The 10th Annual North American Passive House Conference – celebrate our community and your excellent projects with us in September in Chicago

Pre-conference workshops: September 9-10
Core sessions: September 11-12


BioHaus in Bemidji, Minn.

BioHaus in Bemidji, Minn.

It began in 2006: There was no such thing as a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®) yet, let alone certified builder training or specially trained passive house rater/verifiers. There were only three completed passive building projects on this continent – the Smith House and the Fairview House Urbana Ill, and the BioHaus at the Concordia Language Village in Bemidji, Minn, a small school building.

Bemidji hosted the first conference, with presentations on the 2000 Watt society by Stephan Tanner, and on the promise of the passive house standard to meet the 2000 Watt Society’s goals. There were also sessions on lessons learned from the Urbana houses and the BioHaus. The first conference drew 20 participants, amongst them well-known pioneers: Marc Rosenbaum, Gary Nelson, Mike Lebeau and Rachel Wagner.

The second conference—held in Urbana, Ill., in 2007 drew 90 participants. Harold Orr and Bill Rose connected us all to the early days when passive house concepts like superinsulation were developed—in Urbana at the University of Illinois Small Homes Council.

The third conference saw a jump to 200 attendees. Held in Duluth—certainly a great place to discuss cold climates. Henry Gifford and Chris Benedict were among the presenters. Also presenting were UltimateAir’s Jason Morosko, and Ty Newell and Ben his son, presenting their early work in developing the CERV (now commercially available) which was then a cardboard box held together with duct tape in the testing lab.

The same year—2008—PHIUS launched its professional training and certification program for Certified Passive House Consultants (CPHCs).

In 2009 we returned to Champaign-Urbana, this time on the University of Illinois campus with 270 people. Austrian Gunter Lang keynoted, and the conference notably overlapped with the Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C. The Illinois team, led by Ryan Abendroth and built to passive house standards, placed a very close second. Ryan went on to become the first PHIUS+ Certification manager and a PHIUS CPHC instructor.

Amory Lovins delivering the closing keynote in Denver, 2012.

Amory Lovins delivering the closing keynote in Denver, 2012.

Portland, Ore., hosted the next conference, which drew 400+. It had an international flavor: Dr. Wolfgang Feist’s keynote stressed that the 10W/sqft peak load and ventilation air/integrated conditioning were the core concepts underpinning the passive house concept.  Robert Hastings, and Jens Laustsen from the International Energy Agency in Paris provided a global perspective on passive building policy. Amory Lovins closed the conference via video conferencing with a big picture view of the new energy future introducing the underlying concepts of his soon-to-be-released book “Reinventing Fire.”

The conference was a pivotal event for passive house in North America. For the first time, we had case studies from across the United States and Canada. And there were some difficult lessons learned. Corey Saft presented on his experiences with the first passive house in a hot and humid climate zone, his Lafayette House in Louisiana. Henry Gifford also spoke to that challenge, and wagged the finger and pointed out that the European energy model and the systems recommended did not account for humidity. It was exciting stuff, and also the first open discussion about the prospect that a single standard might not be optimal for all climate zones. It also challenged the notion that ventilation integrated space conditioning would be adequate in many North American climate zones.

Leading building scientists like John Straube had long held that changes to the standard were necessary to be cost optimized for all climates. After the Portland conference experience, in 2011, PHIUS came to the same conclusion. This put PHIUS and the German Passivhaus Institut (PHI) at odds, and PHI eventually chose to end collaboration  agreements with PHIUS in August of 2011.

But the conference went on just two months later, this time in Silver Spring, Md, just outside of Washington, D.C. PHIUS announced that it would get to work on creating certification protocols that harmonized with established U.S. industry standards and that it would start work on climate-specific, cost-optimized passive building standards.

An independent volunteer expert technical committee was convened for the first time to tackle the research tasks. On the tools front, a partnership between PHIUS, Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics and Owens Corning was formed to develop passive design and verification software more appropriate for North America. Sam Rashkin keynoted and proposed collaboration with DOE’s Challenge Home program. Less than a year later, a cooperation agreement between PHIUS and DOE became reality.

Sam Rashkin, U.S. DOE, will deliver the closing address in 2015.

Sam Rashkin, U.S. DOE, will deliver the closing address in 2015.

Number 7 in 2012 in Denver was a blockbuster, drawing 475 participants. Dr. Joe Lstiburek accepted our invitation to be the keynote. He transformed, with a single speech, what had been a contentious relationship between the budding passive house community and the established building science community into a friendly, collaborative one. He shared his experiences of becoming one of the leading building scientists in the world, revisiting his early days as a passive pioneer. He showed many details that looked awfully familiar: superinsulated continuous insulation, thermally broken details and earth tubes. It became clear that passive house had deep North American roots dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

Lstiburek concluded by simply saying to the audience, “You are my family.”

Amory Lovins delivered the closing address—this time in person, and it was, as always, a hit. Moreover, the 7th Annual in Denver demonstrated that the passive house community and the established building science community were coming together to both embrace the passive house concept, and to address the very real limitations of the European approach.

