10th Annual NAPHC – best party of the year, maybe ever…

Wow – was that a successful conference! It has been a week and I am still processing it all. Chicago was unlike any other conference — things did not slow down in the office after it was all over, they rather accelerated. It indeed appears we have reached a tipping point.

From more than one person I heard that it seemed that the quality of work, detailing expertise and technical knowledge, size of projects and complexity of building types had reached a new high. And, compared to the early years, we were not just talking theory and intentions—but what people had done! Really impressive.

LEFT: Dr. Hartwig Künzel giving the Day 2 Keynote -- RIGHT: Sebastian Moreno-Vacca participating in the Architects' Hootenanny (L-R: T.McDonlad, T.Smith, J.Moskovitz, Sebastian, ?)

LEFT: Dr. Hartwig Künzel giving the Day 2 Keynote — RIGHT: Sebastian Moreno-Vacca participating in the Architects’ Hootenanny including (l-r): T.McDonald, T.Smith, J.Moskovitz, Sebastian, C.Hawbecker)

New modeling tools such as WUFI Passive (Technical keynote Hartwig Künzel, day two) are making building science interrelationships more visible and intuitively understandable. WUFI Passive is enabling CPHCs to optimize designs using “hygrothermal mass” (ever heard of that?) to optimize humidity loads and even to inform design decisions overall (as Sebastian Moreno-Vacca illustrated in his session) to create a unique architectural language! How cool is that! Science, heat fluxes and thermal dynamics begin to shape architectural form.

Dirk Lohan, Principal, Lohan Anderson -- Welcomes conference attendees to Chicago

Dirk Lohan, Principal, Lohan Anderson — Welcomes conference attendees to Chicago

Dirk Lohan—Mies Vander Rohe’s grandson, and an extremely accomplished architect in his own right—hinted at this development during his welcoming remarks.

“I believe that we will begin to see as beautiful what also is energy-conscious,” said Lohan.

Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

But maybe the most significant news is the explosive development in the multifamily affordable housing sector. It is seeing significant growth, interest and pilot developments going up in many places of the country. Thanks to the support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we were able to make this our core topic for the conference and will be able to actively provide support to the affordable development community.

The pre-conference sessions included a daylong affordable housing Hootenanny that brought together successful affordable, multifamily housing project teams together who generously shared lessons learned and experience. Four different project teams presented during an intense full day. The morning and afternoon presentations drew full rooms of affordable housing developers who soaked up the information and had terrific, incisive questions

The same teams presented again during the core conference breakouts in a more condensed form for those who were unable to attend the hootenanny. In addition, there were more presentations on even bigger size affordable projects in progress:

  • A 101 unit affordable development in New York now under construction in the Rockaways (Steve Bluestone, Bluestone Org.)
  • A planned affordable retrofit of a 24 story historical brick building in Chicago (Doug Farr, Tony Holub from Farr and Assoc.), the Lawson House.
  • 24 story residence hall under construction in NYC (Matt Herman, BuroHappold)
L-R: Steve Bluestone presenting with Lisa White, Doug Farr, Matthew Herman

L-R: Steve Bluestone presenting with Lisa White, Doug Farr, Matthew Herman

Really amazing stuff.

Katherine Swenson

Katherine Swenson, Vice President, National Design Initiatives for Enterprise Community Partners — Day 1 Opening Keynote

Of course this growth has been fueled by forward-looking programs that recognize that energy efficient homes make so much sense for affordable housing developers/owners and dwellers. Katie Swenson from the Enterprise Foundation was a breath of fresh air–dynamic, positive, and motivating opening keynote. She explained that in her and her organization’s eyes energy is a critical part in assuring not just housing for people—but healthy housing! “Health is the new green,” she said, and of course passive housing delivers here with excellent comfort, indoor air quality and the added bonus of resiliency when the power goes out. Katie announced that the Green Communities criteria had just included PHIUS+ 2015 certification as one of the highest energy point options.

Other affordable housing agencies also have made a move: the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) awarded bonus points in its last round of selecting projects for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. More recently the New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) effort was mentioned in a release regarding energy efficiency measures from the White House. Those agencies now directly encourage passive building standards in their RFPs. Remarkable!

