Climate Data and PHIUS+ 2015

 

Adam2smAdam Cohen is a principal at Passiv Science in Roanoke, Va, a PHIUS CPHC®, a PHIUS Builder Training instructor, the builder/developer of multiple successful passive building projects, and a member of the PHIUS Technical Committee. With the release of the PHIUS+ 2015 climate-specific standard, Adam weighs in on the importance of climate data sets.

Project teams have always needed to be discerning about climate data sets they use in energy modeling.  Whether it’s WUFI Passive, Energy Plus, PHPP or any other software, the old adage garbage in = garbage out applies. Project teams always must analyze and make a call as to how accurate the climate file is.

For example, I worked on a Houston, Texas project a number of years ago and there were several climate datasets that were close and one that was very different. As a team, we had to decide how to approach this in the most logical and reasoned way.

Recently as I analyzed a Michigan project, I determined that my two dataset choices were “just not feeling exactly right” so I asked PHIUS’ Lisa White and Graham Wright to generate a custom set. I can’t know that this one is exactly right, but I know that it’s as accurate and “right” as we can make it.

Note that when multiple data sets are candidates, it is not just altitude that matters, but location of weather station (roof, ground, behind a shed, etc.). Ryan Abendroth blogged on the subject of selecting data sets (and when to consider having a custom dataset generated) and I recommend you give his post a read.

Since PHIUS+ 2015 is a climate specific standard, it’s all the more important to use the best available.  We all know that bad data is not exclusive to PHIUS (remember the Seattle weather debacle in early versions of the PHPP).

It’s incumbent on project teams to use science, reason and judgment in interpreting climate data sets. Being on the water, in the middle of a field or in the tarmac of an airport makes a difference.

In New York City, for example, we have an oddity: There are three dataset location choices.

A satellite photo of NYC with Central Park outlined. The climate date for the Park is substantially different than that for other parts of the city.

A satellite photo of NYC with Central Park outlined.

One is Central Park, and the PHIUS+ 2015 targets for that are substantially different than the others. But, counter to a Tweet calling into question the validity of the PHIUS+ NYC target numbers, they are different because the Central Park climate data is substantially different – probably due to vegetation countering the urban heat island effect. It has a dramatic and pretty fascinating effect on the microclimate, and the U.S. DOE has a nice read on the subject.

For project teams lucky enough to have access to multiple data sets for their location, by rational comparison, they should be able to make an intelligent decision to use a canned set or to have a custom set generated.

It also more important than ever that the PHIUS+ certifiers to examine the weather data provided by a project teams to see if the project team made a logical, rather then an easy selection of climate data.

In addition, we on the PHIUS Technical Committee will continue to collect and monitor data and will tweak certification protocols as we see the need. But, I remind all my fellow CPHCs that bad climate data sets are endemic in the industry and it is important that project teams make careful decisions and that they reach out to PHIUS staff to help when climate data sets just don’t seem right.

Passive house for the rest of us

Since 2008, when PHIUS launched its consultant training program, more than 500 architects, engineers, and energy consultants have taken the training, passed the computer-based and take-home exams, and earned qualifications as a PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®). This group has driven the growth of passive building in the United States and Canada.

With the advent of the new format for our CPHC training—which delivers Phase I via live virtual sessions, becoming a CPHC has become more affordable and convenient, and the number of CPHCs continues to grow. (The next virtual program begins August 20, and in-class locations for September include Washington, D.C.; Golden, Colo.; and Providence, R.I.)

CPHCs can’t do it alone, though. That’s why we launched the PHIUS Certified Builders program last year – to develop a community of builders who understand passive principles and can work side by side with CPHCs on projects.

And, now, I’m happy to report that in partnership with  the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), we can offer training tailored to another critical audience: firm owners, managers, policy makers, developers and other project stakeholders who want to know about passive house, but for whom full CPHC training is not appropriate.

This group of professionals are critical to the making passive building mainstream. They need to understand passive house fundamentals — to speak passive house — but don’t need the same kind of hands-on training and technical expertise that architects and builders do.

The new NESEA BE Masters program – called Passive Building Fundamentals — meets this need. I’m working with NESEA’s experienced online training team to create a series of modules. Participants have between September 23 and November 29 to complete the 10-module program on their own time and their own pace .

Like our CPHC training, Passive Building Fundamentals will give participants a firm grounding in the fundamental building science principles of passive design: Superinsulation, airtight envelopes, management of solar gain, ventilation strategies, and a look at climate-specific challenges.

