Multi-Family Passive Building: The Next Frontier Is Here!

Our blogger today is Lisa White, PHIUS Certification Manager. Lisa’s got an exciting update on the growth of PHIUS-certified multi-family projects.

Over the past year, we’ve seen some incredible multi-family project submissions in PHIUS+ Certification. Projects have ranged from duplexes to large affordable apartment complexes to an 84-unit YMCA retrofit.

To date, 21 multi-family projects have been submitted for PHIUS Certification; four are fully certified, four pre-certified and under construction, and the remaining in the pipeline. In terms of units, this equates to 331 total units submitted, 18 certified, and 168 pre-certified. These projects are spread through eight states, with some hot spots in New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, D.C., and California.

An underlying theme of these multi-family projects is that they are being built at little to no additional cost compared to a conventional building. The passive house community has discovered and implemented the economics of multi-family passive building. Larger buildings have a geometric advantage — increased ratio of floor area to envelope area relative to single family homes. This means more habitable space, and less envelope area to worry about transmission losses/gains. There are big incentives to invest in the envelope and cut out the large, expensive mechanical systems.

Additionally, affordable housing developments and non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity have taken an interest in passive building in order to benefit their tenants with electric bills that are a fraction of the typical cost.

Some exciting projects:

  1. Stellar Apartments: The first PHIUS+ Certified affordable multi-family project, 6-units, in Eugene, Ore. This project was constructed simultaneously with an almost identical 6-unit project, built to Energy Star/Earth Advantage Certification. The buildings are planned to be a comparison case study to evaluate the long term economics of both methods. CPHCs: Jan Fillinger and Win Swafford.
  2. The Orchards at Orenco: The largest pre-certified passive building in the United States. This 57-unit affordable housing complex is in Hillsboro, Ore., and is currently under construction. CPHC: Dylan Lamar.
  3. 424 Melrose: This 24-unit affordable complex was completed in Bushwick, N.Y., in February 2014, and is now occupied. Some units were set aside for handicapped residents while others set aside for those making well below the city’s median income. CPHC: Chris Benedict
  4. McKeesport Downtown Housing: This multi-phase retrofit project was on a YMCA originally built in 1922 in downtown McKeesport, PA for those at risk for homelessness. This project underwent the retrofit while half occupied at all times, and is the first pre-certified multi-unit retrofit project. CPHC: Michael Whartnaby.
  5. Uptown Lofts: This 24-unit affordable apartment complex planned for Pittsburgh, Pa., will be constructed simultaneously with an almost identical 23-unit project, built to code energy standards. The buildings are planned to be a comparison case study to evaluate the long term economics of both methods. CPHC: Morgan Law.
  6. Kiln Apartments: Completed in Portland, Ore., in June 2014, this 19-unit project remains one of the largest pre-certified projects, with commercial space on the street level. CPHC: David Posada.
  7. Delta Commons at Benning Road: This 13-unit retrofit project in Washington, D.C. is scheduled to begin construction in early fall 2014. As an exterior insulation retrofit, this project presents some unique challenges with an existing basement. CPHC: Michael Hindle.
  8. Sunshine Terrace Boarding Home: This almost complete boarding home in Spokane, Wash.,  features 29 semi-private units, 58 beds. This boarding home is part of the 7-acre Sunshine Health Facilities campus, and was built to expand the capacity of the assisted living facilities. CPHC: Sam Rodell.
  9. Canon Perdido Condos: This is the first pre-certified multi-family Habitat for Humanity project. Part of a 12 townhome development, this 3-unit building is under construction in Santa Barbara, CA and will be completed soon. CPHC: Edward DeVicente.

If you want to join in the multifamily boomlet, we’ve got a couple learning opportunities coming up.

First, we have partnered with Heartland Alliance, a non-profit group that — among its many good works — develops and manages affordable housing. We’ll present a three-hour introductory Multi-Family Workshop. I will be presenting along with PHIUS Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg. Details and registration will be live soon, meantime, save the date:

August 15
The Heartland Alliance
208 S. LaSalle, 13th floor conference room
Chicago, Ill.