Sam Rashkin, U.S. D.O.E. -- Closing Plenary Keynote

Sam Rashkin, U.S. D.O.E. — Closing Plenary Keynote

On the other coast. Seattle just amended their multifamily building code to allow additional floor area ration (FAR) for projects that meet the PHIUS+ 2015 criteria. That’s a significant incentive for developers.

Things are cookin’!

The core conference, as usual, was chock full of goodness. There were examples of how the new PHIUS+ 2015 climate specific passive building standards helped to optimize costs both here in North America (presentations by Chicago’s Tom Bassett-Dilley, Dan Whitmore, and) and internationally (Günther Gantolier from Italy). There were nuts-and-bolts presentations on wall assembly solutions (Tom Bassett-Dilley again), air and water barrier best practices (Marcus and Keith). And, the Builders Hootenanny—led by Hammer & Hand’s Sam Hagerman, focused on component challenges such as sourcing airtight FDA approved doors for commercial construction.

The U.S. DOE’s Sam Rashkin closed the conference with an unexpected message: he suggested that we needed to rename a few things to facilitate behavioral change. He posited that ZERH, LEED, PHIUS and other green building programs are essentially fossil fuel use rehab centers trying to rehabilitate an addicted nation and to show how it can be done differently. He received a standing ovation.

A few more comments on pre-conference workshops – three WUFI Passive classes drew almost 80 people and they all were super happy throughout the two days! Who would have thought! Happy people energy modeling!

LEFT: Marc Rosenbaum's lecture on Renewables -- RIGHT: Joe Lstiburek on Multifamily Building Science & HVAC

LEFT: Marc Rosenbaum’s lecture on Renewables — RIGHT: Joe Lstiburek on Multifamily Building Science & HVAC

Marc Rosenbaum single-handedly won first place in registering the most people for his class to connect passive principles with renewables to get to positive energy buildings (the logical next step).

Joe Lstiburek placed a close second (sorry Joe) and did a phenomenal job in covering ventilation concerns in large multifamily buildings. Rachel Wagner showed the most awesome cold climate details that I have ever seen. Galen Staengl took folks on a spin to design multifamily and commercial mechanical systems.

And Gary Klein topped it all off by reminding us that without efficient hot water systems design in multifamily, no cigar!

Thanks to all presenters and keynotes! You made this an excellent and memorable event.

I have not even mentioned the first North American Passive Building Project Awards—the entries were just beautiful projects—check out the winners here. I must mention the overall Best Project winner of 2015, as I believe this is pivotal: Orchards at Orenco. What a beautiful project, the largest fully certified PHIUS+ project in the country to date, a game-changer, underlining affordable multifamily projects on the rise.

I’m extremely happy that the Best Projects winners for young CPHC/architects was a tie, and both winners are women! Congrats to Barbara Gehrung and Tessa Smith! Go girls, you are the next generation of leaders!

L-R: Best Overall Project: Orchards at Orenco; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): Island Passive House, Tessa Smith; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): ECOMod South, Barbara Gehrung

L-R: Best Overall Project: Orchards at Orenco; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): Island Passive House, Tessa Smith; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): ECOMod South, Barbara Gehrung

One last note on a thing: Passive building people know how to party while devouring the most challenging, inspiring energy science, details, philosophies (Jevons paradox – Zack Semke’s fascinating lunch keynote) from the field.

And the architectural boat tour on Saturday to top it all off was almost surreal. When we were all out on Lake Michigan and the fireworks went off over the magnificent skyline, I thought, “that’s how we roll :).” Plus, the docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation was a font of information, and even long-time Chicagoans learned a lot along the way. If you weren’t there, you missed the best passive building party of the year, maybe ever. (But we’ll try to top it, promise.)

Finally, for the crew that just can’t get enough, the Passive Projects Tour on Sunday was, as always, an enormous hit. Tom Bassett-Dilley and Brandon Weiss put together an array of completed and in-progress projects that generated a buzz at every stop. Thanks to Tom and Brandon and to PHA-Chicago for all your help!

Cheers!

Kat

 

Climate Data and PHIUS+ 2015

 

Adam2smAdam Cohen is a principal at Passiv Science in Roanoke, Va, a PHIUS CPHC®, a PHIUS Builder Training instructor, the builder/developer of multiple successful passive building projects, and a member of the PHIUS Technical Committee. With the release of the PHIUS+ 2015 climate-specific standard, Adam weighs in on the importance of climate data sets.

