Passive house for the rest of us

Since 2008, when PHIUS launched its consultant training program, more than 500 architects, engineers, and energy consultants have taken the training, passed the computer-based and take-home exams, and earned qualifications as a PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®). This group has driven the growth of passive building in the United States and Canada.

With the advent of the new format for our CPHC training—which delivers Phase I via live virtual sessions, becoming a CPHC has become more affordable and convenient, and the number of CPHCs continues to grow. (The next virtual program begins August 20, and in-class locations for September include Washington, D.C.; Golden, Colo.; and Providence, R.I.)

CPHCs can’t do it alone, though. That’s why we launched the PHIUS Certified Builders program last year – to develop a community of builders who understand passive principles and can work side by side with CPHCs on projects.

And, now, I’m happy to report that in partnership with  the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), we can offer training tailored to another critical audience: firm owners, managers, policy makers, developers and other project stakeholders who want to know about passive house, but for whom full CPHC training is not appropriate.

This group of professionals are critical to the making passive building mainstream. They need to understand passive house fundamentals — to speak passive house — but don’t need the same kind of hands-on training and technical expertise that architects and builders do.

The new NESEA BE Masters program – called Passive Building Fundamentals — meets this need. I’m working with NESEA’s experienced online training team to create a series of modules. Participants have between September 23 and November 29 to complete the 10-module program on their own time and their own pace .

Like our CPHC training, Passive Building Fundamentals will give participants a firm grounding in the fundamental building science principles of passive design: Superinsulation, airtight envelopes, management of solar gain, ventilation strategies, and a look at climate-specific challenges.

Unlike CPHC training, however, the course will focus on these fundamentals, but not delve into the intricacies of passive energy modeling – a capacity that designers need, but managers and other decision makers do not.  Participants will learn everything they need to know to work with CPHCs and passive building teams, managing and quality assuring the process, managing risk–and making the sale.

Whether you own or manage an architecture firm or construction business; you’re a commercial or an affordable housing developer; a government policy maker; or you’re thinking about building your own passive house: This is the program for you!

Check it out at:–online

And pass word along!



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.


Unofficial passive building principle No. 6:


Only PHIUS+ projects earn the plaque!

PHIUS ( 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 ( 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 ( 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:


The leading national passive building research, education and alliance organizations are the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) ( and the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) (

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 (  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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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!!!!!!


CPHC® goes virtual – Training to become a Certified Passive House Consultant now more convenient and affordable

The PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) training—launched in 2008—is the first and still only training program geared to North America’s unique climates, construction details and market conditions. Over the years we’ve made strides toward streamlining the process—for example, we’ve implemented computerized testing at the end of each session, offered the training at multiple locations across the United States, and offered more standalone test opportunities nationwide. As a result, PHIUS is far and away leading training provider in the United States and Canada. More than 850 professionals have takend the 9-day training; 450 have gone on to pass the exam and earn the CPHC credential.

Now it’s time to take another leap forward. During our recent constituent survey, you were good enough to spend your valuable time and give us your feedback and loads of great suggestions. Many of you said that you want to take the CPHC training but you simply couldn’t  be away from work for 9 days; that traveling once for a five-day session was a limit. That the time and travel for two in-class sessions was just too much.

We heard you: To make the training more accessible, we are making a portion of the class available in live, virtual format:

  • Phase I will now be available via eight three-hour virtual sessions presented in collaboration with GreenExpo365, a national leader in virtual sustainable building training. Lecture and homework sessions—which are well-suited for this format—will be delivered twice a week for four weeks. The sessions will be taught live by PHIUS trainers and will feature live interaction. They will be also be recorded and made available to registered students for review and exam prep. Instructors will also hold “office hours” outside of class time to field questions from participants.
  • Phase II will still be delivered in-class over 5 days—students can choose the most convenient of several in-class locations  in the US and Canada. (See schedule here.)

The new format cuts travel and accommodation requirements in half. It allows students to take Phase I from their home or office. And—it allows PHIUS to reduce course fees, which are being reduced by $300! (See the full description here).

We’re very excited to launch this new format in April (see the schedule here) and we think it will open opportunities for more and more professionals to become CPHCs.

Still, you might be wondering why we have not taken the entire training online.

