Part 3: NESEA BE13–the passive building journey continues…

 

OK, the finale! In part one we looked at the growth of passive building and how it’s reflected in Passive Place at BE13.

In part two we embarked on the passive building tour of the BE13 trade show floor–mapped to the fundamental principles of passive building.

Today, we introduce some unofficial passive building principles and visit some terrific partners.

Onward!

Unofficial passive building principle No. 6:

ASSURE QUALITY AND MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS!

Only PHIUS+ projects earn the plaque!

PHIUS (www.passivehouse.us) offers certification programs for projects and products. PHIUS+ Certification for new and retrofit applications is the only voluntary certification program in North America that requires a thorough design as well as an onsite third party review process. PHIUS+ certification is the most rigorous on the market–and the best value. That’s because PHIUS has partnered with the Department of Energy and RESNET. That means industry-standard certification protocols for design and onsite verification. And it means one-stop certification shopping. Earning PHIUS+ Certification also nets a HERS rating, DOE Challenge Home Status, and EnergyStar status.

PHIUS+ has jumpstarted certifications. We expect to have fully certified approximately 100 passive building projects by the end of 2013 in North America (if apartments are counted, then the number is closer to 200) and yes, the growth is exponential!

At the 7th Annual North American Passive House Conference in Denver last September, PHIUS launched its Window Data Verification Program. In cooperation with NFRC PHIUS is identifying a North American window data verification protocol and climate appropriate guidelines and recommendations. Several leading window manufacturers have signed on and submitted various window frame and glazing combinations for calculation and verification, and listing in the coming PHIUS window data base.

PHIUS recently partnered with PowerWise Systems–Booth 961 (http://www.powerwisesystems.com/passive) to promote their newest product – the inView Passive™ monitoring package. PowerWise offers all kinds of monitoring solutions for all building types—but we’re really excited about the value that the inView Passive monitoring package brings to our community. For passive builders, the proof is in the pudding–monitored performance is where it’s at. inView Passive includes monitoring dashboards optimized for typical passive house components and systems. We think it’s a great tool for anyone certifying a project through the PHIUS+ Certification and Quality Assurance Program.

Besides verifying predicted performance, monitoring systems like inView Passive can serve as early alerts for routine maintenance. For example, energy consumption might rise because a filter in the ventilator has not been cleaned on schedule. Monitoring also provides safety. Say one of the two ventilator fans fail; this could depressurize the house. Without monitoring, it might take some time to notice that indoor air quality declined, back drafting on vented appliances or fireplaces might have occurred or radon levels might have climbed.

inView Passive includes dashboards for typical passive house systems and components and indoor air aspects. Even a closed ground loop defrost system dashboard is included. Information on ordering the system and prices can be found on PHIUS’s website or on the PowerWise website. PHIUS has negotiated a 5% discount for all PHIUS+ certification enrolled projects and the Promo Code is available through PHIUS when registering.

The Energy Conservatory–Booth 828 (http://www.energyconservatory.com/) is the PHIUS+ Certified Rater’s best friend. Commissioning equipment for low load and airtight superinsulated homes has become more sophisticated and is now affordable.  What exactly has to be commissioned and tested? The most obvious—the air-tightness of the envelope needs to get tested during construction and then again upon project completion. For very tight homes the rater can now use the Mini-Fan Blower Door System, a duct blaster in a newly developed red door insert to test the entire building, A small fan is all it takes if the home is that tight! The mechanical ventilation system also has to be commissioned and flows have to be verified. Very small ventilation air flows need to be measured. The Energy Conservatory Flow Blaster Accessory measures air flows at diffusers down to very low levels such as 10 CFMs. And lastly FLIR infrared cameras are used to check insulation quality, thermal bridging and also interior surface temperatures. Indispensable tools throughout QAQC process to verify a building has been built as designed and performs.

 

Unofficial passive building principle No. 7:

SPREAD THE WORD, SHARE THE TALE AND TEACH ALL YOU HAVE LEARNED

The leading national passive building research, education and alliance organizations are the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) (www.passivehouse.us) and the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) (www.phaus.org).

