Why PHIUS? To Be Part of the Solution

Some inspirations from the Seattle conference to kick off 2018

At PHIUS, we’ve been at this passive building business for a good long while. And we’ve been inspired to see so, so many professionals join and build our community. Every year we’re all so busy that it’s pretty hard to find the time to just talk about why we’re all doing what we do. That’s why each conference is such a blast.

To capture a little of that fun–and inspiration–we asked a question of some attendees at the 2017 North American Passive House Conference in Seattle, Washington. The question:

Why do you build to PHIUS standards?

Here are some answers and comments we received–we hope you can relate to one or more of them, and please feel free to chip in your own answers in the comments section.

Elizabeth Correa, LMN Architects, Seattle: I design to PHIUS standards because it was a standard that allowed me to align my principles, my design principles, and ethical principles.


Sam Rodell, Rodell.Design, Spokane, Washinton: Building to the PHIUS standard is, I would say, our practice considers that to be our baseline and I think that anyone who builds today and does not consider the possibilities of what is happening here with building science wanders around in a dangerous territory of what I would consider to be professional negligence.


Lindsay Schack, Love | Schack Architecture, Bozeman, Montana/ Driggs, Idaho: I found PHIUS when I was researching affordable and high-performance wall assemblies for a client of mine. And once I found out about PHIUS, I went down this rabbit hole of learning building science, and now I can’t go back. I can’t, with good conscience, build to code anymore. I have to push farther.


Doug Farr, Farr Associates, Chicago, Illinois: Our practice is devoted to sustainability. We’re architects and we are striving to achieve PHIUS+ on a couple of projects, one is a new build and one is a rehabilitation. It’s challenging and frankly, that’s why I like it.

Schack: PHIUS, the institute, not only provides you with support and knowledge, it provides you with camaraderie, and I’ve learned from great professionals, and it has pushed my projects to a level that is gaining notice in my industry and where I live.

Correa: And that marriage between building science and architecture through PHIUS has made me passionate about architecture again and passionate about our mission to address the problems of climate change.

Farr: Some of the other systems which are also worthy and ambitious also are hard to do, but they all have what Kat always calls a ‘get out of jail free card,’ which is that you can always compensate for building a less efficient building by adding more PV or renewable energy.

Correa: And I realize that buildings being a large percentage of the carbon emissions problem and I don’t wanna be part of the problem. That is why PHIUS is especially important to me.

Farr: Passive House is the gold standard.

Correa: I’m part of the solution and I’m not any longer part of the problem.

PHIUS+: The path to positive energy

Become a PHIUS+ Professional and be a leader in the industry


Message from the Executive Director

Katrin Klingenberg, PHIUS Executive Director

Katrin Klingenberg, PHIUS Executive Director

Congratulations PHIUS professionals: thanks to your hard work, 2017 was perhaps the community’s best year ever! Together, in what was in other realms a tumultuous year, we maintained our focus and commitment to make high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard and best practice on the path to zero energy.

By the end of 2017, more than 1500 families now enjoy the benefits of buildings that are safe and comfortable for people and the planet. The buildings are thermally comfy, provide constant healthy indoor air, maintain safe living conditions during outages, produce super low cost utility bills, and are built at affordable costs. And they produce either zero CO2 or tiny amounts our planet can handle.

That is leadership in the most excellent way, urgently needed progress and really, really good news!

2017 highlights at a glance –

  • By all measures, PHIUS+2015 is the most successful passive building system in North America in 2017!
  • Under a previous grant and longstanding efforts, PHIUS jump-started the multifamily trend that continues to go strong. To maintain that growth, PHIUS received a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to facilitate commercial certification protocols and uptake.
  • The 12th Annual North American Passive House Conference in Seattle was a huge success—a point of particular promise was that international sessions and keynotes showed global interest and relevance of PHIUS+2015 in other global regions.
    Signing cooperation agreement between PHIUS & PHIJP

    Signing cooperation agreement between PHIUS & PHIJP

  • PHIUS+ will soon be available in Japan—details of the collaboration with the Passive House Institute Japan (PHIJP) will soon be announced.
  • Research highlights:
    • PHIUS+2018, the scheduled update and evolution of PHIUS’ climate specific standard, is nearly ready for release for public comment. (Learn more at the Intro to PHIUS+2018 webinar on February 15)
    • Monitored data for the first PHIUS+ certified and quality assured multifamily projects match modeled performance predictions by +- 7%–proving we’re on the right track with PHIUS+ processes and tools.
    • PHIUS and Rocky Mountain Institute partnered to work under a DOE grant for retrofit research.
    • The Industry Advisory Council progresses with proof of concept of and all- climate monitoring project, funding installations in multiple zones.

In 2016, the Canadian Pembina Institute predicted exponential growth in the passive building sector. Their graphs showed that PHIUS certified the vast majority of all passive projects in North America up to that point and was generally on a trend to more than double certifications each year, as PHI certifications were declining.

In 2017 PHIUS met and slightly exceeded projected certifications for the year: Certifications more than doubled compared to 2016. PHIUS certified all but 1 passive building project in all of North America in 2017! And this year 100% of all certified projects had PHIUS trained professionals on the team. CPHC®s, PHIUS® Builders and PHIUS® RESNET Raters/Verifiers will continue to anchors of nearly all teams certifying projects.

This is a great endorsement of PHIUS+2015 certification: Climate specific design methodology assures appropriate thermal comfort, cost optimization assures avoiding pitfalls like over-investment in the envelope, and industry-standard quality assurance protocols endorsed by our partner the DOE eliminates risk of building failure. PHIUS+2015 has proven itself as the industry’ leading passive building system.

