Giving Thanks to the Phius Community

We at Phius have plenty to be thankful for this year.

First and foremost, we are thankful for our dedicated staff, and all the loyal members of the Phius community. If it weren’t for all of you, we would not be well on our way to making Phius the mainstream building standard.

Cups ConferenceWe are also grateful to have had the opportunity to connect in person with so many of you during PhiusCon 2021. More than 400 people joined us in Tarrytown, New York, for this year’s conference, with about 100 more joining us virtually as part of our Bootleg Series. No amount of Zoom calls or virtual meet-ups can replace an event like that, and we are grateful to have been able to host such an informative, (hopefully) entertaining and most importantly, safe event.

Thanks also to the ambitious project teams who participated in the Annual Design Competition. Each year we are inspired by the exemplary entries.

The inroads being made in policy in a number of areas is a crucial step forward for our organization and the passive house movement as a whole. We are appreciative of our hard-working team as well as the policymakers who are willing to work with us to create healthier, more efficient buildings.

We would be remiss not to mention our ever-growing number of project certifications. We have already nearly doubled our submitted project count from 2020 and are well on our way to having our first ever year with 200+ submitted projects. And as we continue seeing an influx of multifamily projects, we’re thrilled to have more than 1.8 million square feet of pre-certified and fully certified Phius projects in 2021. Our Certification Team has been plenty busy this year, and we’re thankful for all their hard work.

Expanding to the greater Phius community, we are of course thankful for our engaged and enthusiastic Phius Alliance members and chapters. We have been able to add a number of new chapters and members, and we are grateful to support such a wonderful community and be able to bring them dynamic programming such as webinars and office hours.

There is much work to be done, but we are most thankful for all the people and organizations who have helped us make great strides toward our goals.

Introducing the New Phius Portal

As you may already know, we are in the process of transforming our digital systems as we embrace our new slogan — Emissions Down, Scale Up! 

Some of the background and behind-the-scenes details of this transformation were detailed in a recent blog post by Phius Associate Director Lisa White. She touched on many of the exciting aspects of Phius’ digital evolution, but today we aren’t just going to tell you about it — we’re going to show you.

We created the video below to share with Phius Alliance members at PhiusCon 2021, but now we want to share it with all of you. Some of the details such as the portal’s projected launch date have been updated since the video’s creation, but it provides a glimpse at the portal’s functionality.

While the portal is not yet a finished product, we are thrilled to give you this sneak peak. The new portal offers a one-stop-shop for everything Phius-related, offering an easy-to-use hub for professionals, alliance members, CPHC’s®, and anyone else associated with Phius.

We hope you enjoy this preview, and we look forward to giving you a full introduction to the Phius portal in the coming months.

Guidance on Retrofits and Decarbonization for All Buildings

32tev__gEmbodied carbon is an important and complicated subject. Phius Senior Scientist Graham Wright helps sort it out and discusses Phius’ new REVIVE program in this post.

Let’s talk about retrofit, starting with the proposition that we need to decarbonize all buildings by 2050.

Stopping direct emissions is a good start; the electrification crowd is right about that. But only stopping direct emissions just moves the burden onto the utility/energy supplier, and they have to contend with transportation electrification as well.

The key question for the building sector, and for society at large, is how much effort/investment to put into increasing the clean energy supply, versus reducing the demand by such measures as passive building and heat pumps.  

The scale of the required transition is daunting no matter which way we approach it, especially considering that we have to do all of this utility infrastructure and building retrofit work without throwing off a lot of emissions in the process. The embodied carbon crowd is right about that, though I think a materials focus doesn’t go far enough.  

One way to get at the balance-of-investment question is with the idea of life-cycle cost. What mix of grid upgrades and building upgrades minimizes the total cost of getting the job done, on an annualized/life-cycle basis? I brightened up to this when it occurred to me that carbon could be included in that calculation by including a cost of carbon. Let’s use full-cost accounting!  

