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!

What are QAPs and Why are they so Important to Phius?

isaac picIsaac Elnecave, a member of the Phius certification team, breaks down Phius’ involvement in the Qualified Action Plans of various states, specifically Illinois and Michigan.

Over the last few weeks, Illinois and Michigan have proposed (and in the case of Michigan, finalized), the latest version of their Qualified Allocation Plans (QAP).  What is a QAP?

A good working description of the QAP can be found at the Illinois Housing Development Agency website: 

The Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) sets forth the criteria for evaluating all projects that apply for a tax credit allocation. The QAP sets forth the rules under which the IHDA offers affordable housing development funding in the form of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). The QAP describes the selection criteria and application requirements for receiving these federal tax credits and tax-exempt bonds. 

Illinois Housing Development Agency Website

The LIHTC, a federal program administered by states, incentivizes the construction of low income housing.  States determine who receives the tax credit through the evaluation of the QAP. 

7_Harry and Jeanette Weinberg CommonsThe QAP is a points-based system. A developer submits a proposed project to the housing agency. The proposed project then receives points based on whether they achieve criteria set out in the QAP. Points can be awarded under a variety of categories such as (please note that each state has its own characteristics): 

  • Building characteristics, 
  • community characteristics, 
  • development team, 
  • financing and 
  • sustainability. 

For example, under building characteristics, a project can receive points for having an increased number of accessible units and engaging in cost containment. Under community characteristics, a project can receive points for being located near public transit. Under sustainability (the category of most interest to Phius readers), a project can receive points for meeting either energy efficiency or green building standards. 

The QAP presents a great opportunity to incentivize the construction of low-income buildings to the Phius standard. In Pennsylvania, when the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority awarded significant points to projects built to the Phius standard, the number of projects built to the Phius standard grew substantially.

Illinois 

In the new Illinois QAP, a project that meets the basic Phius designation — Phius CORE — would receive 10 points. If the project meets the Phius ZERO certification, it would receive an additional 3 points, for a total of 13. Thirteen points represents a significant percentage of the maximum 100 points. 

Moreover, the agency structured the point values so that a developer could meet both a green designation such as Enterprise Green Communities and Phius. This provides an additional pathway as receiving a Phius certification is one way of meeting the EGC energy designation.  

The Illinois QAP can be found here.

Michigan 

In Michigan, projects need to meet a minimum threshold requirement (such as EGC), and can receive an additional four points by achieving a Phius certification. So, much like in Illinois, Phius can work in tandem with green standards such as Enterprise Green Communities.  For example, a project that incorporates a Phius certification as part of the EGC requirements would meet the threshold requirement and receive an additional four points toward the overall score — an approach that leverages the strengths of both standards.  

The Green Standard requirements of the Michigan QAP can be found here.

Ultimately, Phius hopes to get its standard as part of the QAP in every state. Currently, there are about a dozen states, primarily in the Northeast, that incorporate Phius into their QAPs. The work in Michigan and Illinois charts a path to broadening the geographic scope of this important incentive program to help promote the construction of Phius certified low-income housing across the entire country.

Policy Update: The Massachusetts Stretch

isaac pic

Isaac Elnecave, a member of the PHIUS certification team, has written this update on the Massachusetts stretch cove, the latest installment of his policy updates.

Over the last 8 years, Massachusetts has made significant progress towards making the passive house (PHIUS+) standard an integral part of its building energy code. This effort points the way to the end goal of creating a cost-effective net-zero energy code.

Besides its statewide base energy code, which is an amended version of the latest International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) model code, the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) in Massachusetts has, since 2009, promulgated a “stretch” energy code. The base energy code governs the minimum energy saving requirements in buildings throughout the state. The requirements include: the amount of insulation required in ceilings, walls and foundations; window performance; the level of air tightness; ventilation requirements; the efficacy of lighting and the efficiency of HVAC equipment. It is often described as the worst possible building (from an energy perspective) that can legally be built.

A stretch energy code incorporates similar measures and design approaches but mandates energy efficiency requirements that result in higher performance buildings than those meeting the base energy code. While the base energy code is the default requirement across all towns and cities in the Commonwealth, the stretch energy code must be affirmatively adopted by local municipalities that want to enforce it (at which point, it supplements and overrides the base energy code in that jurisdiction). Importantly, unlike New York State, because the BBRS approves the stretch code, municipalities that adopt it cannot amend it.

In both the Base and Stretch codes in Massachusetts, there is a section for alternative compliance strategies, which specifically includes passive house in both the low-rise residential energy code chapter and the commercial energy code chapter. Under the requirements of its current edition, and in fact since 2012, in any jurisdiction that adopts the stretch code in Massachusetts, a PHIUS+ certified passive house automatically meets code. The current code amendments specify that the annual heating demand for PHIUS certified home or commercial building must be less than 10 kbtu/ft2/year; a value easily met by all certified PHIUS buildings.

