The North American Passive House Conference in San Francisco – a hard act to follow for NAPHC2015 (in Chicago)

Every year we say “This was the best passive house conference ever, we better stop now, we can’t possibly top this experience, the quality of the presenters, the “meat on the building science bones” presentations, technical details and specific construction solutions, cutting edge projects of all building types showcased throughout all climate zones, policy and government role discussions and incentives… and this year in addition to the Builders’ Hootenanny the Architects’ Hootenanny which, you might have guessed, was a hoot.

Let me take this opportunity to thank our community of longstanding CPHCs, PHIUS Certified Builders and PHIUS+ Raters who have shared this passive building path with us now for almost 10 years. It has been a pleasure knowing so many great folks with their hearts in the right place and a common characteristic: a determined pioneering spirit to make the energy transition in the way we build and live happen. Thanks to all passive building practitioners and to newcomers to the conference especially the international speakers from the UK and Japan.

Together you submitted nearly 100 abstracts and we had a hell of a time to choosing the best ones. We ended up with an unprecedented total of 72 sessions in 4 tracks this year, more than ever before (we cut the plenary short upon your request to get to the meaty sessions quicker and to have more of them).

Special thanks go to Sam Rashkin from the DOE, for his invaluable contributions to the tracks on government perspective and for the great partnership he and the DOE have provided to the PHIUS+ certification program over the past couple of years. Sam took time to be with us on the Sunday tour of passive buildings in the bay area, which was a lot of fun.

I would especially like to thank all of our outstanding pre-conference workshop presenters who covered topics in great depth, most popular were the Multifamily Palooza (kicked off by Chris Benedict who currently leads the field with the most passive projects in this sector realized), Passive Building Science with Joe Lstiburek (our unofficial lounge sponsor), packed the house closely followed by Mechanical Systems and commercial applications. Many thanks to the outstanding instructors who tackled more specific technical issues and new frontiers, such as efficient water systems design by Gary Klein, and Matthias Patzold from the Fraunhofer IBP and PHIUS staff presenting on dynamic energy modeling in WUFI Passive, THERM/windows modeling and PHIUS+ certification QAQC during the rater training. To all our presenters, pre-conference and main session: Thank you all so much! It would have not been possible without you!!!!

We owe many thanks to Michael Hindle, our charismatic Master of Ceremonies, and President of the Board of Managers of Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS). His opening speech was inspiring, artful and philosophical, The Passive House Alliance is now 16 chapters strong with 7 more in formation all over the country. It is starting to develop an impressive momentum regarding advocacy for passive buildings across the nation. Michael pledged to the membership that he would keep increasing member benefits and participation opportunities and closed with a call for action to join the many committees that have been formed to get the work done.

Michael also made a very well received announcement: the PHAUS  board has moved to remove any reference to a specific passive house standard from chapter founding documents. This decision rightly recognizes that since the inception of the passive house concept in the 70s in North America, it has undergone more than just one transformation and that evolution and learning will continue. It must continue to evolve for us to be successful. PHAUS leadership supports the new climate specific Passive Building standards brought forward by PHIUS as part of such evolution.

Bill Rose followed with the most thoughtful, most provocative keynote given at the North American Passive House Conference yet. Many of you came to me afterwards expressing that sentiment. He showed a short video recording from the early 70s of the researchers credited with formalizing the superinsulation/passive concepts. They worked at the Small Homes Council, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Illinois. The video reinforced the notion that the passive house community has a longstanding history here in the United States. He then showed a document written by the Nixon administration predicting peak oil and climate change to happen in 2010. It was a stunning piece of evidence that the issues had been known then, as well as the possible remedies outlined in the document. The document, then issued a clear call for action, recognizing the emerging passive community as having the best approach for reducing the demand side of buildings.

Rose made clear that facing the climate crisis means we also need to step up to transform the supply side of the system, coming up with strategies of how to keep the fossil fuel reserves in the ground and how to challenge the current economies that are all built around such assets. He ended provocatively saying, that we need to get to a point where we will be saying: “Energy (fossil fuels), what’s that?”

After the keynote and during all breaks, the exhibit hall was buzzing. A big thank you to all exhibitors of high performance materials and technologies! Every year the cast has been expanding significantly and new useful materials and systems manufacturers join the core group of providers. Thank you, without your products and services it would be impossible to realize passive buildings as well as we now do. Of course, also thank Exhibit Hall sponsor Bayer MaterialScience and our lanyard sponsor Hayward Lumber. Bill Hayward joined us on the tour and provides some great local background. Be sure to check the Hayward Health Home, a very cool initiative.