PHIUS was founded by myself and Mike Kernagis in 2003, initially as Ecological Construction Laboratory, a non-profit, promoting and building passive houses for low income home buyers. It changed its name later to Passive House Institute US when it went national. Since 2008 PHIUS has been offering the hugely successful CPHC®Passive House Consultant training nationwide (NEW in 2013: Virtual segment online saving cost and travel time), we have added Certified PHIUS+ Rater trainings and PHIUS Certified Builder trainings over the last few years. We have trained more than 800 architects, engineers, energy consultants and builders and have certified more 500 of them as CPHCs, PHIUS Certified Builders and PHIUS+ Raters in the US and Canada. These are the folks you want on your passive building team!

In 2013 the renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, PHIUS and Owens Corning collaborated on a new next-generation passive building modeling tool – WUFI© Passive. WUFI Passive now replaces PHPP as the backbone tool of the CPHC training. Like PHPP, the tool includes a static passive house energy balancing capability. But it also offers dynamic whole building energy modeling and individual component hygrothermal analysis. And it covers another critical modeling variable: thermal mass, which is necessary for the cooling energy balance. In WUFI Passive all of these assessments use the same project data; no double entry of project data in multiple modeling tools is necessary. Risk and performance management all in one. This tool is seriously cool!

In 2009 PHIUS launched a membership/chapter program, the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS). The mission: to support the community of professionals who had been trained, to educate the public, and drive the market by involving manufacturers and advocating for making passive building standards the norm in North America. Since Mark Miller took on the Executive Director role of this ambitious program in 2011, PHAUS has a thriving and growing membership program, now up to 350 members. PHAUS’ manufacturer sponsors program (amongst them founding sponsor CertainTeed and Rocky Mountain Institute) is growing, as is the chapter organization—now up to 13 nationwide Chapters with two pending.

PHIUS and PHAUS have significantly shaped the landscape of passive buildings in America over the past 10 years and will continue on our mission: the transformation of the marketplace to make passive buildings commonplace. We are a non-profit and if you like what we have done so far and would like to help, you can donate to PHIUS, become a PHAUS member, or certify and train with us.

Building Science Corporation (http://www.buildingscience.com/)  has been a leader in high performance building consulting and education for decades. BSC Principal Joe Lstiburek was a pioneer way back in the 1970s; that’s why at his keynote address at last year’s 7th Annual North American Passive House Conference, he closed his presentation with: “You guys are family.” I was totally moved—and I wasn’t alone. It was inspiring. Joe started building superinsulated buildings in the late 70s when he was just 23 years old!!! The details matched what we consider to be good passive building practice today. He has been on the forefront all along – vapor retarders, thermally broken fasteners, insulated foundation systems, energy heel trusses and even earth tubes (which he is not a great fan of )(link to his article). He knows what the trenches look like.

Building on that energy from the conference, BSC and PHIUS resolved to work together in promoting passive buildings. A first step: We decided to cooperate on the Passive Building University which lives on the PHAUS website (link): BSC bookends PHIUS executive certification classes with a Building Science Fundamentals program, the ultimate preparation for the CPHC Passive House Consultant class. BSC also offers Advanced Hygrothermal Analysis, truly building a science master class. I encourage you to visit BSCs table as they have the best selection of  cutting edge literature that applies to passive buildings. Be prepared to spend some money and schlep books home!

The most recent Yestermorrow CPHC class.

Yestermorrow Design/Build School (http://www.yestermorrow.org/) This past December I arrived in Warren, Vt.,for the second CPHC class offered through the Yestermorrow Design/Build school. Yet another full class, intense and dynamic.

How is Yestermorrow different? It teaches all modules in person on 8 consecutive days with the exam on the 9th. People are on site 24/7, they form study and discussion groups beyond the class time and prep for exam together. You talk bonding…the food is exceptional and the people who show up for this are some of the smartest and unique. Yestermorrow truly attracts exceptional individuals. The classes took the passive discussion to new heights and aside from that, Vermont is just stunningly beautiful – an unforgettable learning experience with a retreat flavor.

