At ACI, lots of passive house

On the road again. This time to Baltimore for the ACI National Home Performance Conference. We’ll be there, sharing a booth (number 522) with Elysian Energy. If you’re planning to attend, please come by and see us!

Also, at NESEA BE12 in Boston, we tried something new: I led a trade show floor tour of exhibitors who offer components and materials for passive house design and construction. For members of the passive house community, it was a fast, efficient way to get a look at passive house wares on display.

The tour was extremely well-received (I ended up doing two of them). So we decided we’ll do the same at ACI. I hope you can join us – just meet at Booth 522, Wednesday, March 28, at noon. We’ll embark from there.  Meantime, here’s a bit of a virtual view of what we’ll be looking at:

ACT Inc D’MAND Systems
The next big thing is multi-family passive buildings. The challenge in those: meeting the source energy demand. Hot water usage is high and contributes to a lot oflosses along and with them heat gains in a scenario already dominated by internal load. Minimizing such is important to minimize energy use and to reduce cooling needs in a multi-family Passive Building. The on-demand recirculating hot water pump is one really good way to go

Applegate Insulation, FiberAmerica , GreenFiber, National Fiber
A little a while ago a discussion emerged over if and how embodied energy of insulation materials should be accounted for in a passive house energy balance. As superinsulation requires more material, it is my personal opinion that choices of materials with very low embodied energy are a safe, sound and environmentally good practice. Cellulose has one of the lowest embodied energies and is only beaten by – you guessed it – straw bale. Cellulose is also a safe choice when it comes to the hygrothermal wall performance of a superinsulated wall. Superinsulation means very little heat loss from inside into the wall, therefore less drying potential for the wall and colder exterior sheathing surfaces, presenting 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 again in the in-between seasons.”

CertainTeed Corporation, Johns Manville 
PHIUS’ affordable housing developer Ecological Construction Laboratory used for all its Urbana, Ill., projects high density blown-in fiberglass insulation – BIBS. After 9 years the first house was reexamined with an infrared camera. It looked like it did on day one. We have been very happy with the R-value, no settling and of course the cost effectiveness of this product! BIBS is an excellent choice.

Earth Advantage Institute
Earth Advantage Institute is as of last month a PHIUS partner in delivering the Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) training. EAI is intending to offer training in a large area: the Pacific Northwest including British Columbia and California. EAI has earned a great reputation for its vision, first-rate educational programs and instructors and a first of its kind carbon score system for homes.

Intus Windows
Intus windows are a very cost-effective European window solution. Manufactured in Lithuania, they offer the same European quality of high performance frames, glazing, airtightness, multi-lock hardware as well as cool moderate climate verification for their frame through the European PHI. All at a slightly more affordable cost than other competitors. The two young entrepreneurs who are driving Intus forward in the United States are both Passive House enthusiasts. On the horizon: they are working on establishing a factory located in the United States to manufacture their product locally. I am looking forward to that day. The smartest thing we can do is ship the recipe for excellent technology across the ocean instead of the whole window. Intus Windows is

also distributing the Schueco Passive House curtain wall system (cool moderate climate verified).”


The Energy Conservatory
The man and the company who brought us the Blower Door, the Duct Blaster, and now the Flow
Blaster. Say no more.






The standard: Less energy, less pollution, more comfort.

I’ve been on the road a lot lately but let me thank you again for your thoughtful contributions and the

Solar radiation exposure is one factor that differs dramatically between Germany and the US. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, European Commission)

healthy debate sparked by my first blog post, “15kwh is Dead, Long Live 15kwh.” In the post I put forth PHIUS’ plans to modify the passive house standard to address the specific climate and market needs of the North American market. A quick summary of the changes and their value:

  • Modifications will be based on the first and only large-scale analysis of passive house buildings in the United States and Canada – the 100+ buildings certified/under review by PHIUS.
  • They will address the substantive and reasonable critiques (such as the small-home penalty) of leading building scientists in North America like John Straube, Marc Rosenbaum, and Martin Holladay.
  • They will safeguard the high quality for which passive house is known by acknowledging

    View Marc Rosenbaum's presentation on passive house in the United States from the 2011 North American Passive House Conference

    fundamental differences (e.g., building in high-humidity zones presents unique quality challenges).

  • Modifications will calibrate envelope improvements more precisely for each climate and will be more cost effective than the one-size-fits-all approach. They will improve cost effectiveness in colder climates while maintaining comfort and quality of the envelope. And they will actually tighten the standard in climates where there is opportunity for more stringent targets.

The post touched off a great deal of constructive discussion and supportive comments – many folks expressing support for an idea they believe was long overdue.

Understandably, the prospect of change also caused some angst. Recently, a petition was circulated asking folks to sign-on in support of maintaining a single numerical standard associated with the term passive house. I fully understand the response – years ago, I might have signed on myself. But since then, based on the collective experience of passive house consultants who have designed and constructed projects across the continent, it’s become clear that adaptation is critical.

