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!!!!!!

 

Part 2–NESEA BE 13: A guided tour of passive house trade show exhibitors

This is the second of a three-part series on passive building presence at NESEA BE13. Part one sets the stage for the series and part three completes the tour.  

Last year’s NESEA passive trade show tour was a huge success for exhibitors and attendees. This year’s will be even bigger and better: Remember, you can join me for a tour of Passive Place–a concentration of passive component manufacturers organized by PHAUS on Wednesday, March 6. I’ll also be doing a stage presentation just before the tour. Here are the details:

Demonstration: Cool Passive House Gadgets
Wednesday, March 6, 4:30, Stage 2, off the 1100 aisle

Passive House Trade Show Tour with Katrin Klingenberg
Wednesday, March 6, 5:30 – 6:30 (leaves from the NESEA Lounge #507)

If you can’t be there, like last year I’m going to run through the highlights here on the blog. Because we have more exhibitors, this year I’ve organized it around foundation passive building principles. We’re off!

 

Passive building principle No. 1: SUPERINSULATE AND USE THERMAL-BRIDGE FREE DETAILS

 Knauf Insulation — Booth 862 (http://www.knaufinsulation.us/) is a leader in fiberglass insulation. Knauf makes every imaginable form of fiberglass insulation, but with an ecological twist: Knauf’s ECOBatt Glasswool insulation features a new binder that is more environmentally responsible; it reduces harmful chemicals and the amount of embodied energy typically found in binders. Knauf also uses post-consumer recycled glass bottles. Knauf’s application forms include blown-in blanket systems—perfect for passive building because they provide slightly higher R-values per inch, and the blown in material fills all nooks and crannies. Knauf also makes higher density batts for acoustic insulation purposes or high temperature pipe insulation. A great range of products for passive building!

The tour moves on with a quick walk down memory lane: I was introduced to the Schoeck Isokorb during my very first year of architectural education (it was the year the wall came down, when I had just moved to Berlin, Germany).  Schoeck is to this day the world leader in thermally broken structural fasteners, check them out: Schoeck USA — Booth 662 (http://www.schock-us.com/).

Other insulation manufacturers on the NESEA floor are National Fiber — Booth 717 (http://www.nationalfiber.com/) with its cellulose insulation product and Icynene — Booth 911 (http://www.icynene.com/) with a spray foam product.

 

Passive building principle No. 2+3:

BUILD AIRTIGHT and PREVENT MOISTURE MIGRATION INTO WALL

Air barrier systems are getting smarter and more efficient to apply. PROSOCO, Inc.  —  Booth 949  (http://www.prosoco.com/) and Tremco Commercial Waterproofing & Sealants — Booth 860 (http://www.tremcosealants.com/) both offer exciting fluid-applied air and water barrier systems; they range from impermeable to vapor open with matching through-the-wall flashings. Tremco also offers specialty window-install systems to tie windows airtightly into the wall opening, such as the pre-compressed air sealing tape specifically developed for passive building.

Back to barrier systems: the planning and implementation of air-tight layers is particularly intimidating for large buildings. I know at least one passive building architect who’s having some sleepless nights worrying whether the airtight barrier will be installed perfectly. The fluid-applied systems from Prosoco and Tremco can help designers and builders of large projects sleep better. They optimize work flow and ease to prevent defects during application. Both brick and frame with exterior gypsum board construction types have lots of joints and interconnected air gaps. Wrapping the entire building from the outside in an airtight fluid applied skin is a great strategy to get all those gap leaks. The chemistry of these skins means they can now be dialed in just right in terms of permeability, based on the climate. Very exciting as we are moving more into multifamily new and retrofit construction.

Huber Engineered Woods LLC — Booth 953 (http://www.huberwood.com/) offers the ZIP-system that many passive buildings have used as their air-tightness approach. In this system the structural sheathing serves as the air-tight layer—perfect for single-family framed homes. All seams are sealed with a special tape that adheres to the sheathing permanently. This is a great approach to “tunnel through the cost barrier”: A material that is already necessary—the structural OSB—can be cross purposed as the air-tight layer and vapor control layer! But careful: this approach is highly climate specific. The CPHC must properly locate this air-tight/vapor control /zip system layer within the wall assembly. OSB has only a 0.7-1.0 perm rating.

