California here we come!

I’m just back from San Francisco where I spent five days to meet with stakeholders and contributors to discuss plans for the conference coming up on September 10-14, 2014.

The talks were amazing and super encouraging! PHIUS+ projects in the Bay Area are exceptional – they all are also zero energy or positive energy buildings highlighting that passive building is the ideal starting point for going zero or positive. This growing trend – passive to positive energy — will be one of the major themes for conference sessions!

Combining passive design in buildings plus renewables is one of the strategies identified by carbon reduction groups to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. The latter because passive buildings are especially resilient in weather extremes and power outages.

San Francisco has long been aiming at carbon zero goals by 2020, looking to identify a clear set of tools on how to practically and cost effectively implement them. That’s why we chose San Francisco for this 9th Annual North American Passive House Conference. We think it can be the catalyst for a tipping point, a special moment in time when the concept is catapulted forward thanks to favorable factors in the Bay Area. With plenty of high quality high-performance projects designed and built by the pioneers in the passive community, we have an excellent opportunity to make the case to make to the city and its residents that passive design is the best path to their goals.

On my trip I have spoken with various stakeholders and thought leaders and have seen nothing but honest excitement about the possibilities of the conferencce. And better yet, if San Francisco get’s it, you know that the rest of the state and then the country will eventually follow, hence it is critical to make this a big success that radiates beyond the borders of California setting a definite sign: we are in the transition toward a new energy economy and buildings, passive and renewables will play an important role in it.

We’re excited that William Rose, a building science pioneer, will deliver our keynote and that Achilles Karagiozis, Director of Building Science for Owens Corning and WUFI developer will speak at the closing plenary. Also: Joe Lstiburek will present a daylong workshop on building science fundamentals during pre-conference sessions.

Of course, success of the conference – as always –will depend on the dedicated members of our community. We’ve collected dozens and dozens of terrific presentation proposals (and we’re a week or two behind in our review, please accept our apologies; we’ll be in touch soon), and the content of our breakouts will be terrific, as always. We also have a great range of pre-conference sessions (which als earn CPHC CEUs), including a daylong session with five CPHCs who are leading the way in multifamily builldings. Visit the conference website often for updates.

And if you’re available to volunteer to help, email with your availability and any special expertise. We could use help with everything from registration desk staffing to videography.

Full schedule — and more announcements on some great presenters — are on the way, stay tuned!




PHNW5 conference: Congratulations on a very impressive event!

The Pacific Northwest Passive House community is the oldest and largest in the country and consequently leads the nation in built, certified projects.  The progress is amazing: When I keynoted the very first PHNW meeting in Olympia, there were about a 100 people, a handful of exhibitors. The number and quantity of presentations and exhibits last week at this year’s even was breathtaking.

PHIUS first brought its CPHC training programs to Portland and Seattle in 2009. Today, of more than 1500 professionals who have taken PHIUS CPHC or Builder training, approximately 300 reside in the Northwest.

Two builders/CPHCs are among those who helped lead the way by building spec projects: Blake Bilyeu’s and his dad’s project in Salem, Ore. (The Rue-Evans House), and  Dan Whitmore’s first passive house project in Seattle. Rob Hawthorne, too, has played a leading role with his Corehaus (which was on the projects tour at the 5th Annual North American Passive House conference, along with Blake’s), Trekhaus and 02Haus. Many, many have joined them. What a success story for the PHNW and the entire PH community!  That’s why I’m giving them a shout out—and I hope my good readers will pass along word of all the good work.

It was gratifying to see that most presented projects at PHNW had been designed, consulted on, built by or rated through PHIUS CPHCs, PHIUS Certified Builders and/or PHIUS+ raters. Nearly all projects put a premium on rigorous third party quality assurance and went with the PHIUS+ Certification program. Thank you for your vote of confidence and continued support of PHIUS. It is much appreciated.

Now, to some conference highlights: Kudos to the Stellar Apartments in Eugene, Ore., the very first PHIUS+ Certified affordable multifamily project! Stellar received PHIUS+ certification in 2013. What a milestone! Congratulations go to Jan Fillinger and Win Swafford as the lead CPHCs/architects on the project and Peter Reppe, also a CPHC, who designed the mechanical system.  University of Oregon Professor Alison Kwok—a former PHIUS board member and a CPHC, and her students pushed the research envelope and presented a detailed study of  measured results of the fully occupied apartments since last September. The developer had decided to build side-by-side examples of the same project: One is built to passive standards, one to Earth Advantage/Energy Star. The student team compared the results of the two test buildings, an excellent comparative study. Stay tuned for final results! I am sure we are going to see a great paper come out of these efforts.

