“A friend and co-instructor sneaks up on me and whispers into my ear – everybody should have the opportunity to live in a passive house – then he gives me this giant smile and I know he is dying to tell me something he is so excited about.”
For those who remember, that’s how I started my first blog on the NESEA trade show passive house products in 2012. “I have a dream of my very own passive house…”, was the title.
A year later this trend took off. The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) and its membership organization the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) – the leading passive building research institute and alliance in the US – helped assemble a dedicated area for passive building vendors and organizations. In all, twelve highly impressive manufacturers of passive-appropriate components participated.
For 2014 NESEA took action and built on the success story and overwhelmingly positive responses of last year’s Passive Building place. The organizers blocked out an even greater area this year for this fast growing group of manufacturers.
So we are back! Bigger and better than ever! This time the Passive Building Place includes 21 exhibitors! I will again have the pleasure of guiding a tour on Wednesday, March 5th at 5.30 pm, visiting exhibitors with products and services indispensable to the passive building community. We will also visit some passive exhibitors who are located outside the zone. We’ll get a 3 minute elevator speech on each of the manufacturers’ products, a quick concise overview directly from those who know best. This year the professional film crew of Fine Homebuilding and Taunton Press will capture the tour to post on NESEA’s, the Passive House Alliance’s and Fine Home Building’s websites.
Passive building has traction—as the growth of certified projects above attests. And our roster of exhibitors at PHAUS’ Passive Place is also expanding. Thank you all for participating and putting your weight behind this exciting emerging construction market. Again, you are true leaders in this market transformation to achieve zero/positive energy buildings through passive design. Thanks again for joining:
475 High Performance Building Supply (Booth # 759)
Air Pohoda USA (Booth # 945)
H Window/Energate (Booth # 959)
Huber Engineered Woods (Booth # 953)
Klearwall Industries LLC (Booth # 751)
Intus Windows (Booth # 624)
Mitsubishi Electric (Booth # 707)
New England Fenestration (Booth # 955)
Passive House Institute US/Passive House Alliance (Booth # 753)
Passivhaus Maine/NA Passive House Network (Booth # 862)
Pinnacle Windows Solutions (Booth # 763)
PowerWise Systems (Booth # 856/854)
PROSOCO Inc. (Booth # 949)
Roxul (Booth # 860)
Solar Hot (Booth # 943)
Stiebel-Eltron Inc. (Booth # 749)
The Energy Conservatory (Booth # 828)
Transformations (Booth # 844)
Yestermorrow Design/Build School (Booth # 1036)
Zehnder America, Inc. (Booth # 864)
Zola Windows (Booth # 755)
There are other terrific vendors at BE14 – but time doesn’t permit us to visit all. Please, I encourage you to visit these vendors’ booths during your time on the show floor:
Affordable Comfort Inc. (Booth # 1024)
Bensonwood (Booth # 662)
Dryvit (Booth # 430)
Enovative (Booth # 939)
European Architectural Supply (Booth # 727)
Led Waves (Booth # 612)
Main Green Building Supply/ Northeast Performance Windows (Booth # 622)
National Fiber (Booth # 717)
Nectar Energy – Syracuse Tech Garden (Booth # 521)
New England Homes by Preferred Building Systems (Booth # 917)
Schock USA (Booth # 636)
ShowerStart (Booth # 723)
SIGA Cover, Inc. (Booth # 620)
Stebbins Duffy/Daikin (Booth # 418)
Steven Winter Associates (Booth # 450)
Tremco Barrier Solutions (Booth # 719)
Tremco Commercial Sealants and Waterproofing (Booth #907)
Vantem Panels (Booth # 652)
Viessmann Manufacturing (Booth # 666/565)
Yaro DSI (Booth # 660)
Let’s get to it…once again, organized by passive building design principles:
PRINCIPLE NO.1: CONTINUOUS INSULATION
Roxul is the coming superinsulation material, period. Not yet readily available in the US market, its benefits are attracting building professionals and Roxul is responding. Thank you Roxul!