It’s also become clear that we at PHIUS need to get better at explaining the rationale for the modifications that we’re proposing and how they will help propel the market forward while maintaining the core principles of passive house.

To that end, I’d like to respond to some of the concerns and ensuing discussion around the petition mentioned earlier.

Let’s start with a sentiment expressed in a Green Building Advisor article related to the petition topic:  It was expressed that the “beauty of the standard is its purity.”  Purity implies uniformity, and my intended point is that 15kwh is not a universal truth, and therefore not practical for all climate regions.  The rigor of passive house is universal.  In the US, 15kwh is rigorous and practical in the Pacific Northwest  but hat’s not the case in most of the other North American climate zones.

By the same token, in some areas of the United States – Southern California, for example – it’s technically and economically practical to do better than 15kwh.  And it’s worth reiterating: adjusting the standard will allow us to do away with the small-house penalty (that being that it’s actually easier to achieve 15kwh in a larger structure than a small one, thereby presenting an incentive to build larger).

As mentioned in the first blog post, other parts of the world have already concluded that 15kwh is not universal. This is really not a new development.

More important, is the suggestion that modifying the standard creates market confusion. Three points argue against this being a concern:

1. Passive house is not a brand. Passive house is a generic term for structures that require little or no actively generated energy for heating and cooling. Put another way: “Passive house” is the equivalent to “hybrid automobile.” Car manufacturers now make their versions with their brands.

2. Passive house applies to the principles and practices – which are universal – required to build passive structures. Many of them — superinsulation, airtightness, energy recovery ventilation, managing solar gain — originated in the United States and Canada. They don’t belong to anyone. They are not brands. And they are available to all designers and builders who want to learn to apply them. They remain intact and powerful regardless of any number.

3. As more competitors arrive in a growing market wishing to offer passive house products clear branding of different passive house products (different trainings, quality assurance protocols or standard variations) is important to avoid confusion in the market place. PHIUS has differentiated its product by creating the PHIUS+ program.

Market size is a bigger concern. Passive house has come a long, long way in the past several years. But the market is still tiny. The imperative is to grow the market. And it will not grow if we adhere to a standard that isn’t practical in large swaths of the continent.

By making the standard applicable across the continent, and teaching professionals how to make passive house work where they work, we can help passive house principles go mainstream here in North America. We can make passive house principle best practice. And that will achieve all of our ultimate goals: Less energy, less pollution, more comfort. All thanks to passive house.


Certified Passive House Consultant Training in the North American Context: Then, Now, and Moving forward

The mark of a CPHC...

In May 2008, PHIUS launched the first English-language passive house training program, and with it, the Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHCsm) accreditation.

By the start of 2012, nearly 700 professionals had completed or were enrolled in the PHIUS training program. More than 300 trainees from across the nation had passed the exam to become accredited as a CPHC. And they’ve been busy – they’ve submitted more than 150 projects — residential, commercial and retrofits– for verification in the PHIUS+ Quality Assurance program.

From the beginning, PHIUS classes had a North American accent that was based on real-world

Louisville Courier-Journal article from 1982 detailing a house built in Urbana that utilized superinsulation, airtight envelope, energy recover ventilation, and solar gains. Yes, 1982.

experience.  In 2008, that experience was largely my own and that of a handful pioneering souls, including many who had pioneered passive house principles like superinsulation in the United States and in Canada decades ago.

That’s changed, thanks to lots of committed individuals. Leading these trainings has been a revelation — and an inspiration — for me and my fellow instructors. Our classes are filled with enthusiastic, extremely bright and energetic architects, engineers, builders, energy raters and consultants. Everyone gets – and gets excited by — the fundamental passive house principles. Everyone brings their real-world experience from their regions.  And everyone contributes to advancing passive house.

The result: A continually evolving training curriculum that draws on years of experience and data from a growing community with local expertise.

For example: We’ve learned that hygrothermal modeling – maybe unnecessary in some climates – is critical to successful passive house design in many North American regions. It’s the only way to anticipate and address moisture issues in envelope components associated with humidity that are widely present in the United States and Canada. As a result, students now get a hands-on introduction to hygrothermal modeling using WUFI modeling software. (A free version of WUFI is offered by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Fraunhofer Institute.)

Similarly, THERM (free download from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) is useful to calculate thermal bridging, and students now receive an introduction to using that software tool. Because WUFI and THERM have become de rigeur in many scenarios, we’ve also developed workshops devoted entirely to those tools.

Click on the image to download the PHIUS Technical Committee's paper on evaluating windows for passive house.

