PHIUS Mechanical Summit – Why?

mech summit sig_v1

About a year ago I met with Gabriela Martin for coffee (outdoors, socially distanced and masked up). Gabriela is the Zero-Energy program mastermind and manager at the Illinois Clean Energy Communities Foundation. Several school buildings used PHIUS standards to meet the ICECF zero-energy goal. The projects that receive ICECF funding only receive the full grant when the project actually meets the zero-energy goal, which requires detailed monitoring of actual performance. Gabriela tells me about her findings, sighs… says the envelope is next to perfect, doing its job but the systems…a whole other story. Almost all the awarded buildings have missed the target so far. The culprit: the performance of the mechanical systems.

Mechanical…what do we mean by that and why does this topic warrant an entire summit in and of itself? I think of mechanical as encompassing balanced ventilation, space conditioning, hot water and electrical…in short all active systems and their components needed in a building. In terms of achieving, mechanical systems are the weakest link.

This is due for two main reasons.

1. Claimed systems efficiencies often are optimistic.
2. Installation is often wanting, including distribution, significantly reducing whole systems efficiencies.

Neither of these are necessarily anybody’s fault. But it points out that existing mechanical systems design for inefficient buildings: Designers and installers over-compensate for inaccuracies and potentially bad installs by designing and installing oversized systems allowing for redundancy.

Belts and suspenders.

Passive building requirements are different. The tolerances for inaccurate assumptions are much smaller. Passive buildings fundamentally act differently and need differently calibrated components to account for comfort.

In absence of systems and equipment designed for low-load buildings, most design teams are left to improvise. They assemble components that might not typically be used in conjunction in conventional construction…they have to make do with what they can find on the market, improvising solutions that are not ideal for passive buildings.

We need and deserve better!

• We practioners need to keep pushing to build the market to help manufacturers justify new products that meet our needs. We need to be clear about what we need.

• We need manufacturers to hear us, to offer help creating solutions from existing products, and to eventually respond with new products for low-load buildings.

We want the PHIUS Mechanical Summit to accelerate our efforts; to advance the conversation between the designers, manufacturers and installers.

Policy makers are taking notice, and that’s great. But to fulfill the net Zero promise, it is clear, we need the larger HVAC and other manufacturers to enter the scene, and in short order!

Passive building, low load systems design can be the economic key to mainstreaming zero energy buidlings. Its mechanical systems can be minimized and designed in an integrated way, offering “plug-and-play,” it would yield a significant reduction in terms of first cost, operational cost and maintenance. This could dramatically change the economic feasibility of zero energy buildings and facilitate it going mainstream.

During the first CPHC classes in 2008, I used to describe how we conventionally build our houses. We build the same envelope in all climates (usually with scant attention to insulation and air sealing), and then we put a giant furnace into it to keep us comfortable. The size of that furnace is variable, depending on the climate, it comes in big or huge. Energy was not a prime concern.

In a passive building we turn that idea on its head. What if we made the shell of a building do most of the work instead of the furnace? We’d make its shell match the climate when insulating it and air-seal it. We then make sure it is right-sized so that the small “micro-load” system has no trouble keeping the space comfortable no matter where we build. The micro-load system of a predetermined size would also assure that we meet our carbon reduction goals and reduce our carbon footprint. It would act like cruise control to stay under the emissions speed limit.

What if the envelope is designed to do the heavy lifting, to fit the micro-load system instead of the other way around? That was the initial ground-breaking idea brought forward by the passive house pioneers in the 1970s in response to the oil embargo in an effort to reduce total energy consumption by about 70%, reducing the micro-load mechanicals to only about 15% capacity of a regular system! This idea is a BIG DEAL! 85% in reduction of systems size!

We on the building and design side have been hampered by the lack of low load systems on the market specifically designed for the changed dynamics in low load buildings. Mechanical engineers often are unfamiliar with passive building design. Manufacturers have not yet responded to the emerging passive building market’s unique demands—to now, the market wasn’t there. But that is changing.

Growth has been driven by creative design teams that often make do with components designed for conventional buildings. But in terms of maintenance and scaling, the status quo won’t do.