Project teams have always needed to be discerning about climate data sets they use in energy modeling.  Whether it’s WUFI Passive, Energy Plus, PHPP or any other software, the old adage garbage in = garbage out applies. Project teams always must analyze and make a call as to how accurate the climate file is.

For example, I worked on a Houston, Texas project a number of years ago and there were several climate datasets that were close and one that was very different. As a team, we had to decide how to approach this in the most logical and reasoned way.

Recently as I analyzed a Michigan project, I determined that my two dataset choices were “just not feeling exactly right” so I asked PHIUS’ Lisa White and Graham Wright to generate a custom set. I can’t know that this one is exactly right, but I know that it’s as accurate and “right” as we can make it.

Note that when multiple data sets are candidates, it is not just altitude that matters, but location of weather station (roof, ground, behind a shed, etc.). Ryan Abendroth blogged on the subject of selecting data sets (and when to consider having a custom dataset generated) and I recommend you give his post a read.

Since PHIUS+ 2015 is a climate specific standard, it’s all the more important to use the best available.  We all know that bad data is not exclusive to PHIUS (remember the Seattle weather debacle in early versions of the PHPP).

It’s incumbent on project teams to use science, reason and judgment in interpreting climate data sets. Being on the water, in the middle of a field or in the tarmac of an airport makes a difference.

In New York City, for example, we have an oddity: There are three dataset location choices.

A satellite photo of NYC with Central Park outlined. The climate date for the Park is substantially different than that for other parts of the city.

A satellite photo of NYC with Central Park outlined.

One is Central Park, and the PHIUS+ 2015 targets for that are substantially different than the others. But, counter to a Tweet calling into question the validity of the PHIUS+ NYC target numbers, they are different because the Central Park climate data is substantially different – probably due to vegetation countering the urban heat island effect. It has a dramatic and pretty fascinating effect on the microclimate, and the U.S. DOE has a nice read on the subject.

For project teams lucky enough to have access to multiple data sets for their location, by rational comparison, they should be able to make an intelligent decision to use a canned set or to have a custom set generated.

It also more important than ever that the PHIUS+ certifiers to examine the weather data provided by a project teams to see if the project team made a logical, rather then an easy selection of climate data.

In addition, we on the PHIUS Technical Committee will continue to collect and monitor data and will tweak certification protocols as we see the need. But, I remind all my fellow CPHCs that bad climate data sets are endemic in the industry and it is important that project teams make careful decisions and that they reach out to PHIUS staff to help when climate data sets just don’t seem right.

Public Comment Opportunity: PHIUS+ Certification for Multifamily Performance Requirements (v2.0)

Chris McTaggart, PHIUS+ QA/QC Manager, wants your feedback…

Dear PHIUS/PHAUS community members,

Adoption of Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) PHIUS+ certification is growing rapidly. Of particular interest is the application of PHIUS+ certification for multifamily buildings. With several projects already certified or in the process of construction, and several more projects in the design phase, PHIUS expects certification of multifamily buildings to be one of the leading growth sectors for high performance, low-energy buildings moving forward.

With this in mind, PHIUS has created updated draft standards for certifying multifamily projects. These updated standards are intended to replace previous guidance offered by PHIUS for certifying multifamily projects. PHIUS is seeking review and comment from all vested stakeholders on these draft standards with the intent that a finalized version shall be released in Q2 2015.

The updated PHIUS+ Certification for Multifamily Performance Requirements (v2.0) contain several improvements to language regarding the specific performance modeling and testing expectations for certification of multifamily projects, including:

  • Modeled energy performance criteria
  • Infiltration testing requirements/protocol
  • HVAC testing/balancing requirements
  • Sampling protocol for dwelling unit-level testing/inspection
  • Additional onsite testing/inspection requirements

To create these draft guidelines, PHIUS solicited feedback from several constituents who are actively involved in the certification of high performance multifamily projects. These comments helped inform the standard development process, and the goal is that the most fundamental areas of need for clarification and formalization have been addressed.

