Looking back and ahead at passive building

Today PHIUS delivers its CPHC training virtually and and across the country, and in partnership with organizations like Yestermorrow and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It all started with the first class in Urbana, Ill., in 2008, pictured above. Bottom row, from l-r:  John Essig, Dave Brach, Mary Graham, Katrin Klingenberg, Laura Briggs, Jonah Stanford. Second row: Christina Snyder, Luis Martinez, Jim Olson, Lance Wright, Paul Eldrenkamp, Hayden Robinson, Henry Gifford, David White, Graham Irwin. Back row: Katia Sussman, Tim Moran, Ian Schnack, Al Hothan, John Highland, Gino Mazzaferro, Mark Hoberecht, Ed Shank, Bogdan Zagorowski, Jesper Kruse, Steve Robinson, Matt Howard, Tim Eian, Harold Finigan, Vahid Mojarrab, Tad Everhart, Marc Rosenbaum

I wrote in my last post about how my diagnosis with MS motivated me to rebalance my lifestyle and nutrition. One other positive by-product has been an opportunity to reflect. Once again, reflection and mindfulness – like good nutrition – have always been a goal. But the MS forced the issue by slowing me down (at least for awhile).

And I was reminded of what a rich and wonderful journey it’s been, and how far we’ve come together.

When I set out a dozen years ago, it was not simply to advance passive house principles. It was to help shrink our carbon footprint—and the effects of climate change. Passive building seemed then as it does now to be a critical part of the solution.

I started by building my own residence in Urbana, Ill. Then Mike Kernagis joined me as construction manager on two affordable passive houses built in partnership with the City of Urbana. One other affordable home was built in 2011, and we designed three private homes. And, the Solar Decathlon Home 2009 came home from D.C. after placing second, bringing the number of passive homes in the Champaign-Urbana area to eight.

The reaction — from points far and wide across the country was — so strong and positive that we assembled the first English language CPHC (Certified Passive House Consultant) training program in 2008.

It’s been a whirlwind since then. In 2009 we founded the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) and communities of our trainees coalesced in their respective regions, forming groups such as PHCA, PHNW, NYPH and PHNE. PHAUS, a PHIUS program, has added more than a dozen chapters under the PHAUS umbrella nationwide.

Most important, we deliver the training nationally and virtually now, and the community of PHIUS-trained CPHCs (now 550+ strong) started building real, successful projects across North America’s climate zones. Some of the bleeding edge heroes of the effort include Dan Whitmore, Jan Fillinger, Win Swafford, Tad Everhart, Blake Bilyeu, Randy Foster and Tessa Smith, Alex Boetzel and Stephan Aiguier, Rob Hawthorne, Margo Rettig, Jesse Thomas, Joe Giampietro, Graham Wright and Sam Hagerman in the Northwest. In the Bay Area, the torch was carried by Allen Gilliland (the first NZE home in Calif.), Graham Irwin, Rick Milburn, Nabih Tahan, Lowell Moulton, Katy Hollbacher and Prudence Ferreira.

The Northeast honor roll: Laura Briggs, Paul Eldrenkamp, Marc Rosenbaum, Peter Schneider and J.B. Clancy, Mike Duclos and Paul Panish, Alan Gibson and Matt O’Malia, Svea Tullberg, Jesper Kruse, Stephanie Bassler, Jesse Thompson, Laura Blau, Tim McDonald, Chris Benedict and Henry Gifford, Dennis Wedlick, David White, Ken Levenson, Jordan Goldman and Stephanie Horowitz, Andreas Benzing, Julie Torres-Moskovitz.

David Peabody, Adam Cohen, John Semmelhack, Michael Hindle, Barbara Gehrung, Alan Abrams and Dan Levy have led the way in the Mid-Atlantic region; Chris Senior, Clarke Snell and Jeff Buscher in the Carolinas; Ed Shank and Mark Hoberecht, Eric Lang, Pat Murphy, Mary Rogero and Faith Morgan in Ohio.

In Kentucky, Ginger Watkins and Michael Hughes have been leaders; way up North Stephan Tanner, Tim Eian, Carly Colson, Rachel Wagner and Mike LeBeau carried the banner. Lance Wright and Brian Fuentes sparked the community in Colorado; Joaquin Karcher and Jonah Stanford in New Mexico; Dave Brach in Salt Lake; Vic Weber in Idaho; Ross Elliott and Natalie Leonard in Canada; Thorsten Chlupp in Alaska: Linda Metropulos, Laura Nettleton and Michael Whartnaby in Pennsylvania; Tom Bassett-Dilley, Mark Miller and Patrick Danaher in Chicago. Finally, Dave Stecher, Dylan Lamar (who also did the first IP version of PHPP while at PHIUS, a critical step), Ian Schnack, Ryan Abendroth and Darcy Bean helped blaze trails back at home in Urbana, and later on their own in Phoenix, St.Louis, Portland Ore. and Pittsburgh. Pa.