Unlike CPHC training, however, the course will focus on these fundamentals, but not delve into the intricacies of passive energy modeling – a capacity that designers need, but managers and other decision makers do not.  Participants will learn everything they need to know to work with CPHCs and passive building teams, managing and quality assuring the process, managing risk–and making the sale.

Whether you own or manage an architecture firm or construction business; you’re a commercial or an affordable housing developer; a government policy maker; or you’re thinking about building your own passive house: This is the program for you!

Check it out at:

http://nesea.cammpus.com/courses/certified-passive-house-phase-1–online

And pass word along!

Regards,

Kat

Part 3: NESEA BE13–the passive building journey continues…

 

OK, the finale! In part one we looked at the growth of passive building and how it’s reflected in Passive Place at BE13.

In part two we embarked on the passive building tour of the BE13 trade show floor–mapped to the fundamental principles of passive building.

Today, we introduce some unofficial passive building principles and visit some terrific partners.

Onward!

Unofficial passive building principle No. 6:

ASSURE QUALITY AND MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS!

Only PHIUS+ projects earn the plaque!

PHIUS (www.passivehouse.us) offers certification programs for projects and products. PHIUS+ Certification for new and retrofit applications is the only voluntary certification program in North America that requires a thorough design as well as an onsite third party review process. PHIUS+ certification is the most rigorous on the market–and the best value. That’s because PHIUS has partnered with the Department of Energy and RESNET. That means industry-standard certification protocols for design and onsite verification. And it means one-stop certification shopping. Earning PHIUS+ Certification also nets a HERS rating, DOE Challenge Home Status, and EnergyStar status.

PHIUS+ has jumpstarted certifications. We expect to have fully certified approximately 100 passive building projects by the end of 2013 in North America (if apartments are counted, then the number is closer to 200) and yes, the growth is exponential!

At the 7th Annual North American Passive House Conference in Denver last September, PHIUS launched its Window Data Verification Program. In cooperation with NFRC PHIUS is identifying a North American window data verification protocol and climate appropriate guidelines and recommendations. Several leading window manufacturers have signed on and submitted various window frame and glazing combinations for calculation and verification, and listing in the coming PHIUS window data base.

PHIUS recently partnered with PowerWise Systems–Booth 961 (http://www.powerwisesystems.com/passive) to promote their newest product – the inView Passive™ monitoring package. PowerWise offers all kinds of monitoring solutions for all building types—but we’re really excited about the value that the inView Passive monitoring package brings to our community. For passive builders, the proof is in the pudding–monitored performance is where it’s at. inView Passive includes monitoring dashboards optimized for typical passive house components and systems. We think it’s a great tool for anyone certifying a project through the PHIUS+ Certification and Quality Assurance Program.

Besides verifying predicted performance, monitoring systems like inView Passive can serve as early alerts for routine maintenance. For example, energy consumption might rise because a filter in the ventilator has not been cleaned on schedule. Monitoring also provides safety. Say one of the two ventilator fans fail; this could depressurize the house. Without monitoring, it might take some time to notice that indoor air quality declined, back drafting on vented appliances or fireplaces might have occurred or radon levels might have climbed.

inView Passive includes dashboards for typical passive house systems and components and indoor air aspects. Even a closed ground loop defrost system dashboard is included. Information on ordering the system and prices can be found on PHIUS’s website or on the PowerWise website. PHIUS has negotiated a 5% discount for all PHIUS+ certification enrolled projects and the Promo Code is available through PHIUS when registering.

The Energy Conservatory–Booth 828 (http://www.energyconservatory.com/) is the PHIUS+ Certified Rater’s best friend. Commissioning equipment for low load and airtight superinsulated homes has become more sophisticated and is now affordable.  What exactly has to be commissioned and tested? The most obvious—the air-tightness of the envelope needs to get tested during construction and then again upon project completion. For very tight homes the rater can now use the Mini-Fan Blower Door System, a duct blaster in a newly developed red door insert to test the entire building, A small fan is all it takes if the home is that tight! The mechanical ventilation system also has to be commissioned and flows have to be verified. Very small ventilation air flows need to be measured. The Energy Conservatory Flow Blaster Accessory measures air flows at diffusers down to very low levels such as 10 CFMs. And lastly FLIR infrared cameras are used to check insulation quality, thermal bridging and also interior surface temperatures. Indispensable tools throughout QAQC process to verify a building has been built as designed and performs.