Passive House New England (http://www.passivehousenewengland.org/) is one of the first independent passive house groups in the country. Many of its members are some of the most experienced CPHCs in the country with one or more certified passive houses under their belts. This group is a great resource for anyone who is interested in building a passive house or building in the North East region. The group has a very active meet up group schedule and hosts a passive house symposium annually in the fall highlighting most recent projects of special interest. Great group: Get involved!

Passivhaus Maine (http://www.passivhausmaine.org/) is carrying flag in Maine in regards to passive house (don’t you love the lobster in the logo?). This is also an area that has very many experienced passive house consultants and builders solidly on their way. This group also is making strides by providing great information and by putting on symposia. Join the meet up group and help getting the word out!

Well, that’s about it–and that’s plenty!

Thanks to NESEA and all the friends out East that have given me the opportunity to do this review and I hope to see a few of you on the BE13 NESEA trade show floor!!!!!!

 

RESNET 2012 Recap

Just a quick status report from the trenches, err, trade show booth: PHIUS just packed up the table at the RESNET 2012 trade show in Austin, Tex. The booth was generously sponsored by Jim Conlon of Elysian Energy in Silver Spring, Md. Jim was one of the first  folks to become a CPHCSM, and was among the first group of RESNET Raters in the country to take the new PHIUS+ Rater training last December; he’s now qualified to perform the PHIUS+ RESNET QAQC process. Thank you, Jim, for your work and your generosity!

PHIUS promoted its newly launched  PHIUS+ project certification to the RESNET stakeholders, who are the linchpin of the process. PHIUS+ RESNET raters perform passive house specific on-site testing protocols and generate HERS index numbers that accurately reflect passive house performance. PHIUS is offering a two-day certification training for experienced HERS raters to specialize in passive house and passive building QAQC and testing. Only passive houses that pass this rigorous quality assurance process receive the certificate.

During the conference, PHIUS held another 2-day class for raters: one day in the class room and one day on site. Yes, Austin

Take a video tour of Nicholas Koch's project.

already has two passive houses and one of them, Nicholas Koch’s retrofit project, was used for the on-site testing and the ERV balancing and commissioning protocol. The class had the special opportunity to use a new product from Minneapolis Blower Door; it can provide extremely low-flow ventilation air testing and balancing. Thanks to the company’s owner—Gary Nelson—instructors  John Semmelhack and Ryan Abendroth used equipment right off the trade show floor for PHIUS+ RESNET Rater on-site training.  Thank you, Gary!

Ryan and John also presented a conference session on Wednesday afternoon that outlined the PHIUS-RESNET, program details and benefits to raters and consumers.

Overall, RESNET 2012 was a great success with close to 1000 participants! Indeed, energy efficiency is on people’s minds and on government’s radar.

For me, the most important message was RESNET’s pledge to devote its resources in 2012 to make performance-based incentives a reality. This is awesome, of course, for everyone building to the passive standard, as these buildings—that offer maximumperformance—will receive maximum incentives.

Also very encouraging: lots of RESNET raters are extremely well-versed on passive house principles and aware of the PHIUS+ RESNET program. What better group of professionals to help build market confidence in quality-assured passive buildings? There was lots of interest in taking the two-day PHIUS+ RESNET rater training, and many raters also are interested in taking the CPHC training and becoming Certified Passive House consultants. On that subject, we’ll be announcing more PHIUS+ training sites and dates very soon!

I’m in Portland for the Passive House Northwest Spring Conference, and I’ll check in next from Boston at NESEA BE12 (if you’re going, sign up for my workshop on passive house mechanical systems).

Onward!

 

Reality Show: Monitored Passive House results from Salem, Oregon

All — thanks for all of your contributions and comments about fine-tuning the standard. It’s going to be an exciting process. Continuing that discussion, let’s look at a few really good examples of certified Passive Houses that were modeled for various North American climate zones, and for which we have good monitoring data. The graphic below makes clear that generally, the climates of North America and Central Europe are not directly comparable. One small region–running from the northwest U.S. Coast into Canada–matches the Central European conditions.

