The North American Passive House Conference in San Francisco – a hard act to follow for NAPHC2015 (in Chicago)

Every year we say “This was the best passive house conference ever, we better stop now, we can’t possibly top this experience, the quality of the presenters, the “meat on the building science bones” presentations, technical details and specific construction solutions, cutting edge projects of all building types showcased throughout all climate zones, policy and government role discussions and incentives… and this year in addition to the Builders’ Hootenanny the Architects’ Hootenanny which, you might have guessed, was a hoot.

Let me take this opportunity to thank our community of longstanding CPHCs, PHIUS Certified Builders and PHIUS+ Raters who have shared this passive building path with us now for almost 10 years. It has been a pleasure knowing so many great folks with their hearts in the right place and a common characteristic: a determined pioneering spirit to make the energy transition in the way we build and live happen. Thanks to all passive building practitioners and to newcomers to the conference especially the international speakers from the UK and Japan.

Together you submitted nearly 100 abstracts and we had a hell of a time to choosing the best ones. We ended up with an unprecedented total of 72 sessions in 4 tracks this year, more than ever before (we cut the plenary short upon your request to get to the meaty sessions quicker and to have more of them).

Special thanks go to Sam Rashkin from the DOE, for his invaluable contributions to the tracks on government perspective and for the great partnership he and the DOE have provided to the PHIUS+ certification program over the past couple of years. Sam took time to be with us on the Sunday tour of passive buildings in the bay area, which was a lot of fun.

I would especially like to thank all of our outstanding pre-conference workshop presenters who covered topics in great depth, most popular were the Multifamily Palooza (kicked off by Chris Benedict who currently leads the field with the most passive projects in this sector realized), Passive Building Science with Joe Lstiburek (our unofficial lounge sponsor), packed the house closely followed by Mechanical Systems and commercial applications. Many thanks to the outstanding instructors who tackled more specific technical issues and new frontiers, such as efficient water systems design by Gary Klein, and Matthias Patzold from the Fraunhofer IBP and PHIUS staff presenting on dynamic energy modeling in WUFI Passive, THERM/windows modeling and PHIUS+ certification QAQC during the rater training. To all our presenters, pre-conference and main session: Thank you all so much! It would have not been possible without you!!!!

We owe many thanks to Michael Hindle, our charismatic Master of Ceremonies, and President of the Board of Managers of Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS). His opening speech was inspiring, artful and philosophical, The Passive House Alliance is now 16 chapters strong with 7 more in formation all over the country. It is starting to develop an impressive momentum regarding advocacy for passive buildings across the nation. Michael pledged to the membership that he would keep increasing member benefits and participation opportunities and closed with a call for action to join the many committees that have been formed to get the work done.

Michael also made a very well received announcement: the PHAUS  board has moved to remove any reference to a specific passive house standard from chapter founding documents. This decision rightly recognizes that since the inception of the passive house concept in the 70s in North America, it has undergone more than just one transformation and that evolution and learning will continue. It must continue to evolve for us to be successful. PHAUS leadership supports the new climate specific Passive Building standards brought forward by PHIUS as part of such evolution.

Bill Rose followed with the most thoughtful, most provocative keynote given at the North American Passive House Conference yet. Many of you came to me afterwards expressing that sentiment. He showed a short video recording from the early 70s of the researchers credited with formalizing the superinsulation/passive concepts. They worked at the Small Homes Council, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Illinois. The video reinforced the notion that the passive house community has a longstanding history here in the United States. He then showed a document written by the Nixon administration predicting peak oil and climate change to happen in 2010. It was a stunning piece of evidence that the issues had been known then, as well as the possible remedies outlined in the document. The document, then issued a clear call for action, recognizing the emerging passive community as having the best approach for reducing the demand side of buildings.

Rose made clear that facing the climate crisis means we also need to step up to transform the supply side of the system, coming up with strategies of how to keep the fossil fuel reserves in the ground and how to challenge the current economies that are all built around such assets. He ended provocatively saying, that we need to get to a point where we will be saying: “Energy (fossil fuels), what’s that?”

After the keynote and during all breaks, the exhibit hall was buzzing. A big thank you to all exhibitors of high performance materials and technologies! Every year the cast has been expanding significantly and new useful materials and systems manufacturers join the core group of providers. Thank you, without your products and services it would be impossible to realize passive buildings as well as we now do. Of course, also thank Exhibit Hall sponsor Bayer MaterialScience and our lanyard sponsor Hayward Lumber. Bill Hayward joined us on the tour and provides some great local background. Be sure to check the Hayward Health Home, a very cool initiative.

Achilles Karagiozis delivered the closing keynote. He spoke on the view forward, the implementation of passive buildings worldwide in all different climate zones and the challenges and responsibilities that come with it. He stressed the importance of dynamic modeling for accurate energy prediction results as passive building is applied in different climate zones. He cited an astounding example: WUFI Passive is now able to predict insulation material dependence on temperature on an hourly basis. And of course, this is important to assess hygrothermal performance of enclosures as well as to get the energy balances calculated with more accurate granularity. A great new age has arrived for us designers to manage our risks in designing passive buildings, thanks to the emergence of more powerful computing capabilities that make dynamic models feasible.

At closing, maybe best of all, the incredible sense of community of people who trust each other and know each other well:  We have been coming together now for almost a decade, reuniting at this amazing annual event working together to devise solutions for the North American market, its climate zones and building sector.

And this year, for the first time, the event was held in one of the largest and most exciting metropolitan areas: the San Francisco Bay area. This meant a significant step up from the previous conferences and importance in visibility of our community to city and government leaders, in California and beyond.  Passive building has turned the corner. And so has PHIUS as we were more than once told during the event by you.

PHIUS’ Senior Scientist Graham Wright’s presentation on new North American Passive Building Standards that are currently being completed under a DOE Building America grant was very well received: “This sounds like a really good program” was consistent feedback. The interest was so large that the session had to be moved from the break out room to the ball room. Most everybody was in support, not one negative comment! Kudos to excellent work by Graham Wright and a clearly laid out and scientifically founded argument by the tech committee.

And last but not least thanks to the PHAUS San Francisco chapter and John Sarter and Lizzie Adams from PHCA for helping to organize a fantastic tour of project on a beautiful Sunday in paradise: From multiuse building to state of the art office building to residential retrofit projects, it was great!

Thank you all for coming, for your contributions, participation and feedback on what to do better next year. Keep it coming so that the next act will be better yet again… see you in Chicago, details to come!