So, why is this material such a great fit for highly insulated building envelopes? It is versatile. It can be used for roofing, cavity and curtain wall applications, it can be used for sound proofing in interior walls. Stone wool (or mineral wool as it is also called), maintains its R-value very well in extreme temperatures. That’s important for a designer, because the actual R-value of an insulation material varies with temperature. Foam insulation, for example, varies more and loses some of its R-value at very cold temperatures. Instead of the rated R6 it might only perform at an R4.
Also, in making stone wool, no blowing agents are required. The material maintains its physical properties over its lifetime and is dimensionally stable. Its advantages go on. It is non-combustible, “hydrophobic” (another word for water repellent), it can be used as a drain board and in contact with the ground. It provides no food for mold. It absorbs sound very well. And it is a very sustainable material. It comes as batts, higher density boards with higher R-values (depending on density R goes up) and I believe it can also be blown into cavities to make sure all little nooks and crannies are filled. What more do we want? The picture shows a mineral wool application in a superinsulated passive approved curtainwall application, thermally broken.
PRINCIPLES NO. 2+3: BUILD AIRTIGHT & PREVENT MOISTURE MIGRATION INTO WALL
PROSOCO, Inc. is a star among the air barrier systems manufacturers. It uses a liquid applied installation process that can easily be scaled from a small residential building to a 60 story apartment building. You can apply it to frame as well as to massive construction. Fluid exterior application assures evenness and continuity of the air barrier. Builders can dial in openness/permeability by specifying appropriate consistency of the material to meet climate specific hygrothermal requirements on wall assemblies. Prosoco made the news for meeting the Living Building Challenge: the company’s leading chemist figured out how to configure their product without Phthalates, which are considered highly carcinogenic. This achievement will likely result in an industry shift for the better. Kudos to the Prosoco team. The flagship project “the Bullitt Center” in Seattle used their product with amazing results: the blower door test showed a passive building level of air-tightness, under 0.6 ACH50.
Huber Engineered Woods, LLC offers the ZIP-system that many passive house teams have used as their air-tightness approach. In ZIP, the structural sheathing is used as the air-tight layer, and it’s 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 passive house consultant needs to pay very close attention to properly locate this air-tight/vapor control/zip system layer within the wall assembly. OSB has only a 0.7-1.0 perm rating.
475 High Performance Building Supply is a Brooklyn, NY based outfit focusing on a variety of European passive house air barrier product imports. They include smart airtightness membranes and tape solutions by INTELLO and Pro Clima and a wood fiber sheathing/insulation product from Gutex, that can also be used as an air tight layer. The company also distributes other European high performance products: triple pane skylights from Fakro, thermally broken fasteners from Schoeck and a through-wall decentralized apartment venting solution with a ceramic heat recovery core from Lunos. The system has a relatively low capacity to really provide sufficient balanced ventilation for new construction, but seems to be a great option for retrofit solutions. Point ventilation sources can be strategically placed after the fact in a living space without requiring space for mechanical installation or running ducts.
PRINCIPLE NO. 4: HIGH PERFORMANCE WINDOWS AND DOORS
The competition has increased and the prices have come down a bit: European windows are still stealing the show in regards to window performance and quality.