That price might be set based on the cost of, say, direct air capture of CO2, that is, at some point it becomes cheaper to actually pull the carbon back out of the air. The full-cost metric I am thinking of would include all of the following:

Tentative name: Annualized Decarbonization of Retrofitted Building Cost (ADORB Cost)

ADORB Cost = sum of the following components, each an annual/annualized cost:

  • Direct energy cost. E.g. site kWh * $/kWh = $
  • Direct building retrofit measures cost (material & labor) including building-level electrification cost. E.g. ft3 of stuff * $/ft3 = $
  • Social cost of carbon, upfront/embodied. CO2e kg * $/kg = $
  • Social cost of carbon, operating. CO2e kg * $/kg = $
  • Energy system transition cost (e.g. new utility solar + storage). $/MWh * MWh = $

The idea would be that a baseline cost in this sense is calculated for the scenario of continuing to operate and maintain the building as is for some decades. Any proposed retrofit should at least have a lower cost than that, hopefully much lower. Basically one designs as if there’s a carbon price. (In a baseline case I calculated for my apartment, 70 percent of it was the carbon cost of continuing to operate the gas furnace and water heater, even after the grid electricity was completely decarbonized).

This seems useful, but there are a few issues with it, therefore it can’t be our only lens. 

Issue 1 

It would not prohibit supply chain emissions from the retrofit work. Arguably the ideal is, call it Absolute Zero: No CO2 emissions occur anywhere in the building delivery/retrofit process, supply chain, or the building operating life, at any time. We need to decarbonize everything — the whole economy. In this view, the policy stance is that any carbon capture tech is devoted to removing carbon previously emitted, not keeping up with new work.  

All the current net-zero and carbon-neutral programs have this limitation. We can’t really do everything without emissions yet, so in order to convince ourselves we are zero there all these offsets and avoided-carbon credit schemes. I’m starting to agree with the youth climate activists that this is weaselly.  

Issue 2

At the system level, it’s tricky to use cost to decide grid-versus-building investment, because those costs in turn depend on which approach we decide to scale up in the first place. Commit to industrialized retrofit construction and those costs can come down. Commit to scaling renewable generation and transmission and those costs can come down.  

Issue 3

It’s not clear how to make this full-cost metric take into account that some things just can’t happen fast enough. For example, renewable generation and even transmission may not cost that much, but siting the required high-power transmission lines from remote western wind and solar farms to eastern cities might take too long.  

Issue 4

We’ve gotten into trouble across the board lately with our global economy by trying to minimize cost without regard to resilience. It’s more resilient to do extra things to reduce building loads rather than putting the ball in the grid’s court to both decarbonize AND stay up.  

McKeesport RetrofitTherefore, I am thinking that our new REVIVE Pilot program for building retrofit needs a number of different frameworks. I have listed them below along with a few possible elements of each:

Land use

  • Retrofit, replace/redevelop, or raze/rewild?
  • FEMA hazard assessment
  • Emerging climate hazard assessment (e.g. derecho, wildfire smoke)

Decarbonization

  • Cease direct emissions.
  • Use and generate renewable energy (reconsider off-site renewables framework).
  • Re-use high-embodied carbon structure.
  • Calculate a carbon score (no criterion, just how low can you get, i.e. without offsets).

Cost/Financial/Equity

  • Calculate ADORB cost, goal to at least beat the existing condition.
  • Use load reduction, grid interactivity and storage to financial advantage.
  • Limit the cost burden on low-income people.
  • Look to make policy cases for feebates, incentives.

Resilience 

  • Design for outages and known/emerging hazards.
  • On-site/local power, microgrids, on-site/local repair parts
  • Design for low loads.

Quality and Health

  • Assess existing deficiencies (EPA indoor air quality risk list).
  • Audits: tests, energy models?
  • Commissioning & documenting that goals are met (e.g. ASHRAE 202)

Phase planning

  • Scope includes operations, not just design.
  • Plan covers both an end state and interim retrofit phases.
  • Try to cover critical loads in the first phase.

I will have a bit more to say about this at PhiusCon 2021 this October 12-15 in Tarrytown, New York. The REVIVE Pilot program is in pilot phase, looking for sample projects, and the goal is to have an on-ramp in place. The general development strategy is to evolve from informational guidance to hard requirements in an orderly way, preferably without much backtracking.  

Our existing Phius Certification program for retrofit projects remains available through the Phius CORE REVIVE 2021 and Phius ZERO REVIVE 2021 programs, outlined in Section 3 of the Phius Certification Guidebook.

Regards,

Graham

PhiusCon Pre-Conference: Building Science Rocks in Tarrytown!

There will be something for everyone at PhiusCon 2021 Pre-Conference, a great way to warm up for the PhiusCon Core Conference–all in Tarrytown, New York.