Sessions included a whole track on products from windows to ventilators and heat pump water heaters to space conditioners. The trade show was packed and had spilled over into the entire hallway. For the first time, we learned about larger multifamily projects that were in the works—market rate and affordable, in various climate zones including retrofits. We learned about an 80-unit retrofit of an historic YMCA building by Action Housing in Pittsburgh, and the Portland REACH’s design team presented on the design of the Orchards at Orenco Station project. Passive buildings were getting bigger!

For the 8th Conference, we convened in Pittsburgh, where we toured that YMCA project — nearly completed by 2013 — that was presented in Denver the year earlier. Four tracks were packed with cutting edge passive  building science and technologies. We also received a grant for the conference from the prestigious Richard King Mellon Foundation. And we had close to 500 participants again.

For number 9 we went to San Francisco, where we presented, for the first time, on the nearly completed work on the new climate-specific passive building standard. That kicked off a public comment period that yielded valuable feedback that found its way into the final work. Also noteworthy: California was making headlines by committing to achieve carbon neutral buildings by 2020 and in San Francisco passive projects were being fast tracked. Bill Rose’s keynote opened the conference with a call to activism regarding the climate challenge. Sam Rashkin, PHIUS Senior Scientist Graham Wright and I teamed to explain the connection between the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home Program, the new climate specific passive building standards and the PHIUS+ passive house and building certifications. That presentation drew so much interest that it had to be moved from a breakout room to the main ball room.

This year, PHIUS’ Annual North American Passive House Conference turns 10! And what better place to celebrate than Chicago! As “Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans.”

Clearly, the passive building community is now thinking big. Affordable multifamily passive Buildings are in the spotlight this year, with many thanks to the generous support of the conference from the Chicago-based John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The program is bigger and better than ever.

Join us in Chicago!

Join us in Chicago!

Check out the pre-conference sessions here and the core conference content here.

While there’s a focus on large affordable housing projects, other building types are well represented, from single family homes to mid- and-high rise projects. Katie Swensen from the Enterprise Foundation will kick off the conference on day one. Her organization is an outstanding advocate for sustainable and affordable communities. She has fabulous news to unveil for affordable passive building developers, designers, builders, architects and raters.

As always, the core conference includes lessons learned from the most experienced CPHCs, architects and builders in the country. Leading building scientists like Joe Lstiburek and Achilles Karagiozis have been presenting for a few years now and they will be back to debate hygrothermal and comfort modeling.

WUFI Passive expert Florian Antretter from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (his pre-conference workshop filled up within weeks of posting – sorry) is bringing his boss this year, the world renowned Dr. Hartwig Künzel, the father of the WUFI software. It is a special honor to have him open day two with a meaty keynote: he will be talking about the importance of hygrothermal modeling for highly insulated assemblies in climates worldwide. And he’ll present case studies from around the world that show what can happen if good building science is not applied.

Much of the success of PHIUS+2015 has been facilitated by our relationship with the Department of Energy and that is thanks to Sam Rashkin. Thanks to the collaboration with the Zero Energy Ready Home program and its integreated QA/QC component, PHIUS+ certification has been included in programs like Enterprise Green Communities, in policy proposals around the country and mentioned in the Zero Net Energy Residential Action Plan in California that was just released in June of this year.

But Sam does not stand still. And neither does PHIUS.

Sam Rashkin will close the conference with a gaze into the future for what is already on the horizon for the passive building community.

The 10th will celebrate the end of an exciting and productive 10 years, and shine a light on the next steps. We have 150 pre- or fully certified projects in the U.S. and Canada, with more than that in various phases of progress in queue. The projects now include many multifamily large scale projects. And this reflects only those project teams that choose to certify—there are uncounted other passive projects.

We are also happy to report that we have a very special presentation as part of the core conference. The Rocky Mountain Institute’s new headquarters in Basalt, Colo. is currently on track to be PHIUS+ 2015 certified. The RMI project is a great validation of the new standard. The RMI independently conducted a cost-benefit study on where to stop with envelope conservation measures—it matched with the PHIUS+2015 calculations. The Rocky Mountain Institute’s new headquarters will be the first large PHIUS+2015 certified office building, it is almost complete.

I offer my thanks to all of you! What we have achieved is a direct result of your vision, persistence, and ability. Thank you all for your trust and support of PHIUS and PHAUS. Based on your experience and feedback, we’ll continue to raise the bar with improved tools, protocols, and design guidelines.

And the future is bright. Other leading green building programs are recognizing the complementary value of our collective work. They increasingly look towards our community to provide specialized passive building knowledge, methodology, more precise tools and guidelines for dialing in energy efficiency and cost effectiveness to meet their zero energy and carbon goals.

The new climate specific passive building standards promise to be something of a universal foundation for energy efficiency. One last thing: As a thank you and to celebrate you, we decided to highlight the best projects of the last 10 years and honor the design teams who made it happen. We called for your submissions! The first annual awards will be announced at the Conference & Exhibition opening reception on Thursday evening, September 10!

See you in Chicago,