We need solutions that account for balanced ventilation, loads, load relationships and distribution requirements in passive buildings. Such packaged solutions are emerging, driven by small companies, that can make progress only very slowly but it is a positive sign. What about joint ventures?

That’s the kind of question we’d like to address at the summit, in addition to sharing lessons learned about how existing equipment has been used to solve the passive mechanical puzzle.

We’ve come a long, long way since I built my own passive home back in 2003. But to get where we want to go: mainstream passive building to achieve Zero, we need to tackle the mechanical issue.

Let’s do it like we always have, together.

Please join us during Earth Week for the PHIUS Mechanical Summit.

Each day of the Summit will cover one of four main topics in an effort to bring further awareness to what components and practices can help create a solid mechanical system across different climates:

Day 1, 4/19: Design Principles / Best Practices
Day 2, 4/20: Gap Solutions / Tools
Day 3, 4/21: Products / Systems Designs
Day 4, 4/22: Earth day: Zero Energy and Carbon / Electrification

PHIUS will offer both pre-recorded, on-demand content and a live panel Q&A discussion for each day of the Summit. The experts featured in both mediums will cover a large segment of passive building practice areas. Attendees will hear from those involved in product development, systems design, energy modeling, HVAC installation, and quality assurance.

See you there!

Kat

A Climate Action Turning Point!

That's friend of PHIUS and visionary NYC architect Chris Benedict (l) with Katrin Klingenberg.

That’s friend of PHIUS and visionary NYC architect Chris Benedict (l) with Katrin Klingenberg.

On October 29th I was fortunate to attend the NYSERDA low carbon and zero energy Buildings of Excellence Awards at the Building Energy Exchange in New York City. What a terrific time for projects that are about to and that have employed PHIUS+ passive building standards as baseline to get to zero energy ready! I counted at least 10 PHIUS+ project teams in NYSERDA’s three categories, Early Design Stage, Substantial Completion and Completed, that were awarded up to 1 million dollars for their projects!The awards were announced on the 7th anniversary of super storm Sandy, not a coincidence, as a reminder for urgent climate action. Seven years later, NYC is leading by action and is putting itself firmly on the path of global leadership in building energy and resilience. Thank you to an amazingly dedicated NYSERDA team for making this happen!

The week before the event, I keynoted the Boston Passive House Massachusetts Symposium to talk about the evolution of the PHIUS+ certification suite for passive buildings, and why they provide such great value on the path to ZERO. Here as well, political action was taken to combat climate change: MassSave staff announced significant incentives for low carbon and zero energy buildings and significant additional incentives if project teams go for passive building certification for their hi-rise residential projects. Certification requests from Mass have increased manifold as a result. Massachusetts in not far behind NY State in political will, turns out.

And just a few weeks before the Boston event, it was gratifying to find that at the Getting to Zero Forum in Oakland, California, passive building was simply understood as the logical starting point on the path to ZERO, no questions asked. During one of the plenaries the ASHRAE speaker proudly introduced the new ASHRAE standards committee: 227p Passive Building Design Standard. That was great news and evidence that ASHRAE is moving on the topic.

During the lunch plenary on day one the National Renewable Energy Laboratory featured PHIUS board member Mary Rogero’s students presenting their Solar Decathlon winning PHIUS+ Source Zero energy school design. For the closing plenary, California’s Commissioner Andrew McAllister presented on his recently completed and only recently occupied zero energy passive house in Berkeley and the benefit of energy independence. He had electricity while PG&E had shut off power supply to prevent fires, a consequence of climate change, to most of Berkeley including the entire Berkeley Campus. He was followed by Greg Hale, from NYSERDA, who spoke about applying the Energiesprong passive plus zero energy retrofit approach that he is spearheading in NYS and other zero carbon measures taken by the city.

And while most of the building action seems to be happening on the East Coast, quietly behind the scenes advocates have been working hard to get passive building into codes all over the country. When PHIUS was first established our lofty mission was to make passive building code by 2020. As ambitious a goal that was then in 2007, we have made significant progress toward it, and have paved the path for national success. NY State has included passive building as an alternative compliance path into the next stretch code and Washington State is on a similar path. Massachusetts has included an alternative compliance path for passive buildings and verification tools (no double modeling required) and Washington, D.C. also has included an alternate compliance path for passive buildings in their about to be launched ZERO Energy Code.