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Prudence Ferreira

Pre-conference starts on Tuesday, Oct. 12, with a trio of diverse sessions. One of our most highly anticipated sessions is “Phius Critical Path for Large-Scale Buildings” presented by BR+A Consulting Engineers Senior Associate and Phius Board Member Prudence Ferreira. With more than a decade of passive house experience to work from, Ferreira will share her approach and tools for approaching the more complex, large-scale Phius projects.

She has outlined the following learning objectives for the workshop:

  1. Define Phius critical path items and process
  2. Explore strategies and tools for managing complexity
  3. Examine energy modeling approaches for large-scale projects
  4. Analyze Phius protocols unique to large-scale projects
John Loercher

John Loercher

Running concurrently is “WUFI Passive for Beginners” featuring Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Building Science Program Director and Phius Certification Staff Member John Loercher. This session is meant both for those learning the WUFI Passive modeling tool for the first time as well as those who were exposed to it during CPHC® training, but have yet to use it on a project.

Katrin Klingenberg

Katrin Klingenberg

For those looking for a broader, more introductory workshop, there is “Passive Building 101” presented by Phius Co-Founder and Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg. This session offers a high-level overview of passive building, covering topics such as: passive house history, rationale for passive building standards, five core principles of passive building, certification processes, benefits of certification, and more!

Things won’t slow down on Oct. 13, as the sessions listed below make for a full day of passive building education and discussion.

  • Prescription for Better Buildings: Phius 2021 Prescriptive
  • Climate and Social Equity Workshop
  • Developer’s Multifamily Buildings of Excellence Case Studies
  • What’s My Size: Using the Newly Revised Manuals for VCHP Sizing

The “Climate and Social Equity Workshop” is free to attend, but registration is requested. It will be hosted by Clean Energy Works Managing Director Tamara Jones, HLW International Designer Satpal Kaur and Topsight Advisors LLC Principal Bomee Jung. The workshop will ask attendees to think critically about the topic of climate justice, which is the principle that actions to mitigate or adapt to climate change should equitably distribute their benefits, redress existing inequities, and dismantle institutional racism.

Mitsubishi Electric Trane US Sr. Product Manager Kimberly Llewellyn’s “What’s My Size: Using the Newly Revised Manuals for VCHP Sizing” workshop promises to be another highlight of the second day of Pre-Conference. She is one of the top mechanical systems experts in the country, and her presentation will focus on the management of humidity loads in high-performance buildings. Questions answered during the session are to include: When is an ERV enough to maintain acceptable interior conditions? What is the interplay of efficiency metrics for dehumidifiers vs heat pumps and where do rating metrics need to go in order to support development of HVAC equipment that can operate optimally in low SHF conditions?

We also don’t want you to forget about the New York City Passive Projects Tour, which is slated for Oct. 12 as well. Attendees will explore some of the largest, most innovative projects in the country. 

If you can’t get enough of Phius and passive house, you belong at PhiusCon 2021 Pre-Conference. Pre-Conference and Tour tickets are sold separately, so be sure to buy yours today!

 

Building a ZERO Carbon Future, Together!

Katrin HeadshotPhius Co-Founder and Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg wrote this week’s blog post in advance of her “Zero Energy and the Future of Phius” webinar on Sept. 14. It covers a variety of topics related to Phius’ work and the expanded vision of the organization.

“The west is on fire, and the east is drowning.”

Those attention-grabbing words were the first thing I heard when I turned on my TV the other day.

“The levees held, but the power grid folded”

That was a headline from the day after hurricane Ida swept across Louisiana. Most of the state was left without power; temperatures in the aftermath were predicted to rise into the 100s, all after a ton of rain and flooding. The combination of high temperatures and humidity is life-threatening — on top of all the other hardships brought on by the storm.

And then there was the Texas winter with the grid folding and people and pipes freezing in homes…

The urgency is clear. At our most recent Phius board retreat there was consensus: we are in dire straits climate-wise — it is now or never.

Since its inception, Phius’ vision has had a North Star: to create a carbon-neutral, healthy, safe, and just future for everyone by mitigating the climate crisis. And our mission is to do just that by making passive house and building standards mainstream.

The vision was extended to using passive house and building principles as the basis for all zero-energy and carbon designs. We added the Phius Source Zero certification program in 2012. Net zero is a good first step, but we need to revise the framework. In practice, net zero isn’t enough. 

The conclusion we at Phius have reached — following the thought leadership of our Senior Scientist Graham Wright — is that we need to aim to reach absolute zero in short order to avert the ultimate climate crisis. And that is absolute zero as per the original definition of zero – the absence of a measurable quantity.

