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!