A snapshot of PHIUS+ Certification for passive house projects

John Semmelhack here. I’m a Certified Passive House Consultant, member of the PHIUS Tech Committee, and Passive House Alliance US board member. I’m also a certified HERS rater. I’ve been consulting with Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) on the PHIUS+ certification program and training for HERS Raters.

There are four big benefits to the PHIUS+ program that we think make the program a “win-win-win” for project teams, building owners and PHIUS, and we want to spread the word…

1)  Preliminary Certification Review – PHIUS conducts a review of drawings and the energy model prior to construction. After receiving feedback from PHIUS and making any necessary adjustments to the energy model, project teams can be confident that their projects will achieve certification once they are built.

2)  Third Party Quality Assurance – The third party quality assurance program helps assure PHIUS that the buildings will live up to the high expectations of the Passive House standard. In addition, third-party quality assurance is almost always required for government and utility incentive programs. There’s nothing like having a set of independent, objective and experienced eyes on a construction site. The PHIUS+ Raters are veteran HERS Raters who have gone through the 2-day PHIUS+ Rater training course. Their main job over several site visits is to ensure (from a building science and energy efficiency perspective) that what gets drawn is what gets built. This runs the gamut from insulation, windows and thermal bridge inspections to performance testing for air-tightness and ventilation balancing, and verification of installed HVAC equipment, lighting and appliances.

3)  Qualifying for Incentives – The majority of “whole-house” energy efficiency incentive programs require a HERS Index below a certain threshold to qualify for the incentive. Since each PHIUS+ project receives a HERS Index, the PHIUS+ program streamlines the process for obtaining government and utility incentives for your buildings. The PHIUS+ Rater will work with the project team to ensure all available incentive programs are identified and documentation in order.

4)  “Mainstreaming” Passive House – Passive House is currently a niche market within the niche market of energy efficient buildings in North America….but we don’t want it to remain that way! The PHIUS partnership with RESNET aligns Passive House with the most widely used energy rating system for houses and multi-family buildings in North America. This partnership will bring more Passive House exposure to homeowners, builders, design professionals and energy efficiency professionals across the country.

Always interested in your feedback–just post any comments, questions, etc. under Comments and I’ll do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

Thanks for reading!

















Passive house everywhere

Virginia Tech Conference, Roanoke and Pittsburgh

Hello again. I’m back — for a bit — in the PHIUS offices in Urbana, Ill.

First, thanks to the guest contributors who’ve been holding down the blog.

Second, here’s an update from what has been a whirlwind of travel that started in Grossburgwedel, Germany (my home town, where I stayed for the international conference in Hanover); then beautiful Berea, Ky., for an inspiring Habitat event; then Denver for ASES; onto Roanoke for a conference, and finally, Pittsburgh!

Very different places, but one thing in common: Great people pushing passive house forward!  For a quick take on our time in Berea with Kentucky Habitat, check out Mike Kernagis’ earlier blog post. Some other highlights:

Roanoke, Va.

Builder and leading commercial CPHC Adam Cohen seems to never rest. He shepherded me from and to the airport and

The indefatigable Adam Cohen

around the beautiful Roanoke area while I attended the “Harnessing Innovation for Energy Efficient Construction” conference sponsored by Virginia Tech. He’s currently overseeing a passive house dormitory at a local college, to be completed in August. Then there’s a passive house dentistry office — another commercial first for Adam, whose award-winning Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED), an educational community center for green technology in Rocky Mount, Va., was the first project of its kind.

Adam’s CEED has operated for over a year and it has actually exceeded predicted performance by six percent. That’s led Adam to conclude that as a practical matter, it’s perfectly feasible to hit the goal of 10-12kWh in his climate (bettering the European benchmark), with cooling mostly covered by passive dehumidification.

While in Roanoke, I also had the pleasure of meeting with John Quale, Professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He – along with CPHC Barbara Gehrung – are planning modular multifamily developments that will provide terrific research opportunities, including climate-specific standards research and refinement in that region using their currently in planning modular multifamily housing developments.  It was passive house-palooza as John, Barbara, Adam and I hashed out possibilities.

While in Roanoke, we got news about another exciting project in the Middle Atlantic. Chris Senior, a passive house builder in North Carolina, is making progress toward a large passive house development in his area. The middle South is coming and so are suitable systems for the mixed and humid climates. Some very clever solutions have been proposed. More technical details on this topic at the annual conference in Denver Sep 27-29.