 SIGA — Booth 620 (http://www.sigacover.com/us/) offers European smart membranes for wind- and air tightness applications, impermeable or diffusion-open, and tapes and gaskets of all varieties. There are tapes for every occasion and with any desired perm rating. Creased tapes allow for easy and perfect installation in the 90 degree corners at windows. Really well thought out systems that have been proven to last over time!

475 High Performance Building Supply — Booth 759 (http://www.foursevenfive.com/) is a Brooklyn, NY based firm offering a variety of European passive house product imports. From airtightness membranes and tape solutions by INTELLO plus and Pro Clima, a wood fiber sheathing/insulation product from Gutex, triple pane skylights from Fakro to thermally broken fasteners from Schoeck. There is also a through-wall decentralized apartment venting solution with a ceramic heat recovery core from Lunos.

 

Passive building principle No. 4:

HIGH PERFORMANCE WINDOWS AND DOORS

Selecting windows with the right climate-specific thermal and solar gain performance is critical. We’re happy to see more manufacturers and more varieties than ever. And European windows are still mostly stealing the show.

Passive Place will feature H Windows/Energate — Booth 959  (http://www.hwindow.com/products/), Klearwall Industries — Booth 963  (http://www.klearwall.com/) and New England Fenestration / Unilux Windows,  LLC — Booth 955 (http://www.newenglandfenestration.com/NEF_products.html). Energate was represented in the US early on and made headlines when they won the DC Solardecathlon with the Darmstadt team in 2007 and then did it again in 2009. They are window technology leaders.

A newer entrant in the North American market is the Ireland-based Klearwall (http://www.klearwall.com/), made from UPVC and available in various performance specs. The Thermal break in the frame is provided by adding still air chambers; for higher performance models the profile is filled with insulating foam. UPVC is a more affordable option than the wood frame windows. Both manufacturers carry the European passive house certification for the central European cool moderate climate.

New England Fenestration / Unilux features Unilux windows and doors from Germany. The window products have an excellent reputation for quality, and offer a wide choice of frames and performance specs for different climates in North America. The door options are available in high performance insulated varieties and feature superior airtightness and triple seals. Another excellent performer represented by this company are energy efficient windows from Schueco.

Pinnacle Window Solutions — Booth  763 (http://www.pinnaclewindowsolutions.net/) offers Alpen High Performance Products’ fiberglass window, the only North American made window on NESEA’s show floor that meets passive house requirements.  Alpen (http://www.alpenhpp.com/) is the same group that developed the well known heat mirror technology, which has worked successfully in many passive buildings across the nation. This fiberglass window features excellent U-values well suited for all climates, from very cold to hot. Another plus: typical mounting flange installation means contractors will know how to tie it into the water resistive barrier.

Using suspended plastic film (instead of an additional glass pane) to increase the R-value yields a window that features quadruple pane window performance while maintaining a manageable weight. This is powerful for the cold and very cold climates in North America where even triple pane windows are not measuring up. That said, the high R of the heat mirror glazing package comes at a price: the Solar Heat Gain coefficient goes down significantly the better the R and the visible transmittance is lowered as well. The good news is that the owners of this technology are working to create even better windows that meet the passive house community’s needs in North America.

Intus Windows — Booth 624 (http://www.intuswindows.com/) are a very cost effective European window solution manufactured in Lithuania. It offers the European quality high performance frames, glazing, airtightness, multi-lock hardware as well as cool-moderate climate verification through the European window certification. Intus Windows also distributes the Schueco Passive House curtain wall system (cool moderate climate verified).”

Zola European Windows — Booth 628 (http://www.zolawindows.com/), another European import, is distributed from Denver, Colo. I have to say that I am somewhat partial to the Zola aesthetic, a more slender wood frame with a thermal break made from wood fiber, hence a more environmentally friendly solution over foam. But Zola also carries the UPVC window frame varieties, which are more affordable, as well. Zola’s windows carry the European cool moderate window value certification for its products.

