PHIUS, Universities Partner to Train Emerging Passive Professionals

A feverish buzz builds in Alison Kwok’s University of Oregon classroom as students scramble to
complete final details of architectural elevations, double-check load calculations, and precisely
label drawings.

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This cohort of aspiring practitioners join a growing number of design students getting a jump start on their sustainable design careers by obtaining CPHC credentials while still enrolled at their institutions. To date, five institutions have formed partnerships with PHIUS to provide CPHC training: University of Oregon (OR), Miami University Ohio (OH), Prairie View A&M (TX), Ryerson University (ON), and Ball State University (IN). Most students who earn CPHC in school are practicing with firms within a year.

The CPHC curriculum and modules are largely the same as the weeklong trainings PHIUS regularly provides, with some important modifications. Professor Kwok sometimes opts to invite professionals as guest lecturers to cover content like WUFI modeling, while instructing on other items like assembly calculations of details herself (she is co-author of Passive House Details, with Donald Corner and Jan Fillnger). Other faculty instructors use the culminating product—developing a PHIUS+-compliant design—as more of a collaborative studio project than an individual take-home. This applied learning allows students to iterate through the design process while allowing collaboration, guidance, and peer exchange.

“They were motivated to learn the material again and were appreciative of getting into the depth that the PHIUS materials offered. The opportunity to become a Certified Passive House Consultant through a course tailored to their schedule was incredible!” said Professor Kwok.

These emerging professionals are already applying their building science knowledge and skills to great impact, while building portfolios and relationships with industry veterans.

The Race to Zero National Student Design Competition was one recent venue where the rising stars of sustainable design were able to really shine. This annual contest began with 84 teams from 68 institutions spanning eight countries, all vying for the best project in one of five categories: single family detached (suburban/urban), single family attached, small multifamily, and elementary school. The finalists were invited to NREL in Golden, Colorado this spring to present their projects before peers and distinguished judges (including PHIUS Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg).

Four of the finalist teams—Prairie View A&M, Miami University, and Virginia Tech—were led by students who had earned the CPHC credential through their university. Other teams, such as IIT, were supported and mentored by established CPHC professionals.

We’ll be featuring more stories from emerging CPHC professionals in the coming weeks. And be sure to join us in Boston for the 13 th Annual North American Passive House Conference, where Race to Zero winners will be presenting on their winning submissions.

PHIUS Joins US, EU Delegates to Tour Affordable Passive Buildings

On a sweltering hot and humid summer morning last week in Washington DC, PHIUS staff joined community development and design professionals from both sides of the Atlantic on a tour of sustainable social housing. The visit to Weinberg Commons, the first affordable multifamily retrofit project to earn PHIUS+ certification, capped the weeklong DC Energy Future Exchange Tour, organized by the Ecologic Institute.

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The tour was led by Koray Aysin of HousingUP with Donna Rosano of Zavos Architecture + Design and Matt Fine, CPHC (formerly with Zavos). The guides described in detail the challenges and creative approaches they applied to renovate a dilapidated group of garden apartments into healthy, dignified, affordable homes for families of limited means—while also achieving ambitious energy and environmental targets. Because the developer, Housing Up, also pays the utilities, they had an incentive to invest in the building’s energy efficiency, knowing that the benefits would exceed the costs down the road. Some of the strategies the team used to hit stringent PHIUS+ energy targets included:

  • Specially designed window boxes that block solar heat gain while allowing natural light to enter the dwelling areas
  • Outboard insulation applied between vertical joist, a creative approach to a structural challenge

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  • Energy recovery ventilation that reuses energy from indoors to pre-heat or cool thefresh air stream
  • Exceptional air tightness of 0.58ACH 50. This result is remarkable in new construction, and even more difficult to achieve in an existing building
  • A Variable Refrigerant Flow system that allows different sides of the building to heat and cool simultaneously. Due to superior insulation and air-tightness, all twelve units in the building are served by just one 2 ½ ton condensing unit—typical of a large single-family house.
  • Solar hot water panels and a basement storage tank; this results in a 40% cost savings
  • Rooftop solar electric panels developed by a third party, which sells back to the apartment at a rate 50% lower than grid purchase

 

Attendees were also able to see passive performance in action. While the tour started on a hot, loud street, discussion continued in the cool and quiet of the community room, thanks to the well-executed features. Here, participants learned about the financial aspects of the project. Financing sources included federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, local housing funds from DC DHCD, funds from the DC Department of Behavioral Health, and philanthropic support.

Check out our Multifamily Resource page for concepts and case studies applying PHIUS standards to affordable housing. Then sign up to join us in Boston on September 20 for a pre-conference workshop with leading practitioners in design and community development.

Tierra Linda Brings Affordable Passive Housing to Chicago

Some forward-thinking architects and community groups have partnered with PHIUS to bring the benefits of passive building to the affordable housing market in Chicago.

Landon Bone Baker Architects (LBBA) and the Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA) held a public tour of the Tierra Linda passive house project on Wed., June 20. The tour drew a crowd of nearly 150 architects, designers, writers and curious neighbors.

While the project is well under way and set to be completed in October, city regulations nearly thwarted the idea in its early stages.

“Initially the city was skeptical about the passive house design,” said LBBA architect Dominik Soltys, “but once we explained to them what it would mean for the community then they were more receptive.”

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Other homes in the housing project are Energy Star rated, a more relaxed rating than the PHIUS+ certification, but cheaper upfront. ComEd will be monitoring the energy usage on the passive building against the Energy Star buildings to evaluate and compare actual energy performance.