|H Windows/Energate, Klearwall Industries, New England Fenestration and Zola European Windows are represented in the Passive Building Place for one stop shopping. Intus Windows is a Passive House Alliance US sponsor that is located across the aisle this year.All these windows are great options for the passive building envelope in a cold climate. The installation is quite different from the install of a typical North American window, so buyer and builder: inform yourself upfront to learn about these differences. The Passive Building Place will have installation examples where you can see how it’s done right and discuss the critical differences with the knowledgeable window experts.All European windows have tilt and turn hardware, typically open inward, are durable and very high quality, and use a thicker triple pane package that is in part responsible for the better thermal performance and a relatively high solar heat gain coefficient of around 0.5. The windows come in wood frame (thermally broken and insulated of course) as well as in clad or vinyl. I hear a few window companies will unveil new, even more improved high performance window models at NESEA. Come and see!|
|Pinnacle Window Solutions This company’s star is Alpen High Performance Products’ fiberglass window, the only North American made window on NESEA’s show floor that meets passive house requirements. This window has several advantages over its stellar European competitors. It is light compared to the European windows. The triple and quadruple pane is lighter because it uses a mylar film as its interior “pane(s)”. The frame itself is much skinnier which allows for more glass area and hence more solar gain if so desired. The fiberglass frame is also insulated and dimensionally more stable than vinyl, which at that slender level of frame is an important characteristic. And lastly, it comes with the customary mounting flange, no need to learn different installation protocols — high performance and business as usual.|
Passive House Institute US | PHIUS is the leading passive building research organization in the United. It has made significant progress over the past year and a half establishing a window data certification program. The new program provides concise performance data verification for manufacturers who want to provide clients precise data for energy modeling, and an easier way to pick and chose windows for their respective climate zone. The right design decisions for various climates are not always obvious. The comprehensive window certificate provides guidance on what window combination of U-value and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient is the best for a particular climate. The comprehensive window certificate will be on display by the window manufacturers that have gone through the program. The data will also be made available on PHIUS’ website.
PRINCIPLE NO. 5: BALANCED VENTILATION WITH HEAT RECOVERY AND MINIMIZED SPACE CONDITIONING, EFFICIENT HOT WATER
Zehnder America, Inc. has made an impressive run for the US market in terms of high performance balanced ventilation. Zehnder ventilators are all rated for efficiency on the European rating protocol, as well as by the Home Ventilation Institute. This is critical to the accuracy of energy modeling for passive buildings. Its two most popular models are Comfoair 350 and Novus 300. The efficiency ratings for heat recovery and efficiency of the input power required to move air are truly exceptional. Zehnder has all climate zones covered: it offers HRV and ERV counterflow heat exchange cores, an insulated box, options for defrost and pre-cooling / -heating / dehumidification through passive closed ground loop heat exchangers and summer bypasses. Zehnder offers a time saving polyethylene 3” ducting system that has become very popular for its ease of installation. More, the Comfo tubes are installed as home runs from the unit to the room, which provides built in sound proofing and makes telephone effects a non issue. (The finished installation does sometimes remind me of spaghetti). The ducts are double-walled, ribbed on the outside, smooth on the inside and provide some level of insulation as well.
Air Pohoda is a relative new kid on the block and comes in with a bang: not only does it offer a highly efficient balanced ventilation system with heat recovery; it also offers some new interesting features not seen in ERVs so far. Their model Ultima240E i-ERV is what they call the first smart ERV, able to control the level of humidity in a home. In the hot and/or humid climates of the United States, this could be a market changer. In such climates, it is not the sensible cooling load that drives the design of the mechanical system but the latent load! A good example of that condition is the first PHIUS+ certified home in Austin, Tex. Air Pohoda of course also has regular HRVs with respectable European style performances of heat exchange and fan energy consumption and is currently working on a smaller unit for smaller homes as well. Check ‘em out!
The Mitsubishi Electric mini-split heat pump is the perfect space conditioning point source companion solution to the ventilator. Mitsubishi has led the industry in efficiency ratings. Their mini-split systems are quickly becoming the most popular heating/cooling and dehumidification systems for Passive Homes in all of North America including the very cold climates. The units can be obtained 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! This year, Mitsubishi’s larger multi-zone heat pumps are also taking multifamily passive buildings by storm.