Achilles Karagiozis delivered the closing keynote. He spoke on the view forward, the implementation of passive buildings worldwide in all different climate zones and the challenges and responsibilities that come with it. He stressed the importance of dynamic modeling for accurate energy prediction results as passive building is applied in different climate zones. He cited an astounding example: WUFI Passive is now able to predict insulation material dependence on temperature on an hourly basis. And of course, this is important to assess hygrothermal performance of enclosures as well as to get the energy balances calculated with more accurate granularity. A great new age has arrived for us designers to manage our risks in designing passive buildings, thanks to the emergence of more powerful computing capabilities that make dynamic models feasible.

At closing, maybe best of all, the incredible sense of community of people who trust each other and know each other well:  We have been coming together now for almost a decade, reuniting at this amazing annual event working together to devise solutions for the North American market, its climate zones and building sector.

And this year, for the first time, the event was held in one of the largest and most exciting metropolitan areas: the San Francisco Bay area. This meant a significant step up from the previous conferences and importance in visibility of our community to city and government leaders, in California and beyond.  Passive building has turned the corner. And so has PHIUS as we were more than once told during the event by you.

PHIUS’ Senior Scientist Graham Wright’s presentation on new North American Passive Building Standards that are currently being completed under a DOE Building America grant was very well received: “This sounds like a really good program” was consistent feedback. The interest was so large that the session had to be moved from the break out room to the ball room. Most everybody was in support, not one negative comment! Kudos to excellent work by Graham Wright and a clearly laid out and scientifically founded argument by the tech committee.

And last but not least thanks to the PHAUS San Francisco chapter and John Sarter and Lizzie Adams from PHCA for helping to organize a fantastic tour of project on a beautiful Sunday in paradise: From multiuse building to state of the art office building to residential retrofit projects, it was great!

Thank you all for coming, for your contributions, participation and feedback on what to do better next year. Keep it coming so that the next act will be better yet again… see you in Chicago, details to come!





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!



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


Guest Post: Ben Newell on Zero Energy Residential Optimization Software

This is Ben Newell from Equinox Built Environment Engineering ( writing a guest blog post about our ZEROs (Zero Energy Residential Optimization software) program now linked through the PHIUS Design Tools page. We are excited to offer this new design tool to the passive house community!

 ZEROs is an easy to use web-based energy prediction modeling program, but much more! Those experienced in designing and constructing super-performing buildings know that minimizing energy is not the sole factor in design decisions. Other considerations such as minimizing costs and maximizing health are just as important, if not more so. These design parameters are incorporated into the ZEROs model, giving you more control.

The goal of ZEROs was to develop a design tool that is very powerful and complex behind the computer screen, but with a simple interface that is easy to operate and very user friendly. We think we’ve accomplished that and plan to offer many tutorials that will help guide users in their own designs. Our centerpiece, Equinox House, was designed using ZEROs and the hundreds of thousands of data points we’ve collected since its completion validate the results. More about the design and construction of the net zero energy Equinox House can be found at

Equinox House, Urbana, IL

Modeling of both new and retrofit construction is possible. Main input parameters for the building envelope consist of the location, base house cost, wall, roof, and floor sizes, R values, and costs. The ground heat transfer is also included, an important factor dependent on the location. After defining the envelope, window parameters are entered for each side of the house consisting of area, U value, SHGC, and cost.

When the shell has been defined, characteristics of the building systems, energy, and comfort are selected. These relate to the efficiency of the conditioning systems, base load appliance energy, and the number of occupants, comfort set points, and fresh air ventilation. A solar module allows one to define a solar pv system to achieve net zero with the house design entered.

Once the parameters have been fully defined, running the model will produce a set of results which are broken down into five categories; costs, air quality, thermal loads, latent loads, and electric loads. One unique feature of ZEROs is its ability to predict air quality levels. This considers the use of ventilation and energy recovery equipment, including our soon to be released CERV (Conditioning Energy Recovery Ventilator). Another feature is breaking out the latent or moisture loads, which are extremely important in super houses, but often not handled in modeling software.

A validated energy model is important in designing a house, but as important is the validation of the constructed building’s performance. Blower door tests can point to construction flaws, but they don’t tell anything about the air quality and systems operation. In conjunction with ZEROs, our Black Box IAQ test ( records data related to Indoor Air Quality. This test assures that when habited, a building is providing a healthy environment for its inhabitants.

Follow the ZEROs link to try a fully functioning free version of the software. The subscription version is also available, which allows you to save different project cases and generate reports with the data as well as go into more depth with the parameters for windows and temperature and humidity set points. We hope you will find ZEROs to be useful and easy to use and in the end result in many more high performance, healthy, net zero energy residences across the country.