 

Unofficial passive building principle No. 7:

SPREAD THE WORD, SHARE THE TALE AND TEACH ALL YOU HAVE LEARNED

The leading national passive building research, education and alliance organizations are the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) (www.passivehouse.us) and the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) (www.phaus.org).

PHIUS was founded by myself and Mike Kernagis in 2003, initially as Ecological Construction Laboratory, a non-profit, promoting and building passive houses for low income home buyers. It changed its name later to Passive House Institute US when it went national. Since 2008 PHIUS has been offering the hugely successful CPHC®Passive House Consultant training nationwide (NEW in 2013: Virtual segment online saving cost and travel time), we have added Certified PHIUS+ Rater trainings and PHIUS Certified Builder trainings over the last few years. We have trained more than 800 architects, engineers, energy consultants and builders and have certified more 500 of them as CPHCs, PHIUS Certified Builders and PHIUS+ Raters in the US and Canada. These are the folks you want on your passive building team!

In 2013 the renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, PHIUS and Owens Corning collaborated on a new next-generation passive building modeling tool – WUFI© Passive. WUFI Passive now replaces PHPP as the backbone tool of the CPHC training. Like PHPP, the tool includes a static passive house energy balancing capability. But it also offers dynamic whole building energy modeling and individual component hygrothermal analysis. And it covers another critical modeling variable: thermal mass, which is necessary for the cooling energy balance. In WUFI Passive all of these assessments use the same project data; no double entry of project data in multiple modeling tools is necessary. Risk and performance management all in one. This tool is seriously cool!

In 2009 PHIUS launched a membership/chapter program, the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS). The mission: to support the community of professionals who had been trained, to educate the public, and drive the market by involving manufacturers and advocating for making passive building standards the norm in North America. Since Mark Miller took on the Executive Director role of this ambitious program in 2011, PHAUS has a thriving and growing membership program, now up to 350 members. PHAUS’ manufacturer sponsors program (amongst them founding sponsor CertainTeed and Rocky Mountain Institute) is growing, as is the chapter organization—now up to 13 nationwide Chapters with two pending.

PHIUS and PHAUS have significantly shaped the landscape of passive buildings in America over the past 10 years and will continue on our mission: the transformation of the marketplace to make passive buildings commonplace. We are a non-profit and if you like what we have done so far and would like to help, you can donate to PHIUS, become a PHAUS member, or certify and train with us.

Building Science Corporation (http://www.buildingscience.com/)  has been a leader in high performance building consulting and education for decades. BSC Principal Joe Lstiburek was a pioneer way back in the 1970s; that’s why at his keynote address at last year’s 7th Annual North American Passive House Conference, he closed his presentation with: “You guys are family.” I was totally moved—and I wasn’t alone. It was inspiring. Joe started building superinsulated buildings in the late 70s when he was just 23 years old!!! The details matched what we consider to be good passive building practice today. He has been on the forefront all along – vapor retarders, thermally broken fasteners, insulated foundation systems, energy heel trusses and even earth tubes (which he is not a great fan of )(link to his article). He knows what the trenches look like.

Building on that energy from the conference, BSC and PHIUS resolved to work together in promoting passive buildings. A first step: We decided to cooperate on the Passive Building University which lives on the PHAUS website (link): BSC bookends PHIUS executive certification classes with a Building Science Fundamentals program, the ultimate preparation for the CPHC Passive House Consultant class. BSC also offers Advanced Hygrothermal Analysis, truly building a science master class. I encourage you to visit BSCs table as they have the best selection of  cutting edge literature that applies to passive buildings. Be prepared to spend some money and schlep books home!

The most recent Yestermorrow CPHC class.

Yestermorrow Design/Build School (http://www.yestermorrow.org/) This past December I arrived in Warren, Vt.,for the second CPHC class offered through the Yestermorrow Design/Build school. Yet another full class, intense and dynamic.

How is Yestermorrow different? It teaches all modules in person on 8 consecutive days with the exam on the 9th. People are on site 24/7, they form study and discussion groups beyond the class time and prep for exam together. You talk bonding…the food is exceptional and the people who show up for this are some of the smartest and unique. Yestermorrow truly attracts exceptional individuals. The classes took the passive discussion to new heights and aside from that, Vermont is just stunningly beautiful – an unforgettable learning experience with a retreat flavor.

