaves us fighting over a very small pie.

Here’s to a vibrant and diverse passive house community, and to a much, much larger pie!

Katrin

 

 

What does MS have to do with climate change?

Last September I was diagnosed with remitting-relapsing multiple sclerosis after a first—and frightening—attack. Despite the grim news I was intrigued by the elusiveness of the disease, and I started my journey of searching for answers and solutions to the question of how to best prevent or delay further attacks. I’ve learned a lot—and been reminded of a lot along the way.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a strange disease, characterized by so many different symptoms that some call it the disease with a 1000 faces. Little is known about the causes and consequently all approved therapies and medications aim at reducing symptoms, not at addressing a cause.

Yet, one thing most experts agree on is that there is likely a very strong environmental component to the disease. It is generally considered an autoimmune disorder —that is, the system that ordinarily protects one’s body from infections and other threats goes haywire. The autoimmune system attacks the body.

MS was first noted at the onset of the industrialized age at the end of the 19th century. There is no previous record of its incidence. Its occurrence has increased dramatically since and mostly in the developed richer nations. Significantly, the increase is most prevalent in nations that eat mostly a “meat and potato” diet, rather than a more Mediterranean or asian cuisine.

Changes in lifestyle over the past century (active/outdoor to sedentary/indoor), environmental factors such as increased toxins in air and water, and a shift in nutrition characterized by high animal fat intakes and highly processed food supplies are broadly suspected to be a significant part of the problem.

It’s been months since my diagnosis—during that time, after a lot of research, I made a decision to pursue a nutritional path to managing the disease over medication. Since that decision, the world has changed quite a bit for me for the better.

I found that the suggested causes and remedies were somewhat related to what started to look like an energy balance for a building. My systems had seriously gotten out of balance on every nutritional and lifestyle level! It’s become clear that my lifestyle for the last 10 or so years has systematically depleted my resources! I was running on fumes.

I felt somewhat consoled and excited by the fact that I knew something about rebalancing a system. I was accustomed to working on getting first to a balanced state through conservation and then eventually to a positive energy balance through consequent repletion. My thoughts were, if you can build a passive house you can rebalance your body, right? And here I went.

I began seeing real parallels between our efforts in the passive building community to rebalance resources with my individual efforts to rebalance my intakes. In each case, the goal is to assure that the taking and the giving is brought back into balance. A global society that constantly over-consumes and dumps tons and tons of carbon into the atmosphere as a result will eventually overwhelm the system and cause its collapse—just like my constantly depleting lifestyle depleted my body—and led to its attack on itself.

We live our lives by constantly going into debt with the planet’s resources (our body is a planetary resource) and think if we can just pay the minimum payment each month it does not matter how big our total balance is. Over-consuming and getting further away from being in balance and zeroing out our account, our modern lifestyles suffer from a similar effect.

I’ve read extensively about the interplay of ultra-busy but sedentary lifestyles and the perils of fast/processed food, factory farms and antibiotics, toxins, and increases in food allergies.

I’ve concluded that both MS and climate change are symptoms of excessive in-debtness with ourselves in the name of a convenient modern life style based on consumption, a life out of balance.

Ten years ago I made a resolution as an architect to work exclusively on passive buildings to take responsibility for my share of the rebalancing act. After my MS diagnosis, I made a similar resolution to rebalance my body and lifestyle instead of treating the symptoms with expensive medication and its own side effects. I soon found myself calculating an energy balance for my body, counting all different kinds of fats and oils and balancing them appropriately.  Every day I eat 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables, multiple grain servings and watch out for a whole set of other interesting nutritional factors to strengthen the brain, rebuild the nervous system, the autoimmune system and the cardiovascular system. I have not been so clear headed, focused and energetic in years. I have lost 30 pounds without trying…but I still have work to do on my exercise regimen.

All this has dovetailed with my professional mission: my carbon footprint has significantly improved! I’ve almost entirely eliminated meat, and I forgo gluten, dairy, processed grains, and other packaged food products (all energy-intensive foods). I buy organic and pastured chicken, local if possible.

In a way it was easy for me to make that decision—MS is a powerful motivator. I always wanted to eat this way but never was able to maintain it because I managed to justify the modern shortcuts of fast food, pizza and beer in the name of convenience, helping me to de-stress and save time and work more.

But I’ve learned that equation doesn’t add up in the end, and that this type of diet is broadly recommended to avoid the most common diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. All of these diseases are on a disturbing upswing. Just as the consequences of climate change is.

MS and climate change: they are similar looming invisible threats to our quality of life. Once an attack subsides things appear to be normal again and one is tempted to go back to business as usual and ignore the problem. But leaving the causes unattended will debilitate again, destroying quality of life, or life itself.

Here is my resolution: I don’t want to take any chances, neither with my body, the only one I have–nor with the planet, the only one I have. My body is an extension of my family, my house, my community, my city, my country, my planet.

MS and climate change are opportunities: they are second chances for us to end our follies and fix what we broke so that we may once again live in balance and peace. And that’s what I intend to do. And I think being in the passive house community puts me in terrific company. I’ve had terrific support, and I thank you all.

Meantime, there’s more to say about all this, but I’ll save it for a second installment….

Katrin