The adoption of passive building design is growing exponentially in the affordable housing sector, with some states having already included passive building certification as part of their process of awarding tax credits for affordable projects.

According the the United States Federal Reserve, one in two renters in the City of Chicago is rent burdened, meaning that more than 30 percent of their income is spent on housing costs such as rent, utilities and repairs. Passive building is a perfect match for affordable projects, because it significantly reduces and attunes utility bills.

The 6-flat PHIUS+ certified building is located at 1812 N Drake Ave., in the center of a scattered development site in Chicago’s West Side. If all goes according to plan, the Tierra Linda project will be the first PHIUS+ certified multifamily  building in the state of Illinois. Before residents can move in, for quality assurance purposes, third-party PHIUS+ raters and verifiers will perform tests on the building to ensure that it is airtight and able to maintain a healthy air quality.

Lindsey Elton, Director of Rating Services at Eco Achievers, is in charge of testing the Tierra Linda project. During the tour, the PHIUS+ rater said she is excited for the future of passive building, and looking forward to being a part of this affordable housing project.

“We’re growing, PHIUS is growing. We’re pushing the envelope, no pun intended,” said Elton. “Your path to net zero is a part of our conversation.”

Celebrating Summer Solstice in Chicago

Wednesday night, dozens of local designers, builders, and residents gathered to see how passive principles are applied in projects—and how they can give us a jump start on a clean energy future. PHAUS’ Chicago Chapter organized an in-depth guided tour of Tierra Linda, a PHIUS+ project currently under construction in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. This affordable 6-unit building, developed by LUCHA, is vying to be the first PHIUS+ multifamily project in Chicago. It also shows how good design is the first step in making the sun our primary source of power.

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So, how far does solar power go? Technically, energy from the sun, our friendly fusion reactor, travels about 93 million miles, or 7 light-minutes, to reach Earth. However, if you want to know how far solar power will go to meeting your home, business, or community’s energy needs and sustainability goals, you need to start with some critical questions and concrete examples.

As an energy efficiency evangelist, I often take umbrage when a news story says that a new power plant will produce “enough energy to power X homes.” Usually, that number’s about 750-1000 homes per megawatt, or 7.5-10kW per home. But how many GOOD homes would that same facility power?

To even approach numeric goals for climate, we need to address both supply and demand, numerator and denominator, at the same time.

This is where passive building comes in. By investing in the “passive” (i.e., nonmoving) parts of a building like walls and windows, we can significantly reduce the need for “active” systems like HVAC—and the energy to run them. The PHIUS+ standard sets cost-optimized energy targets based on local climate, building geometry, and occupancy.

If you start with minimal loads, it’s easier to meet them completely with clean energy. This is not complicated conceptually or practically. There is more opportunity to conserve energy in a building than to make it on the roof. The PHIUS+ limit on source energy makes sure that projects focus on efficiency first.

The table below compares the two scenarios PHIUS staff and the project team evaluated for the Tierra Linda project.

IECC 2015 PHIUS+
Annual Energy Use (kWh) 112,000 43,000
EUI (kBTU/sf/yr)                              39.3 16.8
PV needed for NZE                         86kW 22kW

If the project had been built to Chicago’s already stringent energy code, it would need a very large solar array. The extra 64 kW of solar would have cost $200,000 more. Even if there were room in the budget for that, there wouldn’t be space on the site! The team was able to eliminate equivalent energy use through passive techniques like insulation, air sealing, and energy recovery ventilation that will deliver comfort and savings to the residents—even on cloudy days in the depths of the Chicago winter.

Check back to the Klingenblog for more about how PHIUS+ is helping a clean energy future get made—even in the shade.

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Train the Trainers

Take a look at our Training Calendar, and you’ll see that the type, number, and location of courses is expanding to meet the growing interest in the tools, techniques, and quality control process that PHIUS offers. This spring, a group of nine CPHCs traveled to PHIUS’ office in Chicago for an intensive weekend of “Train the Trainer” (T3) activities. Aspiring trainers already have some mastery of passive principles; practicing pedagogy presented unforeseen challenges—and insights.

The session was led by veteran trainers Lisa White and Allison Kwok, as well as “Patient Zero” of CHPC trainers, PHIUS Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg. Participants took turns as instructors and students, covering in condensed format all the elements of a CPHC training—passive building principles, WUFI modeling, and practical design exercises.IMG_3353

“Just like in a real project, I found myself grappling with scheduling and sequencing. I learned that to be effective trainer, I need to consider how people learn as much as what they learn, “ said James Ortega, PHIUS Certification Staff member and newly minted trainer.

In the following weeks, new Trainer candidates had a “practicum,” where they led one-third of the five-day CPHC training, under the supervision of instructors.

As of this week, all nine participants have completed the full training: Chris West (VT), Dan Luddy (WA), David Salamon (PA), Izumi Kitajima (VA), James Ortega (IL), John Loercher (NY), Maren Longhurst (WA), Sayo Okada (MA, JP), and Thomas Moore (NY).

With this broadened base of professionals, PHIUS will be able to offer more and better professional training, in person and online.

Expanding our national network of building science experts steeped in the principles and tools of passive building is both practical and strategic. We are working to build a community of practice in every part of the country where passive building makes sense—which is every part of the country! We’re standing up new leaders to drive the movement forward, engaging new partners while ensuring the highest standards of quality, consistency, and clarity as we work toward our goal of making passive building mainstream.