Yet other European passive house certified window distributors with excellent performance and further options on the NESEA show floor are Bieber Windows — Booth 727 (http://www.bieberusa.com/), European Architectural Supply — Booth 729  (http://www.eas-usa.com/Products.cfm) and Yaro – DSI — Booth 559  (http://www.yaro-dsi.com/), all definitely worth a visit and a chat or two with the knowledgeable sales reps.

 

Passive building principle No. 5:

BALANCED VENTILATION WITH HEAT RECOVERY AND MINIMIZED SPACE CONDITIONING, EFFICIENT HOT WATER

Two veteran passive house manufacturers of the central piece of equipment–the ventilation system—offer distinctly different products that represent very different choices. We’re eager for more North American manufacturers to enter the market, but so far Ultimate Air — Booth 856 (http://www.ultimateair.com/) and Zehnder America, Inc. — Booth 864 (http://www.zehnderamerica.com/) are the only two meeting the passive building challenge.

Ultimate Air brings its proven American built and affordable classic Energy Recovery Ventilator – the RecoupAerator. It is the only residential product that uses an enthalpy wheel and meets the passive house efficiency requirements. The MERV 12 filter is integrated (it is the heat exchange medium in the wheel) and the humidity transfer rate can be adjusted from 40% to 20% by choice of different heat exchange filter pies…a pretty cool option to have in humid and mixed climates.

Over the past few years Zehnder has added more models.  It offers a choice of HRV or ERV counter flow heat exchange cores, which are very different from the enthalpy wheel.  Zehnder ventilators are all European rated products and recently also obtained North American Home Ventilation Institute efficiency ratings for its two most popular models, Comfoair 350 and Novus 300.

European testing methods differ from the HVI testing protocol and the two measures can’t be directly compared.  Where we have HVI test results for both manufacturers we can quote apples to apples comparisons: Zehnder’s Comfoair 350 is rated by HVI at 93% Apparent Sensible Effectiveness (ASE) and the UltimateAir RecoupAerator is rated at 95%. Both ratings are truly exceptional. Both manufacturers offer options for defrost and pre-cooling / -heating / dehumidification through passive closed ground loop heat exchangers. Zehnder offers a time saving home run polyethylene 3” ducting system as well.

The Mitsubishi Electric — Booth 707 (http://www.mitsubishipro.com/en/professional/products/heat-pump-systems) mini-split heat pump is the perfect companion space conditioning point source solution to the ventilator. Mitsubishi has led with the highest efficiency ratings and its stable includes nine products that meet Energy Star’s most efficient equipment designation for 2013. Their mini-split systems have become popular choices for heating/cooling and dehumidification systems of choice for passive homes across North America’s climate zones. The units are available in small sizes for single zone and multi zone systems. They have excellent SEER ratings. They are available in three capacities, 9k, 12k and 15k BTU/h, the Hyper-Heat model that works down to temperatures as low as -15 F is available in 9k, 12k and 18k. An excellent, efficient, cost effective way to heat and cool a passive house by point source!

Also worth to visit Daiken AC – Altherma — Booth 418 (http://www.daikinac.com/commercial/home.asp), another leader in heat pump technology.

Stiebel Eltron Inc. — Booth 749 is one of the anchors of this year’s passive house product exhibit. I met Frank Stiebel  at NESEA in 2006. I am sure he will not remember but I remember the conversation clearly and the impression it left me with. At the time we were looking at his solar thermal system (www.stiebel-eltron-usa.com/sol27.html) and the superior superinsulated hot water storage tank (www.stiebel-eltron-usa.com/sbb.html). There was nothing like it at the time. We had also used the instantaneous hot water heaters of the Tempra series (www.stiebel-eltron-usa.com/tempra.html) with great success in our first affordable passive house projects in Urbana, Ill.