Most significant of all those developments is the establishment of the ASHRAE 227p standards committee. If successful they’ll created a passive building design standard that takes the best pathways from all existing programs and develop an even better, easily adopted design standard globally. That committee has now started its so very important work. The ball is rolling! Stay tuned for more!

Exciting times, indeed!

 

 

 

 

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

 

Why PHIUS? Because Climate Specific Design = Quality Assurance

Why do you build to PHIUS Standards?

Asked at the 2017 North American Passive House Conference in Seattle, WA.

Lindsey Elton, ECO Achievers:  …E-L-T-O-N like Elton John…

I believe in PHIUS because the organization has taken an extremely detailed look according to our climate zone of what it takes to build a net-zero home or a net-zero building.

Peter Marciano, Legacy Buildings, New York, NY: I’ve come to the conclusion based on what I’ve built that there’s a lot of information out here. There are several passive house programs available. And, for me, having come to the realization that it has to be climate-specific because that’s what works. That’s what works in this nation. That’s what works in this country.

Marc Rosenbaum, EnergySmiths, West Tisbury, MA: I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and one of the things that PHIUS brings to the table here that are so amazing to me is people are interested in the actual performance of the buildings. They’re measuring them. They’re comparing them to what they thought they should do, and it’s a really terrific community that is sharing the information to make better buildings.

Elton: They’ve taken all the guesswork out, they’re doing the calculations, and they were smart about it. And we can employ this time after time after time again.

Marciano: If it’s not climate specific, I have had definite problems with certain aspects of my enclosure and certain aspects of my building. And I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I would definitely use a climate specific standard to establish… To build my next passive house.

Rosenbaum: And I think we all know why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because we care about the climate, we care about the kids, we care about other species besides ourselves. And we don’t talk about that. We talk about BTUs, and thermal bridges, and solar heat gain coefficients.

Elton: We’re firmly behind it, our company’s firmly behind it. We believe in it, and that’s why we’re here.

Rosenbaum: PHIUS has really created this community of people, who I think, care about each other’s learning, and share our successes and our failures, and it makes all of us better.

PHIUS+: The path to positive energy

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

Why PHIUS+? Science, Climate, Energy Modeling

 

Why do you build to PHIUS Standards?

Asked at the 2017 North American Passive House Conference in Seattle, WA.

“As opposed to building standard code buildings?”
—Nichole Schuster, Ashley McGraw (Syracuse, NY)

“The question really is, how do we respond to climate change in the buildings that we build?”
—James Geppner, Big Yellow Cab (Cold Spring, NY)

Schuster: “I design to PHIUS+ standards because it’s an intensely rigorous energy efficiency standard.

Geppner: “And if we’re gonna respond, then, we need something that’s science-based and we need something that’s performance-based.

It doesn’t just have one component or another, but it actually performs to a certain level. And that that performance is measurable.”

“My passion is using the best technology and the best in building science to model energy use in buildings and to improve building efficiency.”
—Maren Longhurst, Rodell Design (Spokane, Washington)

Geppner: “It’s one way to achieve basically, a building that requires very little energy and does so and produces a high indoor quality.”

Schuster: “I think it provides greater levels of resiliency. I think it’s tailored to our specific climates that we get the maximum benefit out of it, and it can also help us achieve other standards and goals like the Living Building Challenge, Energy Petal, for example.”

Geppner: “Part of what makes it the best is that it uses what I think of, or what I call the dynamic energy model.

Longhurst: “PHIUS provides software Wi-Fi Passive and Wi-Fi Plus that really get deep into the details of a project.”

Geppner: “The information that goes into designing a building is information from that region. It’s weather data, it’s climate data, so that when you have a house, it’s not thoughtlessly constructed, it’s constructed to the temperature of that region, the moisture of that region.”

Longhurst: “And allow us to predict what a project will do and help us to design that project to be the most efficient, and the most comfortable, and the best quality building.

Geppner: “An option to get away from a construction method—which there’s basically no technology, it’s kind of a 400-year old process—to something that’s more like the thinking and the modeling that goes behind constructing something like an iPhone, or a high technology product, and it works.”

 

PHIUS+: The path to positive energy

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