The latest edition of the Massachusetts stretch code has just been adopted but has not yet been promulgated* — the expected promulgation date is February 8, 2020 with an effective date of Aug 8, 2020. There will be two significant changes. First, PHIUS itself has updated its standard to PHIUS + 2018 from PHIUS + 2015. Second, with this new edition, a residential or commercial building will be code compliant when it passes the pre-certification stage (much like saying a typical house is given code approval once the plans have been approved.) The updated energy code, based on the IECC 2018, shifts the passive house compliance option from the 10 kBtu/ft2/year metric to an option to seek PHIUS precertification prior to pulling a permit. A project must demonstrate that it has been submitted for final certification by PHIUS to receive the certificate of occupancy. Because PHIUS maintains a rigorous review process through the end of construction, this approach ensures a high quality of construction.

Passive house certification requirements are significantly more stringent than even the other alternative paths in the stretch code (the most commonly used path in the Massachusetts residential stretch code allows for an Energy Rating Index score of 55, which is well above the score typically achieved by a certified passive house).

Massachusetts provides an excellent example of how to use incentives to spur the development of high-performance buildings. Mass Save®, the statewide energy efficiency program in Massachusetts, launched a mid- to high-rise passive house incentive program in the summer of 2019. In the first 6 months over 40 projects with over 3,000 passive house units in development have signed up for the program.  As more projects are built meeting PHIUS standards either through the stretch code or through Mass Save, the universe of designers and builders who become proficient in the construction of high-performance builders grows. This proficiency will result in greater confidence among construction professionals and lower costs with respect to high performance buildings.

As the PHIUS standard includes a pathway to net-zero construction, including it in the stretch and base energy code provides a path for future improvements. In Massachusetts, stretch code development will now focus on a ‘net-zero’ code to run alongside an amended IECC 2021 base code. Having the passive house pathway in the energy codes has introduced designers and builders to the tools and techniques necessary for building cost-effective net-zero single-family and multi-family dwelling. PHIUS looks forward to working with Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, BBRS and other key stakeholders in making a net-zero code a reality.

Massachusetts in one of three states and one municipality that have incorporated the PHIUS standard in the energy code. New York was discussed in a previous blog (Policy Update: New York State, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, January 16, 2020). I’ll discuss efforts in Washington State and the city of Denver in a future post.

* Adoption means voting and signing by government official. Promulgation (it specifically means the decree that puts a law into effect), in practice, refers to when the agency in charge of enforcing the law signs off on the rules and regulations relating to the law.

 

Policy Update: New York State—Two Steps forward, One Step back

isaac picIsaac Elnecave, a member of the PHIUS certification team, has written this update on the New York State stretch cove.

Over the last year, the state of New York has made significant progress towards making the PHIUS+ standard an integral part of its energy code. It points the way to the end goal of creating a cost-effective net-zero energy code.

Besides its statewide base code, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) promulgates a “stretch” energy code (NYStretch-2020). The base energy code governs the energy requirements in buildings throughout the state. The requirements include such items as: the amount of insulation required in ceilings, walls and foundations, window performance, the level of air tightness, ventilation requirements, the efficacy of lighting and the efficiency of HVAC equipment. It is often described as the worst possible home that can legally be built.

A stretch energy code incorporates energy efficiency requirements that are more stringent than the base code (NYStretch-2020 is roughly 11% more energy efficient than the base code). While the base energy code is the default requirement across jurisdictions in the state, the stretch energy code must be affirmatively adopted by local municipalities (authorities having jurisdiction) that want to enforce it—at which point, it overrides the state code in that jurisdiction).

Besides providing energy savings beyond the base energy code, NYStretch-2020 was developed with the following goals in mind:

• Technically sound
• Thoroughly reviewed by stakeholders
• Written in code enforceable language
• Fully consistent with the 2018 IECC, ASHRAE 90.1-2016, and uniform codes

Moreover, NYSERDA strongly encourages, but does not require, that a jurisdiction adopting the NYStretch-2020 do so without making amendments.

In NYStretch-2020, there is a section for alternative compliance strategies (R-408), which specifically names passive house; a single-family home or low-rise multi-family certified under PHIUS+ would automatically meet code. The stretch code specifies that the specific space heat demand and (sensible only) cooling demand, as modeled and field-verified by a CPHC (Certified Passive House Consultant), must be less than or equal to 9 kBTU/ft2/year. A dwelling unit shall also be tested with a blower door and found to exhibit no more than 0.05 CFM50/ft² or 0.08 CFM75/ft² of air leakage. Ultimately, to provide a Certificate of Occupancy, a code official must submit a form that must indicate that the finished building achieves a CPHC verified specific space heat demand of less than or equal to 9 kBTU/ft2/year.

It is important to note that the PHIUS standard is even more energy efficient than the requirements in NYStretch-2020. Here is a link to NYStretch-2020: file:///C:/Users/phius/Downloads/NYStretch-Energy-Code-2020%20(7).pdf.