Please take the time to read the attached PHIUS+ Certification for Multifamily Performance Requirements (v2.0) document below and make comments by June 8, 2015. Use the comments section below or email your input to certification@passivehouse.us

Thanks,

Chris McTaggart,  PHIUS+ QA/QC Manager

Feedback on the standard adaption: A summary

GWLast year the PHIUS Technical Committee published its draft report on a climate specific passive building standard. It also called for formal public comment. Here, with an update on that process, is PHIUS Senior Scientist Graham Wright.

We got some good feedback on our standard-adaptation work – fourteen folks submitted some fifty pages of formal commentary altogether. Thanks to all who took the time to write out their thoughts. The PHIUS Technical Committee (TC) reviewed all the feedback.

I’ll summarize the process, but first you might remember that our report is also a report to U.S. Department of Energy Building America (BA) program, a proposal for the next-generation Zero Energy Ready program (ZERH). The reviewers for BA sent 134 line-item comments on the draft report. (We’ve been busy responding to those, and we think the final report is much better now!)

Click on the cover graphic to download the final U.S. DOE Building America report at the Building Science Corporation site.

The DOE/BA and the passive house community have the same goals and are, at a broad conceptual level, working on the same thing (otherwise this work would not have been funded.)  At the workaday level though, there are a lot of differences, and also a lot of investment by the two communities in their own approaches – it’s part-and-parcel with the commitment and passion for better building that both communities share.  But when you ask the questions “is there anything passive house can bring to BA/ZERH” and “is there anything BA can bring to passive building,” it turns out the answer is yes.

The TC believes we’ve achieved a fruitful synthesis, a best-of-both-worlds combination. For example, when it comes to designing for high performance, we agree it’s better to set performance targets and do an energy design than to use prescriptive tables (and by the way that design can be somewhat site-specific). But when it comes to field quality assurance, then  a checklist table – like the BA approach — is the right tool for the job.

To put a finer point on it, we at PHIUS hope the final report persuades BA that the ZERH program should be a performance standard, with criteria on both heating/cooling loads and on total source energy, and that those performance targets are predicated on ducts inside, strict air-tightness, and using really good windows for comfort reasons.

Likewise we hope it makes the case to the passive building community that the heating/cooling criteria can be adjusted for economic feasibility / competitiveness in a climate-sensitive way, that the risks to comfort and building durability are low, and that the heating/cooling energy savings are still impressively deep.  Over all the climate locations studied, the proposed criteria represent median reductions in peak heat load of ~77%, annual heating of ~86%, peak cooling of ~69%, and annual cooling of ~46%.  (The baseline is 2009 IECC code.)

So, about those formal comments: Most commenters checked either 12-20 or 20+ years experience. In terms of survey questions we asked, no one liked star-ratings, so pass-fail it is. In going through the feedback the TC found no surprises–most all of the concerns had indeed been fully vetted en route a consensus over the past two+ years.  Here are some of the specific questions we received, along with answers:

Q: Could WP software be modified to make heating/cooling load calculations consistent with ACCA Manual J and ANSI/ASHRAE/ACCA Standard 183?
A: That is possible!  Added to the feature request list.

Q: Could PHIUS consider consolidating QA/QC checklist to be free standing from DOE ZERH and EPA Energy Star (for both residential and commercial projects)?
A: Some progress has been made on this. Stay tuned.

Q: Will the standard help me design smaller passive houses?
A: The short answer is probably yes.  There is no explicit “small house break” but there are three changes that indirectly tend to benefit small detached buildings at least in some climates:  air-tightness criterion by shell area instead of volume, source energy allowance per person instead of per square foot, and higher plug load defaults and detailed internal-gain accounting.

Q: Has there been any progress with PHIUS and NFRC in aligning data to meet PHIUS needs and possibly using NFRC data?
A: Not a lot. But we want to get it done this year. Third quarter.

Q: Please explain why you chose the specific denominators in the formulas. For example, why $ 0.155 electricity? 482 kWh? 1341 HDD65?
A: Those are the best-fit numbers determined by the regression analysis, that is, it’s like when you fit a line to a trend in x,y data, the trendline formula has the form y = m*x + b.  The numbers in the denominator are like the m, the slope or sensitivity to each of the factors.

In terms of final refinements to the new standard, PHIUS has been operating an alternate certification path along the lines of the BA draft report for some months as a pilot program. In the February and March meetings, the TC did pass some changes in advance of broader implementation. The changes came from both the feedback and the pilot program experience.