A proficient CPHC must fully understand the core underlying passive house principles, and have ability to optimize a project’s

For modeling and other training components, there is no substitute in-class in-person instruction.

energy balance and performance,  all within the context of a realistic budget.  Years of in-class instruction have taught us that mastering tools like WUFI Passive or PHPP demands personal interaction. Classroom give-and-take between a student and experienced instructor is critical to understanding work flows, appropriate component choices according to climate, and making cost-effective design choices based on modeling results.

In person, group interaction also greatly enhances the mechanical systems design exercises. Perhaps most important: We’ve seen firsthand the kind of personal connections that develop among classmates and between students and instructors.  It has fostered a spirit of sharing and exchange, and forged connections that are the foundation of the passive house community. It has made us strong.

The PHIUS CPHC curriculum is constantly evolving—and it’s better than ever. It reflects the ever-growing collective knowledge and practical experience of our trainers–the most active CPHC consultants, who have build the most certified projects nationwide. Students received a binder of passive house information as well as CDs of class content.

And the CPHC training now incorporates  the new  WUFI Passive modeling tool. It is truly the dawn of a new age for passive designers! In addition to integrating WUFI Passive into CPHC training, PHIUS is offering three-day, standalone WUFI Passive training. It’s a great opportunity for CPHCs to refresh and upgrade their modeling skills.

I just finished participating in the first ever WUFI Passive 3-day training at Parsons College in NYC. CPHCs from the Northeast, Southeast, the Midwest and California and even CPHCs from areas with extreme climates like Texas and Toronto made the trek—and the energy was fantastic! (We just added WUFI Passive trainings in Chicago and Portland, Ore.)

This is a modern production tool with a terrific user interface. On day one we created a 3-D visualization in Sketch-up, imported it into WUFI Passive,  and assigned window properties to the model. On day two we built assemblies in WUFI P in the 3D detail visualizer and on day three we’re trying out the dynamic options of the model for hygrothermal and comfort assessments.

We’re very excited about this new tool and the new CPHC training format. We expect that our partnership with the DOE—PHIUS+ Certification now also earns DOE Challenge Home and Energy Star designation—will put passive house on the national stage. And the demand for CPHCs will grow faster than ever.

We hope to see you all in 2013 and hope you will find the new format as exciting as we do!



PHIUS Builders Training: One builder’s experience

Hi folks–today’s guest blogger is a builder. Tim Linn, of Milwaukee, was kind enough to pen this account of his experience at the PHIUS Certified Builders Training this past autumn. A little about Tim: He’s been in the trades for 10 years and, with two partners, operates a small “integrated” specializing in custom carpentry/cabinet-making and historical renovation/energy retrofit work.  They sideline in the theatrical carpentry world (Tim used to work as a classical actor and he says that work keeps him connected to that world).  If you have questions for Tim, you can leave a comment or you are welcome to email Tim at: In addition, here’s a write-up about his passive project:

If you’re interested in becoming a PHIUS Certified Builder, check out the upcoming PHIUS Builders Training programs. 

Members of the inaugural PHIUS Certified Builders Training class at the Stanton passive house in Urbana, Ill.

Passive house is intimidating to most builders. I know it was to me. I’ve been following the work of the passive house movement in America for several years now and and happy to report I finally have a project underway. Thankfully I received training on the intricacies of what it takes for a builder to put one of these structures together—I participated in the first PHIUS Certified Builders Training program this past August.

The training isolates the particular details a builder needs to focus on and demonstrates different ways of properly executing these details. For example the training provided examples of how to properly manage the air-seal of a junction between a slab-edge and a sole-plate with “off-the-shelf” building materials and smart design.  I was shown a multiplicity of practical ways to manage air-barriers to be able to build a structure that meets the of .6 ACH50 requirement. We looked at everything from how to appropriately use tapes, gaskets, or liquid-applied membrane products to how best to use a blower-door to conduct one’s own testing as the project is under construction. And I was taught enough about the principles of passive design to be able to make sure my architect/CPHC is designing a structure that is not only up to passive house standards, but also buildable.

The training does a wonderful job of making building passive house structures in all our different climate zones practical. By bringing together builders from all over the United States and stressing the different design needs for a fellow building in Alabama compared to a fellow building in Alaska, the training highlights the need for a regionalized approach to passive house design and execution of construction. Another key focus of the training is that passive house is a performance-, not a prescriptive- based standard. And it teaches builders to build appropriately for their local climate using whatever materials are regionally available.