Another highlight: The 19 unit Kiln Apartments in Portland is almost completed and awaiting final PHIUS+ certification. David Posada, who was in the very first CPHC class in Portland, approached me at the 3rdPHNW conference and told me about this multifamily project he wanted to pitch. Thanks to his persistence, it became real. PHIUS stayed involved with David through the PHIUS+ certification process and onsite verification by our PHIUS+ Raters and CPHCs in Portland, Skylar Swinford and Ryan Shanahan.

Skylar and Ryan presented on their quality assurance experience with this project. I was fortunate enough to get a spot on the tour, the only one for which this project is ever going to open its doors for, on Saturday. Truly a pleasure! Thank you, David, for moving this pioneering project forward. I can already see the ripple effect elsewhere in the country. Thank you, Skylar and Ryan, the extremely talented rater team pioneering the onsite verification, and of course also thank you to the architects on this project. It is an exceptionally handsome and exciting building!

The educational content of the conference was on par with the quality of PHIUS annual North American Passive House Conferences: the Northwest was not afraid of the most recent discussions in the field.

PHIUS is proud to note that PHIUS trainers, tech committee and board members Prudence Ferreira, Adam Cohen, Thorsten Chlupp and Chris Benedict presented 4 workshops during the pre-conference program. Prudence covered WUFI dynamic modeling, Chris reviewed multi-family Brooklyn and Manhattan (Chris’s project is also awaiting final PHIUS+ certification and was quality assured through Terry Brennan). Thorsten Chlupp’s presented his invaluable experience from the very cold climate in Alaska. Adam shared his extensive design build experience highlighting the business side of things and commercial projects, also PHIUS+ quality assured.

During the core conference Prudence spoke on the advantages of the WUFI Passive modeling tool. Graham Wright, board member of the PHNW and PHIUS senior scientist, presented on the current standard adaptation status by PHIUS and Building Science Corporation.

Special compliments go to Dan Whitmore, PHIUS certified builder/CPHC trainer and board member of PHNW: He was very much involved in putting together the schedule and presentations. Great work!

Again, it was a pleasure to be there, seeing so many friends and familiar faces. The progress is stunning and will hopefully inspire many all over the United States to follow in your footsteps!



Meet the PHIUS Technical Committee

Graham Wright, Chair, PHIUS Technical Committee

Graham Wright — in addition to be a pre-certifier for the PHIUS+ program — has been capably leading the efforts of the PHIUS Technical Committee since 2011. The Committee has produced work on a variety of subjects, and until now, Graham has been too busy to introduce himself and his fellow members. Without further delay, here’s Graham:

Hello everyone.  I’m writing today to tell you about the PHIUS Technical Committee, who it is and what it does. It’s a real privilege for me to serve on the committee and to collaborate with people who are so capable and committed to advancing passive building here in North America.

I’ve been meaning to write this article introducing the PHIUS technical committee for a long time.  The original crew was recruited by PHIUS Director Katrin Klingenberg over the summer of 2011, and we had our first face-to-face meeting at the North American Passive House conference in Maryland that September.  We agreed that we wanted to get useful technical information out to the passive house community on a regular basis, and set ourselves a goal of publishing an article each month.  We got right to work and published our first article in November, and stayed on our monthly schedule for five months  before tackling the spray foam conundrum, which took us three months to deal with.  (The committee tends to vote for quality over quantity, while remaining mindful that the best is the enemy of the good.)

From the beginning I felt it was important to be transparent about who the committee is and how it works.  We passed some basic motions establishing our modified consensus process at the September 2011 conference and got to work publishing articles for you, but decided we better hold off on the “meet the tech committee article” until we had a proper set of bylaws that addressed things like elections, officer terms of service and so on.  We got that in place by the Denver conference in September 2012 (having published seven articles by then).

Therefore this introduction is a bit overdue —  I could have written this article at any point since October 2012 and it is now February 2013, so the delay is entirely my fault.  Sorry.  I know this transparency stuff is important but the technical stuff is more fun.