If you want to receive details on the program when they’re available, provide your contact information here.

Second, we’ll offer an intensive full day pre-conference session at the 9th Annual North American Passive House Conference.

Accomplished CPHCs–who have built multifamily projects–will share their experiences and lessons learned. For more information, visit the pre conference schedule at the conference site. And register soon to get the early bird rate!

 

 

 

 

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!

Kat

 

Still time to vote for passive presentations at RESNET 2014

A quick reminder:
RESNET’s next national conference will be February 24-26, 2014, in Atlanta. RESNET is asking for your vote on proposed pre-conference and core conference presentations.
We hope you’ll take the time to vote for these two proposed passive house core conference presentations:
(BS-37) Passive Houses in North America – Measured Versus Modeled Results To Date
Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg, will share the good, the bad and the lessons learned from several case studies with a focus on heating and cooling energy use, comfort, indoor air quality and lighting, appliances and miscellaneous plug loads.
(HVAC-10) Heating and cooling With Heat Pumps for Micro-load Houses
Heat pumps have become prevalent in North American Passive Houses and other micro-load homes, even in cold climates. John Semmelhack — a PHIUS CPHC and manager of the PHIUS+ Rater program — covers  selecting, sizing, installing and commissioning them properly. This workshop will cover equipment selection, distribution methods, integration with ventilation systems, and other critical points of using heat pumps in micro-load houses.
Vote using the 2014 RESNET Conference Session BallotThe deadline for voting for sessions is August 26, 2013.
And while you’re at it, vote for the PHIUS+ Rater Training pre-conference session:
(Pre-18) PHIUS+ Rater Training
Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) is seeking experienced HERS Raters to complete a two day course in order to become qualified to conduct on-site quality control for the PHIUS+ program. Passive Houses are some of the most energy efficient buildings in the world, with space conditioning energy savings of up to 90% compared to standard new construction. The PHIUS+ certification program for North American Passive Houses combines extensive design review with a rigorous on-site quality control program. PHIUS+ aligns with the quality control protocols of Energy Star 3.0 and DOE Challenge Home, while including additional tests and checks, specific to the PHIUS+ program.
 Thanks!

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:

http://nesea.cammpus.com/courses/certified-passive-house-phase-1–online

And pass word along!

Regards,

Kat

Passive house history (PHistory) Part I–North American roots

In 2002, when I set out to build my own passive house as a proof of concept, I eventually selected a site in Urbana, Ill. I had was working in Chicago at the time, but Urbana made sense for several reasons: it offered affordable land, the city and its citizens have a progressive history in terms of environmental issues, and it is home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and all the resources that a research institution offers.

What I’ve learned since then is that pioneering work at UIUC decades ago actually helped spawn what we now refer to as passive house. It’s a fascinating history, and one worth sharing here. To all the pioneers out there—weigh in with additions and clarifications. I hope you enjoy!

–Katrin

Passive house describes a set of design principles and defined boundary conditions that—if applied holistically—lead to a building that remains comfortable with only minimal active heating or cooling during extreme climate conditions. The specific boundary conditions determine the design of the thermal envelope. Minimized mechanical systems result from specific space conditioning energy consumption and peak loads: quantitative, measurable performance-based energy metrics for homes and buildings.

The underlying passive principles were pioneered and formulated in the United States and Canada in the 1970s and 80s following the oil embargo and resulting energy crisis of 1973. By 1986 the noted physicist William Shurcliff was able to summarize what at the time he considered a mature and widely adopted technology. He described the five main principles of superinsulation also known then as passive housing in his article int the 1986 Energy Review”:

a) thick insulation
b) airtight construction
c) prevention of moisture migration into cold regions within the walls, and other regions where much condensation could occur
d) optimum sizing of window areas
e) a steady supply of fresh air

He goes on to describe in detail the necessary components: triple pane windows, heat recovery ventilators, thermal bridge free and airtightness design strategies, vapor retarders, a small wood stove as a heat source for the entire house etc.

In essence, what Shurcliff termed “Superinsulation” was essentially identical to passive house as we know it today.

