What does MS have to do with climate change?

Last September I was diagnosed with remitting-relapsing multiple sclerosis after a first—and frightening—attack. Despite the grim news I was intrigued by the elusiveness of the disease, and I started my journey of searching for answers and solutions to the question of how to best prevent or delay further attacks. I’ve learned a lot—and been reminded of a lot along the way.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a strange disease, characterized by so many different symptoms that some call it the disease with a 1000 faces. Little is known about the causes and consequently all approved therapies and medications aim at reducing symptoms, not at addressing a cause.

Yet, one thing most experts agree on is that there is likely a very strong environmental component to the disease. It is generally considered an autoimmune disorder —that is, the system that ordinarily protects one’s body from infections and other threats goes haywire. The autoimmune system attacks the body.

MS was first noted at the onset of the industrialized age at the end of the 19th century. There is no previous record of its incidence. Its occurrence has increased dramatically since and mostly in the developed richer nations. Significantly, the increase is most prevalent in nations that eat mostly a “meat and potato” diet, rather than a more Mediterranean or asian cuisine.

Changes in lifestyle over the past century (active/outdoor to sedentary/indoor), environmental factors such as increased toxins in air and water, and a shift in nutrition characterized by high animal fat intakes and highly processed food supplies are broadly suspected to be a significant part of the problem.

It’s been months since my diagnosis—during that time, after a lot of research, I made a decision to pursue a nutritional path to managing the disease over medication. Since that decision, the world has changed quite a bit for me for the better.

I found that the suggested causes and remedies were somewhat related to what started to look like an energy balance for a building. My systems had seriously gotten out of balance on every nutritional and lifestyle level! It’s become clear that my lifestyle for the last 10 or so years has systematically depleted my resources! I was running on fumes.

I felt somewhat consoled and excited by the fact that I knew something about rebalancing a system. I was accustomed to working on getting first to a balanced state through conservation and then eventually to a positive energy balance through consequent repletion. My thoughts were, if you can build a passive house you can rebalance your body, right? And here I went.

I began seeing real parallels between our efforts in the passive building community to rebalance resources with my individual efforts to rebalance my intakes. In each case, the goal is to assure that the taking and the giving is brought back into balance. A global society that constantly over-consumes and dumps tons and tons of carbon into the atmosphere as a result will eventually overwhelm the system and cause its collapse—just like my constantly depleting lifestyle depleted my body—and led to its attack on itself.

We live our lives by constantly going into debt with the planet’s resources (our body is a planetary resource) and think if we can just pay the minimum payment each month it does not matter how big our total balance is. Over-consuming and getting further away from being in balance and zeroing out our account, our modern lifestyles suffer from a similar effect.

I’ve read extensively about the interplay of ultra-busy but sedentary lifestyles and the perils of fast/processed food, factory farms and antibiotics, toxins, and increases in food allergies.

I’ve concluded that both MS and climate change are symptoms of excessive in-debtness with ourselves in the name of a convenient modern life style based on consumption, a life out of balance.

Ten years ago I made a resolution as an architect to work exclusively on passive buildings to take responsibility for my share of the rebalancing act. After my MS diagnosis, I made a similar resolution to rebalance my body and lifestyle instead of treating the symptoms with expensive medication and its own side effects. I soon found myself calculating an energy balance for my body, counting all different kinds of fats and oils and balancing them appropriately.  Every day I eat 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables, multiple grain servings and watch out for a whole set of other interesting nutritional factors to strengthen the brain, rebuild the nervous system, the autoimmune system and the cardiovascular system. I have not been so clear headed, focused and energetic in years. I have lost 30 pounds without trying…but I still have work to do on my exercise regimen.

All this has dovetailed with my professional mission: my carbon footprint has significantly improved! I’ve almost entirely eliminated meat, and I forgo gluten, dairy, processed grains, and other packaged food products (all energy-intensive foods). I buy organic and pastured chicken, local if possible.

In a way it was easy for me to make that decision—MS is a powerful motivator. I always wanted to eat this way but never was able to maintain it because I managed to justify the modern shortcuts of fast food, pizza and beer in the name of convenience, helping me to de-stress and save time and work more.

But I’ve learned that equation doesn’t add up in the end, and that this type of diet is broadly recommended to avoid the most common diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. All of these diseases are on a disturbing upswing. Just as the consequences of climate change is.

MS and climate change: they are similar looming invisible threats to our quality of life. Once an attack subsides things appear to be normal again and one is tempted to go back to business as usual and ignore the problem. But leaving the causes unattended will debilitate again, destroying quality of life, or life itself.

Here is my resolution: I don’t want to take any chances, neither with my body, the only one I have–nor with the planet, the only one I have. My body is an extension of my family, my house, my community, my city, my country, my planet.

MS and climate change are opportunities: they are second chances for us to end our follies and fix what we broke so that we may once again live in balance and peace. And that’s what I intend to do. And I think being in the passive house community puts me in terrific company. I’ve had terrific support, and I thank you all.

Meantime, there’s more to say about all this, but I’ll save it for a second installment….

Katrin

 

 

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.

Onward!

Unofficial passive building principle No. 6:

ASSURE QUALITY AND MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS!

Only PHIUS+ projects earn the plaque!

PHIUS (www.passivehouse.us) 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 (http://www.powerwisesystems.com/passive) 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 (http://www.energyconservatory.com/) 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:

SPREAD THE WORD, SHARE THE TALE AND TEACH ALL YOU HAVE LEARNED

The leading national passive building research, education and alliance organizations are the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) (www.passivehouse.us) and the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) (www.phaus.org).

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 (http://www.buildingscience.com/)  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 (http://www.yestermorrow.org/) 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 (http://www.passivehousenewengland.org/) 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 (http://www.passivhausmaine.org/) 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!!!!!!