New York City
New York City provides an example of the importance of the stretch energy code. Local law 32 requires the city council to adopt the New York State Stretch code (allowing the inclusion of amendments). The language of the law is fairly clear:

Submit to the city council proposed amendments to this code to bring this code up to date with the most recent model stretch code published by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, provided that such model stretch code is more stringent than the New York State Energy Code in effect when such proposed amendments are submitted and provided further that such model stretch code was first published no more than three years before such proposed amendments are submitted;

As noted in the previous section, NYStretch-2020 is significantly more energy efficient than the base state code. Consequently, the city council is about to adopt NYStretch-2020 with one very important and unfortunate exception. R408, the section of NYStretch-2020 which allows for an alternate compliance path using PHIUS+, has been deleted. Here is a link to the proposed energy code  (Click on Int. No. 816 for the text of the code).

It is unclear as to why section R408 was deleted but it removes an important alternate compliance option for designers and builders. PHIUS+ incorporates both rigorous design standards with robust quality control protocols to ensure that the building is both energy efficient and well-constructed.

As the PHIUS standard is more energy efficient than the provisions of the NYStretch-2020, it also provides a target for future code improvements while giving designers and builders the time to develop expertise in building energy efficient dwellings; ultimately leading to the establishment of a net-zero energy code.

PHIUS Travels to Shanghai to Keynote Passive House Alliance China’s 3rd Passive Building Summit

Katrin Klingenberg, PHIUS Executive Director

Developing Partnerships and Fostering Collaboration to Bring Climate-Specific Passive Building Standards to China

china-ph-conference-intro

The 3rd China Passive Building Summit took place in Shanghai Oct. 27-28, 2016.

This year I was invited to give the keynote address at Passive House Alliance China’s 3rd China Passive Building Summit in Shanghai, with the explicit request to report on passive building progress in the US and on PHIUS’ climate-specific standards.

In light of the immense amount of development currently taking place in China, with whole cities springing up practically overnight and a huge stock of existing buildings in need of energy efficiency upgrades, China’s interest in the passive building work being done in the US is significant.

It is expected that by 2030, a large amount of buildings will be newly constructed or retrofitted worldwide that will be equivalent to about 60% of the building stock that currently exists today worldwide. Thus it is crucial that these buildings, whether they be new construction or retrofits, perform at very high levels, ideally at zero energy or zero carbon performance thresholds, in order to tackle the challenges of global climate change. A large portion of this new construction activity will occur in China and India.

As I arrived in Shanghai a few weeks ago, my first impression on the way into downtown was “Wow, this is a really big place.” In fact, it is the largest “city proper” in the world. Shanghai consists of a conglomeration of countless high-rise residential subdivisions that emerge soon after leaving the airport and continue to expand along the hour-long ride into downtown. The implications of building on this scale came into focus again later that evening as I was at the hotel battling the jetlag of an 11-hour time difference following a 14-hour flight, when I heard the breaking news: the UN had just announced that 2016 is the first year on record that CO2 levels in the atmosphere not only hit 400 ppm, but that those levels have been sustained on average throughout the entire year. Needless to say, this is a threshold with serious consequences that will take a long time to reverse, and as you know, much of that CO2 comes from operating buildings.

climate-spec-usa-china

A recent study prepared by the Global Building Performance Network (GBPN) in Paris investigated passive buildings worldwide as a necessary solution to the climate challenge. For more information about the GBPN studies, you may view the reports at http://www.gbpn.org/reports

China is a big country, approximately the geographic size of the US, and has a significant diversity of climates, many of them very similar to the US. As such, and with well over 4 times the population of the US, the country’s building community shows great interest in PHIUS’ climate-specific passive building standards. A recent study prepared by the Global Building Performance Network (GBPN) in Paris investigated low-load high-performance buildings (ie. passive buildings) worldwide as a necessary solution to the climate challenge. For this study the GBPN developed a low-load space conditioning needs map (see image at right) which shows that the low-load systems profile (different combinations of heating, cooling and dehumidification requirements depending on climate) of the US looks almost identical to China. With such close similarities between the climates of the US and China, the implementation of our methodology for developing climate-specific passive building standards in China is a logical next step.

The 3rd Passive Building Summit was well organized and well attended, bringing in about 500 participants and a host of great presentations during the opening plenary followed by excellent technical sessions. On the day following my keynote, I participated in a technical workshop to assess how to facilitate continued collaboration between PHIUS and the Passive House Alliance China group going forward. We agreed that the applicability of the climate-specific passive building standards adapted from the US to the Chinese context is a no-brainer, however more work will still need to be done, such as developing metrics to incorporate local cost data for the best cost-optimized results.

We concluded the workshop with the Chinese passive building group in agreement to pursue further collaboration going forward and that PHIUS’ role in that collaboration would be to help generate Chinese climate-specific passive building standards using the same methodology used for the DOE/NREL report. In this arrangement, our Chinese partners would provide all the necessary information and parameters needed to run the calculations. As a first step on this front we have already generated the climate data set for Guangzhou for the first project enrolled for PHIUS+ 2015 certification.

Please stay tuned for more information on further developments with this promising new partnership as we look forward to tackling the challenges of climate change together.

 

– Katrin