Council Notes–the University of Illinois’ Small Homes Council periodical–featured the Low-Cal house back in 1981. Plans and energy modeling details were published in a standalone paper years earlier.

 

Where it started: Back to the future

Urbana, Illinois. The same Urbana that—by Kismet—is today home of PHIUS. In the early 1970s, a group of engineers and architects at the University of Illinois Small Homes Council (now knows as the Building Research Council) began experimenting with highly insulated envelope components. The group included included Wayne Schick (who coined the term superinsulation), W.S. Harris, R.A. Jones and S. Konzo. Their research culminated in the concept of the Lo-Cal (for low-calorie) house in 1976. (You can still buy original publications about Lo-Cal by the Council and Schick  here. And Building Science Corporation’s Joe Lstiburek writes about it here.) Lo-Cal was projected to save 60% in energy consumption compared the most efficient design promoted at the time by the Department of Energy.

A young architect working with the Council at the time, Mike McCulley, built four Lo-Cal houses in Urbana and Champaign. The Council monitored and evaluated them for performance, and these projects gained some attention from press outlets around the country.

An article about one of McCulley’s Lo-Cal houses appeared in the 1982 Louisville Courier-Journal. (Click to enlarge)

This Illinois group’s ideas greatly influenced a Canadian group of engineers working on the Saskatchewan Energy Conservation House (well chronicled in 2009 by Martin Holladay in Green Building Advisor–“Forgotten Pioneers of Energy Efficiency). They succeeded in reducing losses and peak loads even further. The peak load of the Conservation House in this extremely cold climate was designed to be approximately 1.5 W/sqft, equivalent to the best peak loads we are seeing in today’s passive houses in similar climates.

…A NEW LABEL–PASSIVE–IS BORN

The concepts gained momentum in both countries, spawning prototypes and buzz at building conferences.  The press and the public took notice. The term superinsulation was evolving as the most commonly used label for this set of principles in a growing North American high performance building community.

In 1980 William Shurcliff published one of the first books on the topic, called “Superinsulation and Double Envelope Houses.” Shurcliff, an accomplished physicist who took up the subject after his retirement from Harvard, went on to publish many books on the passive solar and superinsulation concepts in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In fact, Shurcliff appears to be the first to have labeled the new concepts “passive house” in his 1982 self-published book “The Saunders-Shrewsbury House” [Shurcliff, 1982]. It describes direct-gain and indirect gain passive houses. Later in a 1986 article he states that “a superinsulated house is really a special type of a direct-gain passive solar house.”

Because many architects and builders felt that superinsulation was too narrow a term, passive housing started to be commonly used interchangeably with “superinsulation.

Regardless of labels, Shurcliff states that by the mid/late 80s there were tens of thousands of homes built in the United States and Canada (as many as in Europe today!) to these design specifications. By 1982 a movement had formed. Thousands of building professionals were traveling to conferences taking training to learn the techniques. Construction of such homes was growing “explosively” as Shurcliff puts it in one of his early books in 1980 (Superinsulated Homes and Air-to-Air Heat Exchangers). The Canadian government offered free builders trainings. Widely read magazines sprung up, amongst them the still today well known and respected Energy Design Update.

SOUNDING FAMILIAR?

Shurcliff defined a superinsulated house as follows: “…a) receives only a modest amount of solar energy […], and b) is so well-insulated and so airtight that, throughout most of the winter, it is kept warm solely by the modest amount of solar energy received through the windows and by intrinsic heat, that is, heat from miscellaneous sources within the house. Little auxiliary heat is needed: less that 15% as much as is required in typical houses of comparable size built before 1974.”

He further explained: “The 15% limit on auxiliary heat […] was chosen because a house that conforms to this limit can get through the winter fairly tolerably even if auxiliary heat is cut off entirely. Specifically, the house will never cool down to 32 F. […] In summary, the basic strategy of superinsulation is to make the house so well-insulated and airtight – so conserving of heat – that it is kept warm almost entirely by heat that is received informally and is free.” (2)

What’s striking is that the 15% maximum limit cited for the annual heating demand compared to standard construction at the time is very close to the energy metric that defines today’s passive house criteria: 4.75 kBTU/sqft yr!

