Passive house everywhere

Virginia Tech Conference, Roanoke and Pittsburgh

Hello again. I’m back — for a bit — in the PHIUS offices in Urbana, Ill.

First, thanks to the guest contributors who’ve been holding down the blog.

Second, here’s an update from what has been a whirlwind of travel that started in Grossburgwedel, Germany (my home town, where I stayed for the international conference in Hanover); then beautiful Berea, Ky., for an inspiring Habitat event; then Denver for ASES; onto Roanoke for a conference, and finally, Pittsburgh!

Very different places, but one thing in common: Great people pushing passive house forward!  For a quick take on our time in Berea with Kentucky Habitat, check out Mike Kernagis’ earlier blog post. Some other highlights:

Roanoke, Va.

Builder and leading commercial CPHC Adam Cohen seems to never rest. He shepherded me from and to the airport and

The indefatigable Adam Cohen

around the beautiful Roanoke area while I attended the “Harnessing Innovation for Energy Efficient Construction” conference sponsored by Virginia Tech. He’s currently overseeing a passive house dormitory at a local college, to be completed in August. Then there’s a passive house dentistry office — another commercial first for Adam, whose award-winning Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED), an educational community center for green technology in Rocky Mount, Va., was the first project of its kind.

Adam’s CEED has operated for over a year and it has actually exceeded predicted performance by six percent. That’s led Adam to conclude that as a practical matter, it’s perfectly feasible to hit the goal of 10-12kWh in his climate (bettering the European benchmark), with cooling mostly covered by passive dehumidification.

While in Roanoke, I also had the pleasure of meeting with John Quale, Professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He – along with CPHC Barbara Gehrung – are planning modular multifamily developments that will provide terrific research opportunities, including climate-specific standards research and refinement in that region using their currently in planning modular multifamily housing developments.  It was passive house-palooza as John, Barbara, Adam and I hashed out possibilities.

While in Roanoke, we got news about another exciting project in the Middle Atlantic. Chris Senior, a passive house builder in North Carolina, is making progress toward a large passive house development in his area. The middle South is coming and so are suitable systems for the mixed and humid climates. Some very clever solutions have been proposed. More technical details on this topic at the annual conference in Denver Sep 27-29.

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Action Housing's Heidelburg project in Pittsburgh is well underway.

PHIUS is consulting with Action Housing (an affordable development organization) on the Heidelberg project (named for the Pittsburgh neighborhood where it’s located), very first passive house Pittsburgh. We’re also working on the very first-multi-unit retrofit project (in Mckeesport) — a large brick building under historic preservation. Michael Whartnaby is the CPHC; he’s leading architect Laura Nettleton’s team. From developer to architect and engineer, they are all showing leadership in their community and it’s paying off. They are super busy with inquiries since word on their Heidelberg project has gotten out. I stopped at the Heidelberg house and can confirm: they are right on schedule. The house is half up, one more story and then it’s double wall insulation time!

Another Pittsburgh update: PHIUS is working in collaboration with one of the major raw spray polyurethane material manufacturers in the United States, Bayer, whose headquarters are in Pittsburgh. We’re working with Bayer to get the truest picture we can of foam life cycle and the impact of blowing agents on the environment. Based on this collaboration, we’ll be making recommendations on voluntary guidelines to the CPHC community about the use of spray foam. The recommendations will be published soon.

Great trip, learned a lot, but also good to be home, at least for a little while! Prepping now for the busiest CPHC training month of 2012 to start in a few days at MIT… will be back on the road to Boston Monday morning early.



One thought on “Passive house everywhere

  1. I am interested in building a passive house but have limited funds for the project. Is there a way to build this way at a low cost? I am capable of doing a lot of the finish work my self but don’t know the specs on to use for the structure. I would like to be able to have a builder build to the point of being dried in and house wrapped including windows and doors but no siding and just studs on the inside.

    Any resources out there?

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