Meet the PHIUS Technical Committee

Graham Wright, Chair, PHIUS Technical Committee

Graham Wright — in addition to be a pre-certifier for the PHIUS+ program — has been capably leading the efforts of the PHIUS Technical Committee since 2011. The Committee has produced work on a variety of subjects, and until now, Graham has been too busy to introduce himself and his fellow members. Without further delay, here’s Graham:

Hello everyone.  I’m writing today to tell you about the PHIUS Technical Committee, who it is and what it does. It’s a real privilege for me to serve on the committee and to collaborate with people who are so capable and committed to advancing passive building here in North America.

I’ve been meaning to write this article introducing the PHIUS technical committee for a long time.  The original crew was recruited by PHIUS Director Katrin Klingenberg over the summer of 2011, and we had our first face-to-face meeting at the North American Passive House conference in Maryland that September.  We agreed that we wanted to get useful technical information out to the passive house community on a regular basis, and set ourselves a goal of publishing an article each month.  We got right to work and published our first article in November, and stayed on our monthly schedule for five months  before tackling the spray foam conundrum, which took us three months to deal with.  (The committee tends to vote for quality over quantity, while remaining mindful that the best is the enemy of the good.)

From the beginning I felt it was important to be transparent about who the committee is and how it works.  We passed some basic motions establishing our modified consensus process at the September 2011 conference and got to work publishing articles for you, but decided we better hold off on the “meet the tech committee article” until we had a proper set of bylaws that addressed things like elections, officer terms of service and so on.  We got that in place by the Denver conference in September 2012 (having published seven articles by then).

Therefore this introduction is a bit overdue —  I could have written this article at any point since October 2012 and it is now February 2013, so the delay is entirely my fault.  Sorry.  I know this transparency stuff is important but the technical stuff is more fun.

You can read the Technical Committee bylaws here.  A couple of highlights:  We operate by a modified consensus process; that is, we go up to three ballots seeking consensus (notionally proposal, counterproposal, and compromise) and if there’s still no consensus, a motion can pass on a three-fourths vote. This procedure also applies to membership – any member can nominate a new member and if the motion carries they are in.  Members can also be voted off by the same procedure.  Since inception, three people have stepped down and two have joined.

As to what the Tech Committee does, the bylaws document also contains the purpose statement, which is as follows:

  • Identifying and prioritizing North American Passive House research projects.
  • Developing and updating standard North American protocols for Passive House.
  • Producing white papers and protocols describing the results of research, and protocol conclusions.
  • Developing product certification criteria and details for North American climate zones.
  • Serving as a peer review board for North American Passive House Conference abstract submissions.
  • Producing one “Tech Corner” Article per month (when able) for the PHIUS Newsletter.
  • Working with Education Committee to integrate research findings and developed protocols to CPHC curriculum and exam development.

There’s a lot about protocol, which may generate feelings of boredom, tedium, or stiflement, but the reason to love it is that protocol is a tool for streamlining the process of executing a high-performing passive building. It aims to format things so they are more cut-and-dried wherever possible and you don’t have to guess what to do, re-invent the screw, or go off on so many research projects on your own.

One of PHIUS’ CPHC instructors, Vic Weber—a former fighter pilot, is a strong advocate for protocol.  He’s always saying stuff like:

“It’s like in the Navy, they would give us a new weapon system and tell us to just go figure it out.  We would, but it was stupid.  The Navy’s tech committee (TOPGUN) would never leave the fleet hanging for long….  It was always important to publish a standard that we thought would work, knowing we could change it or refine it as things developed.  Give ‘em something to hang their hat upon…

…I think we need to put out exactly what PHIUS recommends that folks monitor, along with some recommendations for systems that will economically achieve it.”

Roger that, Commander.  So, feedback from the instructors is one source of items for our to-do list. Another source is the creativity of teams submitting projects for certification. In addition to my Tech Committee hat, I also wear a PHIUS staff hat as a PHIUS+ pre-certification reviewer. Fairly often still, we reviewers have to make a judgment call on issues like, “I’m going to connect the shin bone to the arm bone as well as the thigh bone, how do I enter that into PHPP,” or “how do I come up with an efficiency or a U-value for this thing/stuff.” Sometimes the certification team can get together and feel comfortable making a judgment call on whether some tactic is cheating or just clever design, but sometimes we decide: This should go to the Tech Committee.

One of the very important matters before the Committees is “Developing and updating standard North American protocols for Passive House”  Yes, this is the climate-specific standard adaptation matter that Katrin has written about before on this blog.

We have heard and discussed a number of interesting ideas about adapting the passive house standard to North America – some from the committee members and some from other experts like Bruce Kruger and Marc Rosenbaum.  If you have a strong interest in this issue, Tech Committee membership may be for you. There is however, a price: You’ll have to work.  One of the requirements of membership is “A Member is required to significantly contribute to at least one of the Committee’s articles, or works, per year.”

Right now, we are a bit under strength at eleven members.  To maintain the flow of technical information that our community needs,  we are putting out a call for new members.

If you share our enthusiasm for advancing the art and science of passive building in North America, please send me a statement of interests and resumé / curriculum vitae.  Email: graham@passivehouse.us

If accepted, you’ll be joining a terrific group of experienced and accomplished passive building science and construction professionals. See for yourself here.

You’ll also have an opportunity to work on a wide range of topics and issues that are critical to the passive building community. And you’ll be on the cutting edge of knowledge. Topics include:

  • Standard adaptation by climate zone
  • Ground contact modeling
  • Shading
  • Thermal bridge calcs
  • Internal heat gains
  • Daylighting
  • Subsoil heat exchangers
  • Exhaust air appliances
  • Accounting for thermal mass
  • Summer cooling by window ventilation
  • Domestic hot water
  • On-site renewables
  • HRV / ERV
  • Heat pump seasonal performance
  • Custom solar thermal systems
  • Complex mechanical systems
  • Process loads in commercial buildings
  • Embodied energy and other impacts
  • Community-scale certification
  • Air-tightness
  • Moisture performance
  • Details gallery

I can say from experience that it’s a privilege—not to mention fun—to work with committed, accomplished folks on moving passive building forward. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Regards,

Graham

 

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