The field is developing quickly, and the curriculum will develop accordingly. The existing community of CPHCs continues to build and certify projects and their experience flows back into CPHC classes. The PHIUS Technical Committee, comprising leading passive house practitioners, regularly publishes papers – the latest on evaluating window performance for passive house projects. This year, PHIUS will publish the PHIUS library, a training companion folder that will be updated on and ongoing basis as sections are revised or added (Passive House Alliance members benefit from receiving the newest updates as part of their membership benefit packet for free!).

As our curriculum has evolved, so has the examination process: A computer-based exam component focuses exclusively on North American climates, detailing, construction technology, building conventions, climate-appropriate mechanical equipment and code requirements. Americans can work in Inch Pound units and Canadians can choose metric. Examinees then take home a basic design exercise. This year, for the first time students can opt to take the exam on the afternoon of the last day of class. If students don’t feel ready, they can opt to take the exam at the end of any class program at any location at a later time. The Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) is also hosting two exams per year in various chapter locations scheduled independently from trainings.

European training providers also offer Certified Passivhaus Designer (CEPH) training in the North American market – CEPH standing for Certified European Passive House. For those who take the European training or have achieved the European accreditation, PHIUS will soon offer an abbreviated training and exam sequence to receive PHIUS CPHC accreditation and listing on the PHIUS Web site.

Join us!

PHIUS has an incredible roster of instructors from around the country. But the buzz in the CPHC training classrooms comes as much from our students as us. (If you want to hear from someone who took the class, check out Jesse Thompson’s account of taking the class on the Green Architects’ Lounge podcast.)

We’ve come this far as a community, and we need to grow the community of qualified passive house professionals if we’re going to achieve the goal of making passive house mainstream. There are more opportunities than ever, as PHAUS chapters begin offering training in their regions, and as partners like Earth Advantage Institute and Carnegie Mellon University begin hosting classes.

Upcoming CPHC trainings include: San Francisco later this month; Salt Lake City in May; June brings New York, Atlanta (in partnership with the local PHA-US chapter) and Portland (through our new partner, Earth Advantage Institute). Seattle training dates, also offered by Earth Advantage, will be announced soon. Boston dates are also in the works.

Check the schedule for updates at the PHIUS site or at the PHAUS National Events calendar.

If none of the sites/dates work, subscribe to the PHIUS newsletter to get updates on additional training sites and updates.

And you can read a full course description here.

See you soon I hope!




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!





RESNET 2012 Recap

Just a quick status report from the trenches, err, trade show booth: PHIUS just packed up the table at the RESNET 2012 trade show in Austin, Tex. The booth was generously sponsored by Jim Conlon of Elysian Energy in Silver Spring, Md. Jim was one of the first  folks to become a CPHCSM, and was among the first group of RESNET Raters in the country to take the new PHIUS+ Rater training last December; he’s now qualified to perform the PHIUS+ RESNET QAQC process. Thank you, Jim, for your work and your generosity!

PHIUS promoted its newly launched  PHIUS+ project certification to the RESNET stakeholders, who are the linchpin of the process. PHIUS+ RESNET raters perform passive house specific on-site testing protocols and generate HERS index numbers that accurately reflect passive house performance. PHIUS is offering a two-day certification training for experienced HERS raters to specialize in passive house and passive building QAQC and testing. Only passive houses that pass this rigorous quality assurance process receive the certificate.

During the conference, PHIUS held another 2-day class for raters: one day in the class room and one day on site. Yes, Austin

Take a video tour of Nicholas Koch's project.

already has two passive houses and one of them, Nicholas Koch’s retrofit project, was used for the on-site testing and the ERV balancing and commissioning protocol. The class had the special opportunity to use a new product from Minneapolis Blower Door; it can provide extremely low-flow ventilation air testing and balancing. Thanks to the company’s owner—Gary Nelson—instructors  John Semmelhack and Ryan Abendroth used equipment right off the trade show floor for PHIUS+ RESNET Rater on-site training.  Thank you, Gary!

Ryan and John also presented a conference session on Wednesday afternoon that outlined the PHIUS-RESNET, program details and benefits to raters and consumers.

Overall, RESNET 2012 was a great success with close to 1000 participants! Indeed, energy efficiency is on people’s minds and on government’s radar.

For me, the most important message was RESNET’s pledge to devote its resources in 2012 to make performance-based incentives a reality. This is awesome, of course, for everyone building to the passive standard, as these buildings—that offer maximumperformance—will receive maximum incentives.

Also very encouraging: lots of RESNET raters are extremely well-versed on passive house principles and aware of the PHIUS+ RESNET program. What better group of professionals to help build market confidence in quality-assured passive buildings? There was lots of interest in taking the two-day PHIUS+ RESNET rater training, and many raters also are interested in taking the CPHC training and becoming Certified Passive House consultants. On that subject, we’ll be announcing more PHIUS+ training sites and dates very soon!

I’m in Portland for the Passive House Northwest Spring Conference, and I’ll check in next from Boston at NESEA BE12 (if you’re going, sign up for my workshop on passive house mechanical systems).