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 (, 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.


2 thoughts on “Guest Post: First Builders Training, Berea, KY

  1. It’s very important to have experienced and talented builders and designers working in superefficient and passive houses. Much of the results will depend on it.
    And that tells a lot of your initiative.


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