There are more—like Corey Saft who had the gumption to build a passive house in Louisiana. We learned so much from that project. Surely I am omitting people – I apologize for any memory lapse. The point is, there’s no substitute for all of your commitment. I feel privileged to be part of your community.

We are headed toward our 9th Annual Conference, and today, in addition to CPHC training, we offer PHIUS Certified Builders Training, and a PHIUS+ Rater training that enables HERS raters to accurately rate passive houses. These programs are relatively new, but the Certified Builder program is always sold out and already the community of PHIUS Certified Builders is approaching 100; and the Rater community is right behind it.

We’ve forged strategic partnerships with the likes of the U.S. DOE, Building Science Corporation, RESNET, Rocky Mountain Institute. We’ve also established  relationships with the prestigious Fraunhofer IBP, Owens Corning and Oak Ridge National Lab—a partnership that produced WUFI Passive. WUFI Passive is a fantastic software modeling tool that is making passive energy modeling easier, more accurate, and integrated with WUFI hygrothermal analysis. It’s a commercial grade software tool with a streamlined GUI and the most powerful passive and hygrothermal modeling capabilities on the market. It is, simply, a leap forward.

Looking back, I see there was another critical group—and I mean critical. Let’s call them the passive house skeptics. They’ve ranged from Marc Rosenbaum to Joe Lstiburek to Martin Holladay.

When I set out to prove passive house principles in the United States, I was energetic, armed with information from the German PHI, and … a little naïve. Passivhaus was new to me and the majority of people I talked to about it. And I thought—like a lot of like-minded people—that I’d discovered something brand new.

After I built my own passive house in 2002, and we started getting some attention in the mainstream and trade press, I began hearing from energy conservation pioneers. On one hand, they were excited to see conservation back on the front burner, after interest in it trailed off back in the 80s.

But some were also a bit miffed. I didn’t understand it at the time – and misunderstood it as resistance to change. It was quite the opposite. It was the notion that this passivhaus or passive house was new that was irksome to them.

Indeed, I learned that the foundation principles that distinguished what I called passive house in English or passivhaus in German were not at all new. Superinsulation, high-performance doors and windows, removing thermal bridges, energy recovery ventilation/minimizing mechanicals, managing solar gain. A group of pioneers — including some in my own backyard in Urbana at the University of Illinois—had formulated these concepts decades earlier.

What we have learned – and I say we because we’ve learned it side-by-side with CPHCs and builders who’ve faced real-world challenges across climates—is that this group of early pioneers had valid misgivings about passive house as formulated in Europe. The concerns included the small-house penalty, North American issues with latent humidity, and the cost-effectiveness of investing in the envelope as opposed to renewables. The biggest concern: deep disagreement that a single numerical standard for all climate zones could make sense.

Reasonable people can and will disagree. But on the single standard, we at PHIUS have come to agree that a one-size-fits-all-climates standard is flawed, and is a major factor holding back adoption. I, like a lot of people, found the notion that a single number could work for all climates magnetically attractive. But in our experience designing, building, certifying and monitoring, we’ve concluded it doesn’t work. That’s an important departure, but not a disagreement about passive house principles being the best place to start for high performance building.

That’s why we’re engaged with Building Science Corporation in testing climate-specific standards that use the peak load calculation (which underlies also the European standard) as a baseline. (BTW, again—climate-specific doesn’t necessarily mean “easier.” In some climate zones, we expect the standard to tighten.)

Now, make no mistake: When interest in conservation waned in the United States and Canada in the 80s, the efforts of Drs. Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist to formulate passive principles for Europe were heroic, and Dr. Feist’s continuing efforts with PHI have been invaluable. In particular the PHPP was an important step toward putting modeling within reach of passive house professionals. We owe them gratitude. But the work of our entire community, the advancement of building science and innovation must quite naturally go on. There is no holy grail here.

Some lament the differences that exist within the passive building community. To be sure, some of the harsh rhetoric and hurt feelings have been regrettable (and, I think, entirely avoidable moving forward). But we see different and competing ideas as healthy and necessary. It’s only natural that as a community grows, it grows more vital and diverse, and that competing views—and to be sure, competing interests—arise.

The entire passive house community, regardless of scientific position or organizational loyalties, is pulling toward conserving energy and reducing carbon emissions, while constructing extremely comfortable, healthy and resilient buildings. And we agree that passive is a great way to do that. But honest competition has always driven growth and innovation. Trying to put a lid on ideas suppresses growth, and leaves us fighting over a very small pie.