Last year I reported on the heat pump hot water heater Accelera (www.stiebel-eltron-usa.com/accelera.html), a true heat pump (not a hybrid water heater as are most other products in this category).  It’s easily the most energy efficient of the class and worth the money. Heat pump hot water heaters should be located inside the thermal envelope in super low load homes because they can contribute to cooling and dehumidification in the shoulder and summer seasons (this location even makes sense in heating dominated climates).  Stiebel Eltron has 30 years of experience with this technology.  Most recently Stiebel-Eltron in Europe is also offering a small decentralized through the wall ventilation unit with a ceramic heat exchanger. Those units “pulsate”, they reverse supply and exhaust ventilation and as the direction of the air flow changes across the ceramic heat exchanger energy is transferred and recovered. They are very efficient and are an alternate solution to centralized balanced ventilation systems, applicable to single room occupancies or small hotel rooms. Stiebel Eltron is considering introducing this product in the US. I admit I am a fan; Stiebel-Eltron products are well engineered and offer top performance!

Whew! Last year it took two posts to cover all the passive building exhibitors on the tour — this year, it’ll be three! I’ll post the third and final installment on March 5.

Thanks for reading,

Katrin

BE12, Be There!

Hi everyone,

So, from RESNET 2012 it was onto the Passive House Northwest Spring Conference, and now Boston for the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) Building Energy 12 (BE12) conference and trade show. We hope you can make — if you can, a few quick notes:

  • PHIUS and Passive House Alliance US will be teaming up at booth #1040 — come see me, Mike Kernagis, and Mark Miller (of PHA-US) at the booth.
  • Make sure to sign up for my workshop, “Advance Integrated Mechanical Systems for Passive Houses” — it’s Tuesday, 9:00 a.m. to Noon. When you sign up, you’re eligible to join the tour of passive house components and materials on display on the trade show floor. (That’s Wednesday.) For a preview of the tour, check out my earlier posts.
  • We hope you’ll join Paul Eldrenkamp (of Byggmeister Design Build), Jo Lee (of GreenMachine), me and other members of

    Paul Eldrenkamp

    the passive house community for dinner Tuesday evening, immediately after the BE12 opening forum. (FYI, everyone foots their own bill.) Special thanks to Paul, a Passive house pioneer and overall sustainable building pioneer, and Jo Lee for leading the effort — it’s a great opportunity for the substantial passive house contingent to get together.

See you in Boston!

 

Kat

 

 

NESEA Passive House Tour, Part 2

Hi everyone, hope you got a chance to read part 1 of the virtual NESEA Passive House tour. (Remember, if you’re going to NESEA and you want to join the actual tour of Passive House products that I’ll be leading on the BE12 trade show floor, be sure to sign up for my workshop.)

We left off with the excellent options from Zehnder and Ultimate Air. To finish that discussion, The UltimateAir RecoupAerator  is the only American-made high-performance ventilator on the market that meets Passive House efficiency requirements. It is very affordable, but does have some more maintenance needs. This unit also has the best humidity recovery in ERVs, which is especially interesting for the humid North American climates (of course, it works just as well in the dry climates). One unique feature: the designer has a limited ability to dial in the humidity recovery level according to climate. Very cool!

Now, on with the tour. We touched on airtightness when talking about the excellent 475 product suite.

What about the rest of the envelope? Aren’t we talking super insulation? What about walls? NESEA has a range of Passive House walls on the floor. Here are the highlights: GreenFiber, National Fiber and International Cellulose Corp. are classics when it comes to super-insulated wall systems. Not only was cellulose used in the very first projects in Canada when Passive House principles were invented in the 70s (yes, we do have long-term experience with these wall systems, this is nothing new!) it also rates high in the context of the embodied energy discussion. Given the amount of material required, it’s a valid discussion.

I lean to using materials with very low embodied energy as sound good practice for Passive Houses. Cellulose has one of the lowest embodied energies and is only beaten by — you guessed it — straw bale. Cellulose is also a safer choice when it comes to the hygrothermal wall performance of a super insulated wall. Super insulation means very little heat loss from inside into the wall, therefore less drying potential for the wall and colder exterior sheathing surfaces, which is potentially a higher risk for condensation. Cellulose can mitigate some moisture that might occur, is more forgiving than other materials and if the wall was designed in a diffusion-open fashion (as it should be for a Passive Home) then potential moisture in the wall will dry out during the in-between seasons.