Stiebel-Eltron Inc. again provides an anchor point for the Passive Building Place. Solid engineering and world class energy efficiency characterize this company. Passive buildings allow designers to account for solar thermal energy in the energy balance. And PHIUS is looking at standard adaptation for the primary/source energy to more accurately reflect the US grid in the certification requirements (sorry, it will get harder to meet this requirement because the US grid is much dirtier than we have assumed in the previous editions of certification targets!!!). Consequently, solar thermal systems will become a very important component to meet the standard as well as super energy efficient and superior superinsulated hot water storage tanks to minimize heat losses of the overall system. And the same is true for Stiebel’s heat pump hot water heater, a true heat pump and not just a hybrid water heater, with an E.S. energy factor of 2.73. Impressive! The superior efficiency of the mechanical system is critical to meet the standards and to assure the lowest carbon emissions and source energy results that passive buildings are excelling in. In PHIUS+ certifications over the past year we have seen increased installations of heat pump hot water heaters inside of the thermal envelope. This confirms what we reported on last year: in super low load homes the heat pump hot water heater contributes to cooling and dehumidification, even in heating dominated climates and the location inside of the thermal envelope makes sense as long one does not only use direct electric heating. Last year the Stiebel team, seeing all the uptake in the passive building sector, was considering to bring some of their ventilation or even compact energy systems for very low load and passive homes that they produce for the European market to the US market. I am very curious to hear how that thought has progressed.
Solar Hot is providing efficient solar thermal systems and hot water tanks. As mentioned above, solar thermal technology is a good way to reduce the source energy in a passive home and it might become more important as we switch to the actual US primary energy conversion factor. We are glad that Solar Hot is joining the Passive Building Place this year, offering a choice to potential passive home clients.
PRINCIPLE NO. 6: ASSURE QUALITY AND MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS
Passive House Institute US | PHIUS The PHIUS+ passive house and building certification program really excelled in 2013 and continued to grow exponentially (see fig. 1 above). We collaborated with the industry’s best quality assurance systems and requirements such as RESNET and adopted them to passive house and building practices. From the pre-certification process and design review/feedback through detailed quality assurance on site to the final issuance of the certificate and plaque – the process is comprehensive, complete, and diligent leaving little room for anything to go wrong. The result is a superior product we are proud of. A suite of certifications for professionals that hold up to accepted training practices and conventions (including industry appropriate passing rates for exams, continued education requirements, testing through the online testing platform Prometric etc.) assures that the design, construction and quality assurance team has been well educated on climate specific passive building design principles. There have been almost 1500 people who have gone through the trainings since 2008 in the US and Canada. CPHC© Passive House Consultants, certified PHIUS+ Raters and PHIUS Certified Builders work together seamlessly to meet the industry’s highest performance and quality standards. (Upcoming PHIUS trainings calendar.) Well done, PHIUS certification team! The certification has been recognized by the DOE encouraging Challenge Home builders to take the next step referring to the PHIUS+ certification on its website.
PowerWise Systems PHIUS strongly recommends installing a monitoring system to confirm and maintain passive building performance. We’re partial to the inView Passive monitoring package from PowerWise as it is the only one that is customized to passive building principles and systems. PowerWise offers monitoring solutions for all building types, but the system especially developed for passive houses — a circuit-by-circuit energy management and monitoring system, sold us. It is the perfect partner system for the PHIUS+ passive house/building certification to assure quality.
Why would one want to add such a system? Despite a very rigorous commissioning and testing protocol during the construction process things can go wrong at a later time. Monitoring systems not only check if the predicted energy performance is being met (and help optimize the systems if there is a discrepancy), they can also be an important warning mechanism in the rare case that there is some malfunction. In very tight houses the indoor air quality can decline quickly if there is a failure in the ventilation system. The monitoring system provides feedback in such cases. Without such feedback the issue might go unnoticed for a long time (you can’t smell or see radon for example!).
Specially designed monitoring dashboards for all passive house typical systems components and indoor air aspects are part of the base package. Even a closed ground loop defrost system dashboard is included, which is a very passive-house-specific system. The passive house monitoring package is available as a baseline package as well as a custom package for monitoring needs above and beyond. Information on ordering the system and prices can be found on PHIUS’s website or on the PowerWise website.
The Energy Conservatory is a Passive House Alliance sponsor and long time high performance building trailblazer. This team is a terrific knowledge resource as well as equipment resource for all PHIUS+ Raters who are in the business of assuring quality. The Conservatory has never rested on its laurels and has forged ahead as the market for high performance homes kept changing. To their credit, they saw the passive building increase coming a mile away and developed testing equipment that is calibrated to measure the very low ventilation air flows that are characteristic for passive homes. The Mini-Fan Blower Door system development is another such example of market awareness: the duct blaster was repurposed and inserted into a red door, all one needs for a truly high performing very large home to conduct the blower door test!! Infrared cameras, flow blaster accessories, you can find it all at the Conservatory.
