PHIUS Builders Training: One builder’s experience

Hi folks–today’s guest blogger is a builder. Tim Linn, of Milwaukee, was kind enough to pen this account of his experience at the PHIUS Certified Builders Training this past autumn. A little about Tim: He’s been in the trades for 10 years and, with two partners, operates a small “integrated” specializing in custom carpentry/cabinet-making and historical renovation/energy retrofit work.  They sideline in the theatrical carpentry world (Tim used to work as a classical actor and he says that work keeps him connected to that world).  If you have questions for Tim, you can leave a comment or you are welcome to email Tim at: In addition, here’s a write-up about his passive project:

If you’re interested in becoming a PHIUS Certified Builder, check out the upcoming PHIUS Builders Training programs. 

Members of the inaugural PHIUS Certified Builders Training class at the Stanton passive house in Urbana, Ill.

Passive house is intimidating to most builders. I know it was to me. I’ve been following the work of the passive house movement in America for several years now and and happy to report I finally have a project underway. Thankfully I received training on the intricacies of what it takes for a builder to put one of these structures together—I participated in the first PHIUS Certified Builders Training program this past August.

The training isolates the particular details a builder needs to focus on and demonstrates different ways of properly executing these details. For example the training provided examples of how to properly manage the air-seal of a junction between a slab-edge and a sole-plate with “off-the-shelf” building materials and smart design.  I was shown a multiplicity of practical ways to manage air-barriers to be able to build a structure that meets the of .6 ACH50 requirement. We looked at everything from how to appropriately use tapes, gaskets, or liquid-applied membrane products to how best to use a blower-door to conduct one’s own testing as the project is under construction. And I was taught enough about the principles of passive design to be able to make sure my architect/CPHC is designing a structure that is not only up to passive house standards, but also buildable.

The training does a wonderful job of making building passive house structures in all our different climate zones practical. By bringing together builders from all over the United States and stressing the different design needs for a fellow building in Alabama compared to a fellow building in Alaska, the training highlights the need for a regionalized approach to passive house design and execution of construction. Another key focus of the training is that passive house is a performance-, not a prescriptive- based standard. And it teaches builders to build appropriately for their local climate using whatever materials are regionally available.

Passive house construction can be difficult to explain—to subs, crews, inspectors, clients, and designers.  The training equips students with the vocabulary and understanding of the critical principles to be able to communicate with everyone he/she will need to interact with both in design/development and in the field.  Having taken the training, For example: I now know how to explain to my electrician how I would like him to gasket a penetration in the building envelope, and how to explain to my client the reason he cannot choose a vapor-impermeable finish for his interior walls.

Instructor Mike Kernagis during a Builders Training classroom session.

Perhaps the most valuable take-away from the training is the stress the trainers put on building resilient structures. There is no point in taking the time and energy to design and build a passive house (or assume the liability for having built one) if it is not designed to handle the typical stresses nature puts on any building—namely moisture, in any region. The training reminds a builder, time-and-again, to pay attention to the way their roof and wall systems will manage both bulk water and water-vapor, and make sure that they are not assuming liability for a design that will fail as a result of moisture build-up. PHIUS is doing the building community a great service by stressing the need for builders to focus their energy on building basics—from plumb, level, and square—to don’t use materials that are not suited to long-term durability, to KISS principals, to building for the future.

To me, the PHIUS Certified Builders Training gives us builders the opportunity to re-distinguish ourselves as craftsmen, as these buildings cannot be built without care and thought.

Learn more about upcoming PHIUS Certified Builders Training programs