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Action Housing's Heidelburg project in Pittsburgh is well underway.

PHIUS is consulting with Action Housing (an affordable development organization) on the Heidelberg project (named for the Pittsburgh neighborhood where it’s located), very first passive house Pittsburgh. We’re also working on the very first-multi-unit retrofit project (in Mckeesport) — a large brick building under historic preservation. Michael Whartnaby is the CPHC; he’s leading architect Laura Nettleton’s team. From developer to architect and engineer, they are all showing leadership in their community and it’s paying off. They are super busy with inquiries since word on their Heidelberg project has gotten out. I stopped at the Heidelberg house and can confirm: they are right on schedule. The house is half up, one more story and then it’s double wall insulation time!

Another Pittsburgh update: PHIUS is working in collaboration with one of the major raw spray polyurethane material manufacturers in the United States, Bayer, whose headquarters are in Pittsburgh. We’re working with Bayer to get the truest picture we can of foam life cycle and the impact of blowing agents on the environment. Based on this collaboration, we’ll be making recommendations on voluntary guidelines to the CPHC community about the use of spray foam. The recommendations will be published soon.

Great trip, learned a lot, but also good to be home, at least for a little while! Prepping now for the busiest CPHC training month of 2012 to start in a few days at MIT… will be back on the road to Boston Monday morning early.



Guest Post: First Builders Training, Berea, KY

Hi. Mike Kernagis here. I’m the program director for PHIUS, and Kat has invited me to do a guest blog. I’ve just returned from Berea College in Berea, Ky. where, I’m happy and proud to report, PHIUS has just completed the first Passive House Builders Training in North America! 

Among the many hats I wear here is that of construction manager for Ecological Construction Laboratory, which is now a

We had a terrific group for the first-time-ever PHIUS Builders Training in Berea, Ky.

program of PHIUS. For those that don’t know, this is where we started. E-co lab is a community housing development organization, based in Urbana, IL, and we’ve been building Passive Houses for first-time, low-income home buyers since 2005. (In fact, we have a recently competed project that is available, if you’re interested…and if you qualify…more info here.)

I’ve wanted to develop a program specifically for builders for a long time now, but there’s been just so dang much going on. But several months ago, I started working on it with my pal Dan Whitmore. Dan’s been building in and around Seattle for 25 years, and he built the first passive house in Seattle. Dan’s also a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC), so he’s kinda the whole package: he can assure good building science in design, tell you how much energy it’s going to use, and then go ahead and build it for you. Anyway, this program would not have happened without Dan’s hard work and encouragement…so thanks Dan!

While we were developing curriculum, we sent out an in-depth survey to about 25 passive house builder friends of ours across the United States and Canada, soliciting info on their experiences — successes, challenges, economics, code issues, coordinating crews and working with architects, engineers, etc, products, recommendations of specific hands-on techniques/installations (especially airtightness), client relations, marketing. Stuff like that. We also asked them for pictures.

That's Dan Whitmore on the left, during our site visit to H4H's passive house project.

The response was nothing short of overwhelming, as we got A LOT of material from pretty much ALL of them. Thanks a ton to all those folks too. We’ll be sure to give props in the class, and to include appropriate credit for material shared. Those contributions are indispensable in conveying the tangible experience of the North American builder. And if you’re out there building passive house and we haven’t contacted you, please feel free to let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

CPHC Ginger Watkins of Lexington, Ky., has been after us to provide builders training there for quite awhile now. Ginger rocks. She’s the Sustainable Building Specialist for Kentucky Habitat for Humanity, and she coordinated this program for H4H affiliate builders and construction managers from across the state. The class was at capacity, and feedback is running very positive.

The local affiliate is in the middle of their first passive house project, and we were able to take the class there on our last day for a window installation, blower door test and general tour and Q&A. All terrific. It was also greatly gratifying for me that this inaugural class was, like e-co lab, rooted in sheltering and insulating those of limited income from both inclement weather AND volatile heating and cooling costs.

After all of the planning (and talking!), implementation is where the rubber meets the road. I’m excited to see this program lift off, and I think it’ll do a lot to enhance uptake of passive house in the United States (which is what PHIUS has been, is, and will be all about).

We’ll be holding it next at the Urbana Civic Center in Urbana, IL on July 25-28. (Some veteran CPHCs may remember that was the site of the first-ever CPHC way back when.) Classes at other locations around the United States TBA.

