PHIUS+ and DOE Challenge Home Partnership

On Monday, August 20, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a new partnership between the DOE Challenge Home program and the Passive House Institute US to cooperate on the promotion of various levels of high-performance buildings on the path to zero net-energy.

This news is a huge development for the passive house community and for PHIUS. The endorsement of PHIUS+ passive house certification through the DOE instantly makes passive house the most energy efficient option for builders, designers and developers who want to achieve a zero energy building. This recognition will go a long way toward making passive house mainstream.

This took a lot of time and effort, and we owe thanks to Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect at the DOE, whose knowledge, vision and determination were critical to the effort. (Sam was the keynote at last year’s North American Passive House Conference.)

So, how does this partnership change current PHIUS+ passive house certification and what do consultants need to know?

In a nutshell: not much. A passive house already fulfills most of the Challenge Home requirements – certification essentially remains the same process with a few minor additions! Those additions are very good improvements, making the home even better. Indoor air quality requirements ask for low VOC materials and the water efficiency requirements establish a reasonable savings baseline, all good things.

The Challenge Home requires rigorous third-party, on-site verification, which already is part of PHIUS+. PHIUS+ certified RESNET Raters already use an advanced passive house checklist created specifically for passive houses. (This testing protocol is actually more rigorous than the one the Challenge Home is using.)

What Challenge Home brings to the table that PHIUS+  did not before is a more formalized exterior water management and flashing checklist. Having seen quite a few bad water management details during certification so far, we are happy to add a more formalized process to assure the long term durability of the house. QAQC is crucial to assure quality in execution, actual performance and peace of mind for the client we found.

The most noteworthy change will be the inexpensive requirement to install provisions for a future renewable system. Solar readiness must be built in so that getting to zero with a small affordable renewable system down the road is possible without any hassle, the right thing to do to show that we are walking the talk!

Beginning with all newly signed contracts starting September 1, 2012, PHIUS will provide a one stop-shopping option: Getting certified under PHIUS+ simultaneously gets the Challenge Home label and the Energy Star label, all which enhance market recognition and incentive opportunities. Best of all, it’s all for the same price as before.

Mark Miller, executive Director of the Passive House Alliance US is organizing a webinar  to discuss the partnership and to give everybody the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. And my conference presentation in Denver will be on this topic, more opportunity to ask for more detailed information.

Hope to see (hear and read) you at the webinar and in September at the leading passive house event of the year, the 7th Annual Passive House Conference in Denver!



Smith House gets an upgrade – first “magic box” made in the USA

The shiny new CERV from Newell Instruments, before installation.

Two weeks ago a team from Newell Instruments showed up at the Smith House—the passive house I designed and built as my residence several years ago in Urbana, Ill.– with a new appliance. A day later, Smith house had been upgraded from a European ventilator to the very first “magic box” designed and built in America.  (If all goes as planned, the new device will be marketed and distributed by a Newell division called Equinox Built Environment Engineering,

It was a big day, and the culmination of lots of hard work. Four years earlier Ty and Ben Newell (the father and son team behind Newell Instruments) presented in Duluth at the 3rd Annual North American Passive House Conference on their invention in progress: the CERV (for conditioning energy recovery ventilator) was still a cardboard and duct-tape prototype at that point. Now the unit is in its last phases of the Underwriters Laboratory approval process and is nearly market ready!

Ben Newell

During  the 7th North American Passive House Conference in Denver (September 27-30) the Newells will present the finished product to the passive house community for the first time ever. It truly is a magic box: a compact heat pump unit designed to integrate the challenges of complex climates for  heating, cooling and dehumidification and the need for ventilation.

Heating, cooling, dehumidification, ventilation, all in one.

Its capacity is roughly 1000-1200 Watts and it is designed to be modular; if one unit does not suffice for your project(very cold climate, very hot climate or larger project), simply add a second one.

Ty Newell

In the Smith House scenario, the unit is being tested in a passive house application for the first time.  In addition, it will be coupled with an earth tube and that will be monitored. Will pre-heating and/or pre-cooling and passive dehumidification add to the capacity? We’ll find out—and report on it in Denver.

In the meantime, we are all very excited and are watching and hoping for another few 90+ degree days in late August to put the CERV to the test.

A final price has not been decided yet but will certainly be very competitive with piecing individucal components together. One small unit will take care of all: heating, cooling, ventilation and dehumidification. Might we finally tunnel through the cost barrier?

Hope to see you in Denver and stay tuned here at the blog.