Passive house construction can be difficult to explain—to subs, crews, inspectors, clients, and designers.  The training equips students with the vocabulary and understanding of the critical principles to be able to communicate with everyone he/she will need to interact with both in design/development and in the field.  Having taken the training, For example: I now know how to explain to my electrician how I would like him to gasket a penetration in the building envelope, and how to explain to my client the reason he cannot choose a vapor-impermeable finish for his interior walls.

Instructor Mike Kernagis during a Builders Training classroom session.

Perhaps the most valuable take-away from the training is the stress the trainers put on building resilient structures. There is no point in taking the time and energy to design and build a passive house (or assume the liability for having built one) if it is not designed to handle the typical stresses nature puts on any building—namely moisture, in any region. The training reminds a builder, time-and-again, to pay attention to the way their roof and wall systems will manage both bulk water and water-vapor, and make sure that they are not assuming liability for a design that will fail as a result of moisture build-up. PHIUS is doing the building community a great service by stressing the need for builders to focus their energy on building basics—from plumb, level, and square—to don’t use materials that are not suited to long-term durability, to KISS principals, to building for the future.

To me, the PHIUS Certified Builders Training gives us builders the opportunity to re-distinguish ourselves as craftsmen, as these buildings cannot be built without care and thought.

Learn more about upcoming PHIUS Certified Builders Training programs


Invest in passive houses and buildings: Donate today!

Hi folks,

It’s Mike Knezovich again, guest-blogging. In a previous post, I wrote about how I came to the passive house concept and to PHIUS.

TrekHaus town homes in Portland, Ore., by Rob Hawthorne.

You all have gotten here via your own route—perhaps you’re a builder who found PHIUS looking for a newmarket and a way to build better. Or an architect eager to push the envelope in every sense of the word. Maybe your focus is affordable housing, or you’re an educator who wants to put your students on the path to high performance building.

Or maybe you’re not in the industry, and you simply want to cut carbon emissions for environmental reasons.

Thanks to you all, passive house is poised to bust out from a boutique program to the mainstream market. With your help, PHIUS has worked hard to put a comprehensive foundation in place:

  • Five years since launching the first and only passive house consultant training program geared to North America, PHIUS has trained more than 800 design professionals across the continent. More than 400 have gone on to pass a written exam and design exercise to earn status as a CPHC® (Certified Passive House Consultant). They’ve gone on to build successful single-family, multi-family, commercial and retrofit projects; there are hundreds now in the certification process.

First PHIUS Builders Training, Urbana, Ill., August, 2012.

  • The new Builders Training program—the first and only based on North American experience—launched in August 2012. It will be offered across the country in 2013. That means the 400+ PHIUS CPHCs will find more and more trained construction partners moving forward.
  • The United States Department of Energy has recognized PHIUS+ Certification—that means that starting next year PHIUS+ certified buildings will earn US DOE Challenge Home status and attending benefits. And moreover, it was a giant step forward, as the U.S. DOE has validated the value of PHIUS+ and passive house principles as the path to zero energy.

A screenshot from the new WUFI Passive software tool.

  • PHIUS has partnered with Fraunhofer IBP and Owens Corning to help develop WUFI Passive, the next-generation passive energy-modeling tool. Finally, the North American passive house design community will have a 21st century software tool, with a modern user interface, that will evolve as building science evolves.
  • PHIUS has partnered with the esteemed Building Science Corporation, a relationship that will help expand training programs and opportunities.
  • The PHIUS Technical Committee is hard at work generating technical papers, reviewing the standard to make it make sense across North America, certifying window data,  developing a partnership with NFRC to help jumpstart the market for passive house quality windows in North America.
  • PHIUS’ affordable housing program—e-co lab—just finished its third successful affordable passive house project that is now drawing attention from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic opportunity (DCEO). And housing development partners across the country have affordable projects—including multifamily—rolling.

DonateNow The cornerstones are in place—and we’re at a tipping point. We need your help to streamline processes so that we can review and certify more building faster, offer expanded training programs, develop curricula for the higher education market, expand research efforts, and grow outreach programs like the Annual North American Passive House Conference.

I know you’ll receive a lot of pleas for support this holiday season—please put PHIUS at the top of your list. Donations are fully tax deductible, and you can give online, securely, via our partnership with the non-profit Network for Change.

Your gift is a great investment in America’s energy future, in the rebounding design and building industry and on the ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Join me (I gave at the office and online) and please, donate now!


Mike Knezovich