You can read the Technical Committee bylaws here.  A couple of highlights:  We operate by a modified consensus process; that is, we go up to three ballots seeking consensus (notionally proposal, counterproposal, and compromise) and if there’s still no consensus, a motion can pass on a three-fourths vote. This procedure also applies to membership – any member can nominate a new member and if the motion carries they are in.  Members can also be voted off by the same procedure.  Since inception, three people have stepped down and two have joined.

As to what the Tech Committee does, the bylaws document also contains the purpose statement, which is as follows:

  • Identifying and prioritizing North American Passive House research projects.
  • Developing and updating standard North American protocols for Passive House.
  • Producing white papers and protocols describing the results of research, and protocol conclusions.
  • Developing product certification criteria and details for North American climate zones.
  • Serving as a peer review board for North American Passive House Conference abstract submissions.
  • Producing one “Tech Corner” Article per month (when able) for the PHIUS Newsletter.
  • Working with Education Committee to integrate research findings and developed protocols to CPHC curriculum and exam development.

There’s a lot about protocol, which may generate feelings of boredom, tedium, or stiflement, but the reason to love it is that protocol is a tool for streamlining the process of executing a high-performing passive building. It aims to format things so they are more cut-and-dried wherever possible and you don’t have to guess what to do, re-invent the screw, or go off on so many research projects on your own.

One of PHIUS’ CPHC instructors, Vic Weber—a former fighter pilot, is a strong advocate for protocol.  He’s always saying stuff like:

“It’s like in the Navy, they would give us a new weapon system and tell us to just go figure it out.  We would, but it was stupid.  The Navy’s tech committee (TOPGUN) would never leave the fleet hanging for long….  It was always important to publish a standard that we thought would work, knowing we could change it or refine it as things developed.  Give ‘em something to hang their hat upon…

…I think we need to put out exactly what PHIUS recommends that folks monitor, along with some recommendations for systems that will economically achieve it.”

Roger that, Commander.  So, feedback from the instructors is one source of items for our to-do list. Another source is the creativity of teams submitting projects for certification. In addition to my Tech Committee hat, I also wear a PHIUS staff hat as a PHIUS+ pre-certification reviewer. Fairly often still, we reviewers have to make a judgment call on issues like, “I’m going to connect the shin bone to the arm bone as well as the thigh bone, how do I enter that into PHPP,” or “how do I come up with an efficiency or a U-value for this thing/stuff.” Sometimes the certification team can get together and feel comfortable making a judgment call on whether some tactic is cheating or just clever design, but sometimes we decide: This should go to the Tech Committee.

One of the very important matters before the Committees is “Developing and updating standard North American protocols for Passive House”  Yes, this is the climate-specific standard adaptation matter that Katrin has written about before on this blog.

We have heard and discussed a number of interesting ideas about adapting the passive house standard to North America – some from the committee members and some from other experts like Bruce Kruger and Marc Rosenbaum.  If you have a strong interest in this issue, Tech Committee membership may be for you. There is however, a price: You’ll have to work.  One of the requirements of membership is “A Member is required to significantly contribute to at least one of the Committee’s articles, or works, per year.”

Right now, we are a bit under strength at eleven members.  To maintain the flow of technical information that our community needs,  we are putting out a call for new members.

If you share our enthusiasm for advancing the art and science of passive building in North America, please send me a statement of interests and resumé / curriculum vitae.  Email:

If accepted, you’ll be joining a terrific group of experienced and accomplished passive building science and construction professionals. See for yourself here.

You’ll also have an opportunity to work on a wide range of topics and issues that are critical to the passive building community. And you’ll be on the cutting edge of knowledge. Topics include:

  • Standard adaptation by climate zone
  • Ground contact modeling
  • Shading
  • Thermal bridge calcs
  • Internal heat gains
  • Daylighting
  • Subsoil heat exchangers
  • Exhaust air appliances
  • Accounting for thermal mass
  • Summer cooling by window ventilation
  • Domestic hot water
  • On-site renewables
  • HRV / ERV
  • Heat pump seasonal performance
  • Custom solar thermal systems
  • Complex mechanical systems
  • Process loads in commercial buildings
  • Embodied energy and other impacts
  • Community-scale certification
  • Air-tightness
  • Moisture performance
  • Details gallery

I can say from experience that it’s a privilege—not to mention fun—to work with committed, accomplished folks on moving passive building forward. I hope you’ll consider joining us.