Beach Green Dunes in Queens, New York

Beach Green Dunes in Queens, New York

In 2016 we were thrilled to celebrate the milestone of reaching over 1 million square feet of PHIUS+ certified and pre-certified projects across 900 units – and families – nationwide. It took five years to reach that milestone. In 2017 alone we nearly doubled that square footage, reaching 1.75 million square feet of PHIUS+ certified and pre-certified projects across 1,500 units. Wow!

2017 has continued to be a great year for multifamily passive building projects, led by uptake seen in the affordable sector. We are very proud of the great strides the community has made in bringing the benefits of passive buildings to more people than ever before—and to the people who need it most.

In 2017, a marquee multifamily project—Steve Bluestone’s Beach Green Dunes in Queens, New York, became the first mid-rise project in the country to be completed. Its 101 units are now occupied and the project started winning awards right out the gate. It is not only passive, but also uses onsite PV and CHP to generate one third of projected energy consumption. It’s a model project illustrating the path to zero energy and emissions. New projects in the pipeline are getting even bigger: 425 Grand Concourse, a 28 story affordable hi-rise has completed planning and is scheduled to break ground in 2018. Many housing agencies across the country continue to support affordable multifamily developments.

The really good news: The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority (PHFA) was the first affordable housing agency to recognize and reward passive buildings. A study of projects spurred by the PHFA, as well as other affordable MF projects around the country, shows costs coming in at 0-2% additional costs over conventional projects. The cost-optimized targets are working!

RMI Innovation Center Basalt, CO -- PHIUS+2015 Certified, PHIUS Source Zero Energy Certified

RMI Innovation Center Basalt, CO — PHIUS+2015 Certified, PHIUS Source Zero Energy Certified

Commercial developments are also being submitted for PHIUS certification. The RMI Innovation center was completed in 2016, winning Best Overall Project in the Annual Passive Design Competition for that year. RMI’s leadership spurred other commercial project teams to conduct feasibility studies, and several are in various states of completion: A planned office hi-rise in Chicago, an administrative building in Spokane, Washington, with a commercial kitchen, a church in Hudson Valley, New York, and multiple school buildings are underway, aiming for passive even for zero energy. (Learn more about the RMI Innovation Center at the Commercial Webinar Series kick-off presentation on February 7)

Following the multifamily approach, we look to lead a similar spike in adoption in the commercial sector. Thanks to a generous grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation in 2017, we are in the process of assembling an online Commercial Resource Center; a companion to the MacArthur Foundation funded Multifamily Resource Center that we launched in 2016.

The Commercial Resource Center will serve as an information hub for developers, policymakers, and investors in the design, financing, and execution of commercial passive buildings. We have demonstrated with projects such as the RMI Innovation Center in 2016 that the PHIUS+ Passive Building Standard can be more cost-effective than business-as-usual commercial construction practices to reach zero and positive energy targets. The Commercial Resource Center will help to make even more of these projects a reality.

The encouraging growth in the commercial and multifamily sectors was fully illustrated during sessions at the 12th Annual North American Passive House Conference in Seattle. The conference sold out for a third year in a row and sparked an advanced level of discourse, especially in the building science field.During our 3rd Annual Design Awards Ceremony the Best Overall Project prize was awarded to Elm Place, an affordable multifamily housing development in Burlington, Vermont. A successfully certified PHIUS+2015 project, it elegantly proved the cost effectiveness of the design targets: The project was realized at a 2% cost premium in climate zone 6! Congratulations to CPHC Chris West and his team for this outstanding project! (Learn more about Elm Place at the Developers Webinar Series presentation on January 30)

Milton, VT -- PHIUS+ 2015 Certified

Elm Place, Milton, VT — PHIUS+ 2015 Certified

Internationally, building scientists and government organizations have taken notice of the PHIUS’ unique, climate specific approach, and approached PHIUS about potential collaboration. In August of 2017, Mike Kernagis and I went to Tokyo to keynote the kick-off symposium of the Passive House Institute of Japan (PHIJP). There we signed an international collaboration agreement between PHIUS and PHIJP. In 2018 we will work together to generate cost optimized design targets for the climates of Japan and to translate training materials and certification protocols. Following our keynotes in Shanghai, China, in November of 2017 we were invited to send a keynote presentation on our work in the US to be presented to the attendees of the 4th Chinese Passive Building Summit. More international collaboration talks are to follow in 2018.

In conclusion, a few more notes on research: PHIUS is committed to excellence and continued improvement of the design methodology and standards. We recalibrate the standards regularly to make sure that they are optimized to changing market and climate conditions, as well as advances in components. PHIUS+2018 will be released soon for public comment and adoption. (Learn more at the Intro to PHIUS+2018 webinar on February 15)

Our goal is to have the effort continuously informed by hard monitoring data from certified projects. That effort has been launched by the Industry Advisory Council, a group of leading passive building component manufacturers. In 2017, thanks to the IAC, we selected 6 pilot projects, representing key typologies and climate zones. We finalized appropriate monitoring protocols and selected equipment manufacturers and installation is underway at the first projects. The pieces are now all in place and we will use our pilot project experience to streamline and replicate the monitoring processes, with end goal of making it a fairly routine option available during the PHIUS+ certification process.

Under a DOE grant, PHIUS and RMI will work to provide guidelines and practices for exterior scalable retrofits of projects to achieve zero energy buildings. Work on this project will kick off in January in Boulder, Colorado.

This is all thanks to all of the partners, certified professionals, manufacturers and other supporters who help us advance passive building each and every day. We have accomplished so much already, but there is still much great work left to do. Looking forward to what I believe will the best year ever!

Katrin Klingenberg
Executive Director, Passive House Institute US | PHIUS