 

Therefore, we’ll look first at a certified project in Salem, Ore., and evaluate how accurately the PHPP modeled the actual monitored experience.

The Salem, Ore., home that's been monitored for a year.

Again — as stated in the inaugural blog post, the core principles behind the Passive House concept, some of which date back to the early 1970s — are not in question. Minimizing the peak loads to a point when balancing the ins and outs (losses and gains) produces  a building that nearly reaches equilibrium. Such a building needs very little active energy input — and this only a few months of the year — to maintain comfort.

If the space conditioning meets our 1 W/sqft peak heating load and 0.8 W/sq peak cooling load requirements, then we get the icing on the cake: For mechanicals, we can either use point sources throughout the space or integrate the space conditioning in the ventilation air. In the Northwest, with next to no cooling requirement and lots of passive cooling potential, integrating conditioning and ventilation could prove to be the most cost effective solution.

Let’s look at how one Passive House project played out in Salem, Ore. The 16th & Nebraska project (also known as the Rue-Evans House, named for its owners) was built by Blake Bilyeu and his father. Blake Bilyeu is a pioneer — he took one of the first PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultant training courses offered. And by 2010, he had completed the 16th & Nebraska project. It became one of the first projects certified by PHIUS.

By U.S. Department of Energy climate zone definitions, Salem is considered a marine climate, characterized by:

  • mean temperature of coldest month between 27-65 F
  • warmest month mean of less than 72 F
  • at least four months with mean temperatures over 50 F
  • dry season in summer (month with heaviest precipitation at least 3x of driest month)

Here’s the Salem climate data at a glance:

And data for Bonn, Germany.

The climates are very similar: Average temperatures in Salem are a little higher by 4.6 F in winter in Salem, summer highs are the same, and precipitation is generally higher in the Pacific Northwest. Both locations have limited solar availability.

The project’s PHPP data at a glance confirms that both Passive House criteria are met: the annual heating demand criterion with 4.02 kBTU/sqft yr as well as the peak heat load with 2.9 BTU/hr.sqft. There is no need for cooling.

The general specifications of the exterior envelope components are:

  • R-45 in the wall, the roof has R-96, the floor over crawl space has R-51.
  • The average window installed U-value is 0.226 BTU/hr.sqft.F with orientation specific SHGC of 0.23 for E-N-W orientations and 0.46 SHGC for the South

Note: The window figures are unadjusted NFRC values. Passive House window calculations will result in slightly adjusted values. The PHIUS Technical Committee is developing a method for converting values and/or a protocol to more accurately calculate the window values needed for PHPP. The Tech Committee will make it available for comment in an upcoming PHIUS e-Newsletter.  Many thanks to Graham Irwin, John Semmelhack and Graham Wright, who already have devoted a lot of hours to this project!

Energy consumption at the project was monitored for a full year. Over that period, the home was occupied by its new owners (a young couple and a dog, and eventually the couple’s newborn baby. The owners blogged about their early experience — check it out.)

A detailed monitoring report on the first year was prepared by the company Ecotope. (Many thanks to the Ecotope team that graciously gave PHIUS permission to make the information available to the Passive House community. PHIUS plans to share more monitored data from other projects soon—stay tuned.)

Download the full report here. From the executive summary:

The 16th and Nebraska Passive House project located in Salem, Oregon is an impressive example of an energy efficient home. The home is built to the stringent requirements of the Passive House (PH) program. The home’s energy use for the first year post-construction place it in the top tier of the most energy efficient single family homes in the Pacific Northwest. The first-year stats for the project are listed below:

  • First Year Total Annual Energy Use: 5,413 kWh/yr
  • Electric Utility Cost per Year: $700
  • Energy Savings estimate over Oregon Code: 9,064 kWh/yr
  • EUI (using gross sq ft of 1,885 sf): 9.8 kBtu/sf/yr2

The Salem Passive House home blows away today’s code homes, and nearly meets — right now — Ed Mazria’s Architecture 2030  Challenge for 80% reduction:

Back to the original questions: how do actual results compare to what was modeled in the PHPP, and what conclusions can be drawn from potential deviations of the measured results to the modeled results?