Here’s to a vibrant and diverse passive house community, and to a much, much larger pie!

Katrin

 

 

Certified Passive House Consultant Training in the North American Context: Then, Now, and Moving forward

The mark of a CPHC...

In May 2008, PHIUS launched the first English-language passive house training program, and with it, the Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHCsm) accreditation.

By the start of 2012, nearly 700 professionals had completed or were enrolled in the PHIUS training program. More than 300 trainees from across the nation had passed the exam to become accredited as a CPHC. And they’ve been busy – they’ve submitted more than 150 projects — residential, commercial and retrofits– for verification in the PHIUS+ Quality Assurance program.

From the beginning, PHIUS classes had a North American accent that was based on real-world

Louisville Courier-Journal article from 1982 detailing a house built in Urbana that utilized superinsulation, airtight envelope, energy recover ventilation, and solar gains. Yes, 1982.

experience.  In 2008, that experience was largely my own and that of a handful pioneering souls, including many who had pioneered passive house principles like superinsulation in the United States and in Canada decades ago.

That’s changed, thanks to lots of committed individuals. Leading these trainings has been a revelation — and an inspiration — for me and my fellow instructors. Our classes are filled with enthusiastic, extremely bright and energetic architects, engineers, builders, energy raters and consultants. Everyone gets – and gets excited by — the fundamental passive house principles. Everyone brings their real-world experience from their regions.  And everyone contributes to advancing passive house.

The result: A continually evolving training curriculum that draws on years of experience and data from a growing community with local expertise.

For example: We’ve learned that hygrothermal modeling – maybe unnecessary in some climates – is critical to successful passive house design in many North American regions. It’s the only way to anticipate and address moisture issues in envelope components associated with humidity that are widely present in the United States and Canada. As a result, students now get a hands-on introduction to hygrothermal modeling using WUFI modeling software. (A free version of WUFI is offered by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Fraunhofer Institute.)

Similarly, THERM (free download from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) is useful to calculate thermal bridging, and students now receive an introduction to using that software tool. Because WUFI and THERM have become de rigeur in many scenarios, we’ve also developed workshops devoted entirely to those tools.

Click on the image to download the PHIUS Technical Committee's paper on evaluating windows for passive house.

The field is developing quickly, and the curriculum will develop accordingly. The existing community of CPHCs continues to build and certify projects and their experience flows back into CPHC classes. The PHIUS Technical Committee, comprising leading passive house practitioners, regularly publishes papers – the latest on evaluating window performance for passive house projects. This year, PHIUS will publish the PHIUS library, a training companion folder that will be updated on and ongoing basis as sections are revised or added (Passive House Alliance members benefit from receiving the newest updates as part of their membership benefit packet for free!).

As our curriculum has evolved, so has the examination process: A computer-based exam component focuses exclusively on North American climates, detailing, construction technology, building conventions, climate-appropriate mechanical equipment and code requirements. Americans can work in Inch Pound units and Canadians can choose metric. Examinees then take home a basic design exercise. This year, for the first time students can opt to take the exam on the afternoon of the last day of class. If students don’t feel ready, they can opt to take the exam at the end of any class program at any location at a later time. The Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) is also hosting two exams per year in various chapter locations scheduled independently from trainings.

European training providers also offer Certified Passivhaus Designer (CEPH) training in the North American market – CEPH standing for Certified European Passive House. For those who take the European training or have achieved the European accreditation, PHIUS will soon offer an abbreviated training and exam sequence to receive PHIUS CPHC accreditation and listing on the PHIUS Web site.

Join us!

PHIUS has an incredible roster of instructors from around the country. But the buzz in the CPHC training classrooms comes as much from our students as us. (If you want to hear from someone who took the class, check out Jesse Thompson’s account of taking the class on the Green Architects’ Lounge podcast.)

We’ve come this far as a community, and we need to grow the community of qualified passive house professionals if we’re going to achieve the goal of making passive house mainstream. There are more opportunities than ever, as PHAUS chapters begin offering training in their regions, and as partners like Earth Advantage Institute and Carnegie Mellon University begin hosting classes.

Upcoming CPHC trainings include: San Francisco later this month; Salt Lake City in May; June brings New York, Atlanta (in partnership with the local PHA-US chapter) and Portland (through our new partner, Earth Advantage Institute). Seattle training dates, also offered by Earth Advantage, will be announced soon. Boston dates are also in the works.

Check the schedule for updates at the PHIUS site or at the PHAUS National Events calendar.

If none of the sites/dates work, subscribe to the PHIUS newsletter to get updates on additional training sites and updates.

And you can read a full course description here.

See you soon I hope!