Another popular insulation choice is foam insulation systems. Icynene Spray Foam and Vantem Panels offer two environmentally sound solutions for those who like to use foam products. Foam is liked in this country for very good reasons: in North America we have many humid climates. If we super insulate, we increase potential for condensation in the wall. Add bad construction and failed air tightness measures and the building will have serious problems. To address these risks, many have come to rely on foam’s benefits of added air tightness, moisture retardation and relatively high R-value.

The 2 lb closed cell spray foam from Icynene has none of the high Global Warming Potential (GWP) blowing agent controversy attached to it. It is water blown, and eliminating the concern. Vantem Panels are another excellent alternative. They use Expanded Polystyrene for their Structural Insulated Panels. The blowing agent of this foam product is pentane, which has a GWP of only 7 (compared to approx. 1000 for the most commonly used high GWP blowing agents). In addition, Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) make it really easy to meet Passive House air tightness expectations. The monolithic panels themselves are airtight, if penetrations are avoided or detailed in a very conscientious manner, then the only connections left to air seal are the panel junctures and corners. An even better foam alternative is graphite-enhanced high density EPS used by some SIP manufacturers. This type of foam yield R-values in the range of 5 per inch.

Now, if you’re building a Passive House, you have all the materials in the shopping cart. Now, what else is missing?

You might want to find an architect who ideally also is a Certified Passive House Consultant, CPHC. To find a professional you have three options: Visit the Passive House North East (PHNE) table at NESEA BE12. It represents the forum of professionals in the Northeast. Also, if you are interested in getting hooked into local Passive House events, meetings and local conferences, get involved in the PHNE local meet up groups. It’s a great place to start for local expertise and advocacy work. These folks can tell you everything about available incentives for your Passive Dream Home, which will make it look even more attractive. (Massachusetts and the Northeast are ahead of all other regions in that regard — NESEA might be able to take credit for some of that too!).

If you want to go mod (modular) you’ll find the modular homebuilder who built the very first modular Passive House in the US! Check it out, stop at the Preferred Building Systems booth. The modular project is the Charlotte Habitat for Humanity Home in Vermont. Preferred Building Systems was the first one to put a fully certified Passive House together in the factory. That deserves great recognition for the vision and ability to make it happen!

If you want to build your Dream Home in some other part of the country, go to the PHIUS site to find a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC℠). You can sort by location to find CPHCs close to you. PHIUS is the leading technical research organization in terms of all things Passive in the United States and has trained more than 600 consultants over the past five years and certified more than 300 are nationwide. PHIUS also offers PHIUS+ project certification, a conscientious Passive House quality assurance protocol that assures that you get what you pay for. You can also take a look at the certified projects (more than 100 are in the review process).

Also visit the Passive House Alliance-US site. PHA-US is a PHIUS partner, a national membership organization providing education, networking and advocacy for the community. It has 11 chapters and affiliates active across the nation with more applications pending. Its members are architects, builders, manufacturers, other associates, advocates and Passive House enthusiasts. PHA-US has kicked the gear into overdrive in 2012. Member benefits are growing fast. National webinars on Passive House topics are being shared between the regional groups, and conferences are planned. To become involved in this exciting national effort to help make Passive House mainstream with US builders, homeowners and government policy makers, join the PH Alliance today.

Finally, some special recognition: Having been a long-time forward thinker and leader in education about the built environment, Yestermorrow Design/Build School is the first educational institution to license the PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultant training to integrate it into its training offerings. Kudos to this pioneer in so many realms of construction and environment.

This past January, Yestermorrow hosted the first inaugural Passive House Consultant class. It was a great success with great feedback; more classes are being planned for next year. Twenty-four students, instructed by myself and Marc Rosenbaum, huddled in for 9 days straight in what was easily the most intense studying setting ever. Fifteen of them took the final exam on day 9 and 13 passed! Watch out for the graduates from this class, they excelled in that learning environment like no others! And, Yestermorrow’s library is unprecedented in regards to items about Passive House history in the United States and Canada from the 70s until now. This organization is a leader in Passive House education.

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 NESEA BE12 trade show floor! Be sure to sign up for my workshop — you need to sign up for the workshop to take the tour.