To start, some of the results are rather unexpected:

The actual first year’s energy use came in between what was predicted and what is allowed in the Passive House program, 5,413 kWh/yr. This results in a 63% energy use reduction over an electrically heated home built to the Oregon 2008 Code. This represents a savings of $750/yr in utility costs.

The DOE Building America Program aims for 70% in overall energy reduction. With 63%, this is below what one might have expected. If the modeled results had actually been met the building would have been saving 73% over the code home. Reading on:

This home represents the upper limits of conservation that can be controlled by the designers and builders; or what can be achieved by applying most of the energy efficiency measures currently available. Space heating and DHW represent 13% of the home’s total energy use. The remaining loads are plugs, appliances, lights, cooling, and energy recovery ventilator (ERV) fans. Since PH is a modeled certification program, there is no guarantee that a home modeled to meet the PH standard will actually perform to the PH standard once built. It is clear that maintaining the PH energy use levels is a function of occupant behavior and lifestyle choices. More research and development of tools for modeling plugs and appliances in the PHPP program should be made available to the PH community.

The report points out higher plug loads and attributes this to the American lifestyle. As we have compared electrical loads modeled in PHPP and actual consumption, we find a large discrepancy between what’s modeled and actual results throughout many North American projects which seems to confirm the author’s explanation.  

Conclusion: We need more accurate protocols for the American household. We need to identify realistic stringent savings recommendations and adjust the initial assumptions in the household electricity sheet accordingly. This measured result also points to the potentially higher importance of the source energy criterion rather than the focus on annual heating demand.

The measured space heating demand constitutes only 1/4 of what was actually predicted. Once the additional household consumption is taken into account, though, in the internal heat gains the results once again are pretty close to what PHPP predicted. The modeled kWh amount for space heat in the diagram is reflecting the assumed 3.2 COP of the heat pump; if provided through direct resistance  that would amount to 3.2 times 694 kWh,  equaling a little over 1800 kWh/yr. The discrepancy is roughly the additional kWh use for the DVR and server, which is direct electric internal heat gain (no bonus through COP). That explains the total higher energy consumption.

In short, the predicted space heat demand result is indeed very close to the modeled prediction. On the flip side though, there is talk about energy used for cooling in the report and the PHPP modeled 0 energy use for cooling. Additional household consumption can be used to replace heating needs in winter, in summer it adds to the energy used for cooling needs.

The report concludes:

This 16th & Nebraska Passive House home represents the leading edge of current energy conservation. Insulation has been maxed out, the envelope is extremely air tight, and the glazing percentage has been reduced to 15%. The solar water heating system is providing 69% of the hot water energy, the home uses highly efficient appliances, low lighting levels, and a very efficient ERV. The remaining loads are a product of the American lifestyle and are the hardest loads to control without major impacts to lifestyle.

For the Northwest, the Salem example indicates that the PHPP is, as expected, reasonably accurate in predicting the annual space conditioning. Assumptions for household and plug loads need to be revisited and entered as correctly as possible, but this is not a climate but rather a market issue.

Just as in Germany, the Salem project proves Passive House is a good basis for net zero. From the report:

This project is a great example of what is possible with the PH program and represents one path to achieving net zero energy use. A 6-7 kW PV array on the roof with the current 3 people living in the home would take this project to a net zero energy status.

That’s a sizable PV installation, but, just like in Germany, forgoing active energy in favor of conservation is more cost-effective.

So we’ve seen what happens when we apply Passive House in a climate very close to the European climate. To predict space conditioning it works very well. American life style and market, we have some work to do.

Applicability in regards to humidity, hygrothermal concerns and the impacts on airtightness recommendations for this climate will be addressed separately at a later time.

Next, we’ll venture into more extreme North American climates to evaluate that experience. Stay tuned for more!

Kat