One kind of comment that spoke to us was, “this isn’t disruptive but you might want to change this to align with, or not conflict with, the building code.” The most to-the-point answer to feedback about rules is what gets changed or upheld, so here is the list of changes the TC agreed on:

  • Source energy: The U.S. source energy factor for electricity is adjusted to 3.16 (aligns with IECC 2015). The residential source energy limit is adjusted to 6200 kWh/person.yr.
  • Air-tightness criterion: 0.05 cfm50/sf of envelope area or 0.08 cfm75/sf (testing at 75 Pa aligns with commercial code and U.S. Army Corps). If testing at 75 Pa, report the flow coefficient and exponent from the blower door tests (that way the software can extrapolate to 50 Pa for compatibility of figuring the natural air change rate for infiltration losses).
  • Non-threatening air leakage: If the air-tightness criterion is missed, and the extra leakage can be proven to be due to a non-assembly-threatening leakage element such as a vent damper, certification staff may allow that element to be taped off for the purpose of passing the air-tightness criterion. The un-taped test result must be used for the energy model.
  • Phase-in period:  Dual certification path continues until September 15, after that the old protocol is phased out for PHIUS+ 2015.
  • Break-in period: If a project is seriously constrained on one of the criteria, a case-by-case overage may be allowed on any one of the four space conditioning criteria, or source energy, for the next year.
  • Retrofit:  The retrofit criteria are the same as new construction, except for a case-by-case energy allowance for foundation perimeter thermal bridges or other such hard-to-fix structural thermal bridges. Provided the design is “damage-free” that is, low risk from a moisture point of view.
  • Add-on badge: for supply air heating and cooling sufficient, per static calculation, with the average ventilation rate no more than 0.3-0.4 air changes per hour. (That is, low peak heating load and low peak cooling load. Special recognition for those who favor and design to this particular “functional definition” of a passive building.)

And finally, Katrin’s long-awaited favorite:

  • Add-on badge: for source net zero.  Onsite renewable electricity generation above any that was already credited as coincident-production-and-use, counts towards net zero with the same source energy factor multiplier for electricity, i.e., 3.16.

To me the most substantial comment was along the lines that cost has been added on to the building delivery process, when you consider the labor of the CPHC, the pre-certification review, and the rater visits for quality assurance. The TC believes much of this concern is simply a matter of getting used to the requirements until it becomes the new normal, but we know that there is room for improvement on making the planning tools easier to use, and we will keep working hard on that.  Most commenters felt it was also very important to get the standard written out in human-readable form, not just encoded in WUFI Passive, and we will work on this as well.

Overall, we believe that PHIUS+ 2015 will make passive building more cost-effective across climate zones. The community’s collective experience informed all the work–so thank you all for all your input and hard work and again, thanks to everyone who took the time to submit formal comment. We’re excited to implement the new standard and believe it will dramatically increase adoption of passive building.

 

Comments on climate-specific standards study now open

ClimateSpecificColor
In cooperation with Building Science Corporation, under a U.S. DOE Building America Grant, the PHIUS Technical Committee has completed exhaustive research and testing toward new passive house standards that take into account a broad range of climate conditions and other variables in North American climate zones and markets.

This report contains findings that will be adapted for use as the basis for implementing climate-specific standards in the PHIUS+ project certification program in early 2015. Furthermore, as materials, markets and – climates – change, the PHIUS Technical Committee will periodically review and adapt the standard to reflect those changes.

  • We invite formal comment on the science. Please use this online form to submit. Deadline for formal comment: January 16, 2015.
  • Formal comments will not be public, and are for Tech Committee review only. (The Tech Committee or PHIUS staff will contact you for permission, should we be interested in publishing your comments.) All formal comments will be reviewed, but we cannot guarantee an individual response.
  • Passive House Alliance US Members: An online informal discussion forum is available to all members. The forum discussion will be visible to the general public, but only PHAUS members can make comments. Comments on the discussion forum are not guaranteed to be reviewed by the Technical Committee.
  • If you are not a PHAUS member, use the blog comments section below. Comments on the blog cannot be guaranteed to be reviewed by the Technical Committee. To ensure Committee review, use the online formal comment form.