The first day of the 4-day program will be an introduction to passive house and will be required for those who have not taken the CPHC training; it’s an optional refresher for those who have. PHIUS will be offering a Builders Certification in conjunction with this program and, like the CPHCs, Certified Builders will have a database on the PHIUS website. Those interested can contact me at the address below.

Next stop: Denver for the American Solar Energy Society World Renewable Energy Forum (http://ases.org/conference/), where we have a whole track of passive house presentations. Also hope to do some legwork for our own conference coming up there in September.



Postcard from Boot Camp

Hey all–Katrin and Mike Kernagis are busy in Kentucky and will report in on the Habitat celebration and builders training down there shortly. For today, here’s a short report on the first ever PHIUS Exam/Refresher Boot Camp.

This year — for the first time — PHIUS has been able to schedule the Certified Passive House Consultant exam on the last afternoon of each training class. Most students have opted to take the computer-based exam at the end of their training, while material is still fresh in mind. But many opt to take the exam later, after they’ve had time to absorb and review the material.

Prudence Ferreira was the drill sergeant for the first Exam Boot Camp.

Those folks, as well as trainees who take but do not pass test on their first attempt, have asked for a refresher exam-prep program. In response, PHIUS offered its first ever Exam Boot Camp Webinar May 1-5.

Prudence Ferreira–Veteran PHIUS instructor, CPHC, and owner of Integral Impact–developed and delivered the webinar curriculum. It started with a review of the basic energy balancing principles, and an intensive look at the formulas and calculations associated with the balancing act. That covered three full hours–plus homework–on the first afternoon.

The second afternoon was devoted to a design exercise, and the remaining days were essentially spent working through real-world problems and questions of the ilk that are presented in the exam.

Based on returned surveys, the inaugural class was a hit with the 15 participants. “What I got was exactly what I needed,” was one participant’s succinct summary.

Still, it was the first time around, and there were some lessons learned. In particular, students and instructor agreed that next time around, another hour should be devoted to the design exercise. Based on this and other feedback, we’re looking forward to tweaking the program and offering it again later this year.

To those who participated in the first Boot Camp — thank you! If you’re planning to take the test and are interested in the next Boot Camp — or if you’re a passive house veteran and just want a refresher — check back at the PHIUS site for announcements. Of, if you want to be notified by email when we schedule the next Boot Camp Webinar, sign up here.


Mike Knezovich, PHIUS


Greetings from Hannover, er Urbana, er …

From Hannover, Germany to historic Boone Tavern in Kentucky in less than 48 hours.

Well, the best-laid plans….

I began part two of the Hannover report on the way home to Urbana, Ill. — we flew to Chicago O’Hare Sunday night, then drove the 150 miles or so to Urbana. Monday was spent preparing for … Habitat for Humanity of Madison Clark Counties‘ (Kentucky)  20th Anniversary celebration. It’s part of a Habitat Green Summit event and includes a two-day pilot PHIUS builders/trades training program. And, we’ll be celebrating Kentucky’s first passive house project — a Habitat project led by CPHC Ginger Watkins. (Look for more on builders’ trainings later here on the blog.)

Whew, now, back to Hannover. In all, there was nothing dramatic to report. The American contingent seemed to be lower in numbers compared to last year, but no less enthusiastic or proud of their good work.

The workgroup presentations were as usual packed with good information ranging from technical information to reports and practitioners’ example buildings of all types. Some innovative ideas were certainly the highlights, such as an R-50 glass that is not relying on vacuum. (Still in research phase, but exciting nonetheless.)

Two items from the trade show stood out for addressing the last frontiers in problem solving: thermally broken highly insulated curtain wall facades (for example by Sto) and more refinement in compact units as by Stiebel Eltron.

Perhaps the best aspect of this year’s trip to the European conference was intangible: Seeing our longtime European friends like Jens Laustsen and Ludwig Rongen, both presenters at last year’s PHIUS Conference. And there was Manfred Brausem, who provided invaluable help back in 2002 when I first built the Smith House. He also helped me in 2005 when I presented the experience of the Smith House at the 8th International conference in Krems, Austria. I remain proud that it was first ever work group that was dealing with the international development of passive house and and the first ever track at that conference held in English!

They have been and remain PHIUS supporters, and send their regards to the U.S. community.

That’s it for now … time to explore Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. It’s a long way from Hannover, but it has its own rich, groundbreaking history.