A New Brand

We are upping our game on multiple levels in order to emphasize our renewed commitment to solving the ZERO-carbon puzzle for buildings. 

New Brand Same Phius GraphicWe started by reimagining the Phius brand. We are updating its look and making products and messages more relatable without sacrificing what we are known for: scientific rigor, precision, quality assurance, proven guidance, and performance. We are also unifying and expanding our suite of certifications for buildings, products and professionals. We are upping the ante on benefits to our professional members under the Phius Alliance leadership and yes, we are creating exceptionally cool swag to encourage everyone to join our tribe and make it our lifestyle together! Together, our community is creating momentum in the market — and having fun with it!

We also re-organized ourselves internally in more efficient ways over the last year, invested in a new website and a CRM, architecture. And we doubled our staff — to aim for greater, faster and increasingly exponential impact and service for our stakeholders. 

In addition, we are making dedicated efforts to reach out to communities beyond the building industry, to explain why what we do matters to everyone. Renters and owners all have a stake in what we do, and we are all one or the other. We want to give everyone an opportunity to get involved. It is up to all of us now! Join us!

Expanded Vision

Over the last decade, Phius has become the global leader in defining cost-effective and climate-optimized, passive house and building standards. Phius certified projects are now coming in at little or no cost premium compared to conventional buildings. Phius also leads in professional training, certification, and workforce development. We also provide an element critical to mainstream adoption: Quality assurance and risk management.

The building sector accounts for 40 percent of carbon emissions, and is key to achieving emissions reduction goals. Passive house and building principles have been, and will continue to be, CORE to our efforts. In that spirit, the formerly known PHIUS+ building certifications have been renamed and expanded. 

PHIUS+ will now be referred to as Phius CORE (before renewables) and PHIUS+ Source Zero will now be Phius ZERO (based on CORE), and will extend to netting out emissions on an annual basis. New passive house and building retrofit certifications are in the offing as well. Phius CORE REVIVE and Phius ZERO REVIVE, as well as a new commercial building certification called Phius CORE COMM and Phius ZERO COMM will be introduced in 2022. 

Phius certifications have grown exponentially around the continent in recent years. Policy progress nationwide has been impressive to say the least. We are in Tarrytown, New York, for PhiusCon 2021 (formerly North American Passive House Conference) to celebrate the leadership of New York State/NYSERDA in formulating an aggressive climate action plan — a process which Phius helped inform. Other states, such as Massachusetts, have modeled their plans after New York’s. Phius’ pre- and fully certified unit count in Massachusetts over the last few years alone is impressive.

Phius Housing Units (In Process or Complete)

 

The Phius Alliance has expanded nationally, and the global network continues to grow. Phius projects have now been completed or are under way in many countries with varying climate zones. The Phius professional training has been translated into Japanese and has been taught this year successfully in Japan by Phius partner PHIJP.

The last decade was focused on figuring out the building part of the decarbonization equation (mission accomplished — solving for climate, cost, comfort). Now it’s time to expand beyond the building itself. We see Phius buildings as valuable capacitors of the new, renewable grid. They are low-load buildings that have the ability to load-shift and shed, which is immensely beneficial to the optimization of the overall grid design and resilience. 

Phius has begun to assess and measure the benefits of low-load buildings for the overall grid design, including micro and nano grid models. We call this initiative Phius GEB (Phius Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings) led by our Associate Director Lisa White. A pilot for a microgrid Phius community certification is underway. Buildings plug into the grid, and new opportunities for synergies and resilience arise. Design for the best result does not stop at the building envelope or lot line. 

Our new teal-colored logo symbolizes this expanded vision. It is a closed loop symbolizing whole systems design on all levels, aiming at harvesting adjacent system synergies: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The color teal represents clarity of thought, rejuvenation, open communication and integrity. 

Same Phius

While Phius will be steadily expanding its zero-carbon framework beyond its hallmark passive house and building standards, we will maintain our core competencies of aiding in design, building, policy writing and quality assurance. We are working to solidify and upgrade our foundational programs. Certification staff has doubled and processes are being refined. We are working on getting even better at what we already do well!

The Phius focus has evolved to the broader task of decarbonization. We’ll do so with the same scientific rigor and attention to detail as before. Our goal is the next level of systems optimization so we as a society can make real-time ZERO carbon (not just net) a reality soon!

We hope you’ll join us and continue to trust us to pave the way for the future of decarbonization strategies. There is still lots to do, so let’s get to it!