Transformations is one of the leading zero energy home consultants and builders in the Northeast. This firm is “zeroing in” so to speak on the sweet spot between passive and zero, which makes it a uniquely positioned company. Transformations just recently partnered with Bluestone RRSI, Building Science Corporation and PHIUS on a successful grant application to NYSERDA to rebuild Staten Island to Passive House Standards. We are all thrilled about this project and can’t wait to get started on it. As for Transformations: we will see more stunning and groundbreaking work from this company in the near future, I can almost guarantee it!
PRINCIPLE NO.7: SPREAD THE WORD, SHARE THE TALE AND TEACH ALL YOU HAVE LEARNED
The leading national advocacy, education and membership organization for passive building professionals in the US is the Passive House Alliance, a program of the Passive House Institute US. Passive House Alliance US | PHAUS co-organizes the annual North American Passive House Conference, now in its 9th year. It is the biggest educational event in North America in regards to technical information sharing by the community of passive building practitioners. The 2014 conference is scheduled for September 10-14 in San Francisco – San Mateo.
The Alliance also conducts ongoing webinars and offers opportunity for its members to share experiences, knowledge and information on new passive products, design challenges in different climates, and business and marketing issues. Membership also offers discounts for all training and conference events as well as for PHIUS+ certification. The alliance has grown significantly. There are today 14 chapters across the nation in all critical climate zones with three more in the works. PHAUS lists all educational events offered by PHIUS. All educational opportunities including the professional PHIUS Certificate trainings are listed in the Passive Building University. The schedule is complete through the end of June. More trainings will be announced for the second half of 2014 soon.
Passive House Institute US | PHIUS engaged in 2012 to developing a new modeling tool based on all our learning from projects across varied climate zones.The renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, PHIUS and Owens Corning collaborated on a next generation passive building modeling tool – WUFI© Passive – which is now being taught by PHIUS as backbone tool of the CPHC training. The tool combines the monthly static energy balance with dynamic and hygrothermal capabilities. An eye opener for anyone who has tried to design a passive project in a North American climate zone using a simple energy balance calculator (and did not entirely believe the results). WUFI Passive will revolutionize our industry, once the word gets out. An introductory training for WUFI Passive is scheduled for Boston for April 24-25 at the Fraunhofer CSE in Boston.
Yestermorrow Design/Build School Yestermorrow has grown into the most successful educational partner of PHIUS. For the third year in a row, I arrived in Warren, Vt., this past December to find a full CPHC class. The demand for passive building classes prompted Yestermorrow to host the PHIUS Certified Builders class in April. (The class is sold out, but we’ve just scheduled another Builders program for Baltimore, May 10-13). Yestermorrow classes are unique. The CPHC class for example is the only offering that provides all in person instruction (no online portion). It is absolutely intense: eight consecutive days conclude with the exam on the afternoon of the last day. People are on site 24/7, form study and discussion groups beyond the class time and prep for exam together. Yestermorrow provides an unforgettable learning experience with a retreat flavor.
Passivhaus Maine/NA Passive House Network is advocating for passive homes in the Upper North East. This non-profit organization conducts local seminars and educational events to spread the word about the benefits of passive homes and construction. It is a place where professionals who are already immersed in the field or those who are interested in getting involved can go to share or to get more information. This group is sharing the booth with the NA Passive House Network located in California, which is another advocacy and information sharing platform in the West.
I owe much gratitude to NESEA and NESEA staff who all have been terrific friends over the past few years. I like to say thank you for your support and trust. I admire that you constantly have your eye on the prize, pushing ahead, identifying the most important issues, and zeroing in on where we need to be in the future. It has made NESEA the leader in energy efficient construction and this team will maintain that leadership, shaping its conferences and educational offerings. My utmost respect. Thank you for allowing me to contribute to your event!