To explain: Comparing current contemporary home energy consumption for heating to the energy consumption of a home built in 1970 one finds that the reduction in heating energy consumption from 1975 to 2006 is approximately 17% (see DOE graph). In 2005 a typical home in the state of NY consumed approximately [34.76 kBTU/sqft yr] according to the EIA for heating. Increasing this energy consumption by approximately 20% (MEC-IECC Graph) results in 41.71 kBTU/sqft yr for a home built in 1974 (before the MEC took effect). 15% of that total value equals 6.25 kWh/sqm yr, (19.7 kWh/sqm yr) an energy metric limit very close to the current Central European passive house metric of 4.75 kBTU/sqft yr which was codified in the late 80s to early 90s.

Note that most passive houses at the time were built in quite a bit colder climates of the US and Canada. The colder climate boundary conditions are likely reflected in this slightly higher annual heating demand limit (as a direct result of greater peaks).  Peak load then as it is today was understood to be the determining factor. Another curious historic trace of those early superinsulation experiences describing very low load homes similar to the European secondary passive house standard peak load threshold of 10 W/sqm exists in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The current International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) still recognizes extremely low load homes, defining them as homes with a peak load equal or smaller than 1 W/sqft (10 W/sqm) for heating in section 101.5.2 [International Code Council, 2012] effectively exempting them from having to have a conventional auxiliary heating system. The code assumes in this case that the intrinsic heat sources are equal to the tiny peak losses aka no need for additional heat. According to the Code Council the IECC is the successor of the first 1975 Model Energy Code (MEC), from which this definition was originally adopted!

Shurcliff goes on to describe the performance of such houses in winter:

“1. The typical annual heat requirement on the auxiliary heating system is so small that the annual cost is almost negligible compared to the main household expenses […] 2. The occupants benefit from the absence of drafts, cold floors, and cold spots near windows. 3. Because the south windows are of modest size, little or no sunny-day overheating occurs. 4. Anxiety as to possible failure of the auxiliary heating system is minimal because the rate of cool-down is so low (a fraction of a degree per hour) that the house can easily ride through a 24-hour period with no auxiliary-heat-input. 5. Thanks to the use of an air-to-air heat exchanger, humidity tends to remain in the desirable 40-60% range and there is a steady inflow of fresh air (at, typically, 50-150 CFM, or about half a house volume of fresh air per hour). 6. Little outdoor noise penetrates the house.”

He also notes that the orientation of the house is not critical to the concept. He says that the house can have almost any orientation, unlike only passive solar-heated designs that had to be oriented within 25 degrees of south.

REFINEMENT

The technology matured and the market began to follow. Energy Design Update published an entire edition in 1987 as a consumer guide devoted solely  to the many air-to–air heat exchangers. The Canadians appear to have taken the technology lead in the 1980s. Shurcliff credits Harold Orr’s construction type from the Division of Building Research of the Canadian National Research Council to be the most widespread type being built in North America.

In 1984 young J.W. Lstiburek and J.K Lischkoff publish a book called “A New Approach to Affordable Low Energy House Construction,” further advancing various aspects of passive housing and related sciences. The “Superinsulated Home Book” by Ned Nissen and Gautum Dutt published in 1985 is the most advanced construction and detailing book in the industry at the time. The book even presented a detailed chapter on the theory of energy balancing and sample calculations for low load homes, explaining how to balance losses and gains to arrive at a design with an extremely low balance point temperature.

In 1988 Shurcliff concluded in his book “Superinsulated Houses and Air-To-Air Heat Exchangers” [Shurcliff, 1988] that this type of energy efficient home construction is here to stay and that one might see some further improvements in window technologies, vapor retarders, more efficient heat exchangers and compact minimized mechanical systems, “…but that there is no need to wait for such refinements. Superinsulation is already a mature and well proven technology.”

That was 1988, and the future of superinsulation/passive housing in the United States was bright, but…

See the passive house history Part II