Step it up from Earth Day to Energy Independence Week

Here’s a great idea from Graham Wright, PHIUS Senior Scientist and Chair of the PHIUS Technical Committee. We hope you’ll take up the challenge.

So, Earth Day was great, and everything. And the Earth Hour there.

Energy Independence Week. It's fun, it's patriotic, and we're virtually certain Stephen Colbert would approve.

Energy Independence Week. It’s fun, it’s patriotic, and we’re virtually certain Stephen Colbert would approve.

But let’s be real, Earth Day doesn’t challenge you to actually do anything in particular, and while Earth Hour does, that is vanishingly little  — one hour out of 8760 is addressing like 0.01% of the problem. After how many years now of Earth Day, what do you say we step the game up?

I call it Energy Independence Week. The idea is that, you extend the 4th of July holiday to a full week, during which you observe these three rules:

1. Use no grid electricity.
2. Burn no fossil fuels.
3. Make no trips to the grocery store.

It’s patriotic and fun. Like a staycation. You’ve got the charcoal grill out anyway. Notice that it’s twice as good even as “1% for the planet” in a couple of ways.

A) it’s 1 out of 52 instead of 1 out of 100, and
B) it’s not just a sacrifice concentrated on you for a diffuse benefit to the planet – it increases your own resilience.

I did this in 2008, a few months before I ever heard of passive house. But I like how it ties in – because of the time of year, it focuses attention on avoiding overheating, not a bad thing. (You will be fine if your passive house is not designed too hot. 😉 And it’s forgiving to the many of us who do not yet live in passive houses; this would be a much harder challenge yet in the winter, in most places.

At the time, I was living in rural Minnesota in a straw bale cottage, so heating and cooling wasn’t a problem. I got by with one solar panel and one battery for electricity. That was enough to run the well pump and my laptop. You don’t need much lighting in Minnesota that time of year. Instead of hot showers I swam in the river, which was a short bike ride away. It’s like camping but, you’ve got all your books or shoes with you.

Your challenges may vary. On rule 3 there, stocking up ahead of time is ok, preparations are part of the idea here. One of the other preparations I made was for irrigation — at the time I was trying to keep a bunch of discount hazelnut seedlings alive in the baking sun. I figured my little panel could not generate enough electricity to run the well pump for that, so I set up a big water barrel so I could gravity feed the orchard. Yeah, I faked it by filling it from the well ahead of time; ideally it would have been a real rain barrel all along.

Again, learning stuff like this is part of the fun. So, I hope you’ll take up the challenge and start planning now. And please, share your strategies, tactics, and experiences in the comments section here at the Klingenblog.

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.

Comments on climate-specific standards study now open

ClimateSpecificColor
In cooperation with Building Science Corporation, under a U.S. DOE Building America Grant, the PHIUS Technical Committee has completed exhaustive research and testing toward new passive house standards that take into account a broad range of climate conditions and other variables in North American climate zones and markets.

This report contains findings that will be adapted for use as the basis for implementing climate-specific standards in the PHIUS+ project certification program in early 2015. Furthermore, as materials, markets and – climates – change, the PHIUS Technical Committee will periodically review and adapt the standard to reflect those changes.

  • We invite formal comment on the science. Please use this online form to submit. Deadline for formal comment: January 16, 2015.
  • Formal comments will not be public, and are for Tech Committee review only. (The Tech Committee or PHIUS staff will contact you for permission, should we be interested in publishing your comments.) All formal comments will be reviewed, but we cannot guarantee an individual response.
  • Passive House Alliance US Members: An online informal discussion forum is available to all members. The forum discussion will be visible to the general public, but only PHAUS members can make comments. Comments on the discussion forum are not guaranteed to be reviewed by the Technical Committee.
  • If you are not a PHAUS member, use the blog comments section below. Comments on the blog cannot be guaranteed to be reviewed by the Technical Committee. To ensure Committee review, use the online formal comment form.

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!

 

 

 

 

California here we come!

I’m just back from San Francisco where I spent five days to meet with stakeholders and contributors to discuss plans for the conference coming up on September 10-14, 2014.

The talks were amazing and super encouraging! PHIUS+ projects in the Bay Area are exceptional – they all are also zero energy or positive energy buildings highlighting that passive building is the ideal starting point for going zero or positive. This growing trend – passive to positive energy — will be one of the major themes for conference sessions!

Combining passive design in buildings plus renewables is one of the strategies identified by carbon reduction groups to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. The latter because passive buildings are especially resilient in weather extremes and power outages.

San Francisco has long been aiming at carbon zero goals by 2020, looking to identify a clear set of tools on how to practically and cost effectively implement them. That’s why we chose San Francisco for this 9th Annual North American Passive House Conference. We think it can be the catalyst for a tipping point, a special moment in time when the concept is catapulted forward thanks to favorable factors in the Bay Area. With plenty of high quality high-performance projects designed and built by the pioneers in the passive community, we have an excellent opportunity to make the case to make to the city and its residents that passive design is the best path to their goals.

On my trip I have spoken with various stakeholders and thought leaders and have seen nothing but honest excitement about the possibilities of the conferencce. And better yet, if San Francisco get’s it, you know that the rest of the state and then the country will eventually follow, hence it is critical to make this a big success that radiates beyond the borders of California setting a definite sign: we are in the transition toward a new energy economy and buildings, passive and renewables will play an important role in it.

We’re excited that William Rose, a building science pioneer, will deliver our keynote and that Achilles Karagiozis, Director of Building Science for Owens Corning and WUFI developer will speak at the closing plenary. Also: Joe Lstiburek will present a daylong workshop on building science fundamentals during pre-conference sessions.

Of course, success of the conference – as always –will depend on the dedicated members of our community. We’ve collected dozens and dozens of terrific presentation proposals (and we’re a week or two behind in our review, please accept our apologies; we’ll be in touch soon), and the content of our breakouts will be terrific, as always. We also have a great range of pre-conference sessions (which als earn CPHC CEUs), including a daylong session with five CPHCs who are leading the way in multifamily builldings. Visit the conference website often for updates.

And if you’re available to volunteer to help, email conference@passivehouse.us with your availability and any special expertise. We could use help with everything from registration desk staffing to videography.

Full schedule — and more announcements on some great presenters — are on the way, stay tuned!

Katrin