Passive House New England (http://www.passivehousenewengland.org/) is one of the first independent passive house groups in the country. Many of its members are some of the most experienced CPHCs in the country with one or more certified passive houses under their belts. This group is a great resource for anyone who is interested in building a passive house or building in the North East region. The group has a very active meet up group schedule and hosts a passive house symposium annually in the fall highlighting most recent projects of special interest. Great group: Get involved!

Passivhaus Maine (http://www.passivhausmaine.org/) is carrying flag in Maine in regards to passive house (don’t you love the lobster in the logo?). This is also an area that has very many experienced passive house consultants and builders solidly on their way. This group also is making strides by providing great information and by putting on symposia. Join the meet up group and help getting the word out!

Well, that’s about it–and that’s plenty!

Thanks to NESEA and all the friends out East that have given me the opportunity to do this review and I hope to see a few of you on the BE13 NESEA trade show floor!!!!!!

 

PHIUS Builders Training: One builder’s experience

Hi folks–today’s guest blogger is a builder. Tim Linn, of Milwaukee, was kind enough to pen this account of his experience at the PHIUS Certified Builders Training this past autumn. A little about Tim: He’s been in the trades for 10 years and, with two partners, operates a small “integrated” specializing in custom carpentry/cabinet-making and historical renovation/energy retrofit work.  They sideline in the theatrical carpentry world (Tim used to work as a classical actor and he says that work keeps him connected to that world).  If you have questions for Tim, you can leave a comment or you are welcome to email Tim at: timothyjlinn@gmail.com In addition, here’s a write-up about his passive project: 

http://shorewood.patch.com/articles/a-shorewood-home-where-they-won-t-have-to-turn-on-the-heat

If you’re interested in becoming a PHIUS Certified Builder, check out the upcoming PHIUS Builders Training programs. 

Members of the inaugural PHIUS Certified Builders Training class at the Stanton passive house in Urbana, Ill.

Passive house is intimidating to most builders. I know it was to me. I’ve been following the work of the passive house movement in America for several years now and and happy to report I finally have a project underway. Thankfully I received training on the intricacies of what it takes for a builder to put one of these structures together—I participated in the first PHIUS Certified Builders Training program this past August.

The training isolates the particular details a builder needs to focus on and demonstrates different ways of properly executing these details. For example the training provided examples of how to properly manage the air-seal of a junction between a slab-edge and a sole-plate with “off-the-shelf” building materials and smart design.  I was shown a multiplicity of practical ways to manage air-barriers to be able to build a structure that meets the of .6 ACH50 requirement. We looked at everything from how to appropriately use tapes, gaskets, or liquid-applied membrane products to how best to use a blower-door to conduct one’s own testing as the project is under construction. And I was taught enough about the principles of passive design to be able to make sure my architect/CPHC is designing a structure that is not only up to passive house standards, but also buildable.

The training does a wonderful job of making building passive house structures in all our different climate zones practical. By bringing together builders from all over the United States and stressing the different design needs for a fellow building in Alabama compared to a fellow building in Alaska, the training highlights the need for a regionalized approach to passive house design and execution of construction. Another key focus of the training is that passive house is a performance-, not a prescriptive- based standard. And it teaches builders to build appropriately for their local climate using whatever materials are regionally available.

Passive house construction can be difficult to explain—to subs, crews, inspectors, clients, and designers.  The training equips students with the vocabulary and understanding of the critical principles to be able to communicate with everyone he/she will need to interact with both in design/development and in the field.  Having taken the training, For example: I now know how to explain to my electrician how I would like him to gasket a penetration in the building envelope, and how to explain to my client the reason he cannot choose a vapor-impermeable finish for his interior walls.

Instructor Mike Kernagis during a Builders Training classroom session.

Perhaps the most valuable take-away from the training is the stress the trainers put on building resilient structures. There is no point in taking the time and energy to design and build a passive house (or assume the liability for having built one) if it is not designed to handle the typical stresses nature puts on any building—namely moisture, in any region. The training reminds a builder, time-and-again, to pay attention to the way their roof and wall systems will manage both bulk water and water-vapor, and make sure that they are not assuming liability for a design that will fail as a result of moisture build-up. PHIUS is doing the building community a great service by stressing the need for builders to focus their energy on building basics—from plumb, level, and square—to don’t use materials that are not suited to long-term durability, to KISS principals, to building for the future.

To me, the PHIUS Certified Builders Training gives us builders the opportunity to re-distinguish ourselves as craftsmen, as these buildings cannot be built without care and thought.

Learn more about upcoming PHIUS Certified Builders Training programs