The standard: Less energy, less pollution, more comfort.

I’ve been on the road a lot lately but let me thank you again for your thoughtful contributions and the

Solar radiation exposure is one factor that differs dramatically between Germany and the US. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, European Commission)

healthy debate sparked by my first blog post, “15kwh is Dead, Long Live 15kwh.” In the post I put forth PHIUS’ plans to modify the passive house standard to address the specific climate and market needs of the North American market. A quick summary of the changes and their value:

  • Modifications will be based on the first and only large-scale analysis of passive house buildings in the United States and Canada – the 100+ buildings certified/under review by PHIUS.
  • They will address the substantive and reasonable critiques (such as the small-home penalty) of leading building scientists in North America like John Straube, Marc Rosenbaum, and Martin Holladay.
  • They will safeguard the high quality for which passive house is known by acknowledging

    View Marc Rosenbaum's presentation on passive house in the United States from the 2011 North American Passive House Conference

    fundamental differences (e.g., building in high-humidity zones presents unique quality challenges).

  • Modifications will calibrate envelope improvements more precisely for each climate and will be more cost effective than the one-size-fits-all approach. They will improve cost effectiveness in colder climates while maintaining comfort and quality of the envelope. And they will actually tighten the standard in climates where there is opportunity for more stringent targets.

The post touched off a great deal of constructive discussion and supportive comments – many folks expressing support for an idea they believe was long overdue.

Understandably, the prospect of change also caused some angst. Recently, a petition was circulated asking folks to sign-on in support of maintaining a single numerical standard associated with the term passive house. I fully understand the response – years ago, I might have signed on myself. But since then, based on the collective experience of passive house consultants who have designed and constructed projects across the continent, it’s become clear that adaptation is critical.

It’s also become clear that we at PHIUS need to get better at explaining the rationale for the modifications that we’re proposing and how they will help propel the market forward while maintaining the core principles of passive house.

To that end, I’d like to respond to some of the concerns and ensuing discussion around the petition mentioned earlier.

Let’s start with a sentiment expressed in a Green Building Advisor article related to the petition topic:  It was expressed that the “beauty of the standard is its purity.”  Purity implies uniformity, and my intended point is that 15kwh is not a universal truth, and therefore not practical for all climate regions.  The rigor of passive house is universal.  In the US, 15kwh is rigorous and practical in the Pacific Northwest  but hat’s not the case in most of the other North American climate zones.

By the same token, in some areas of the United States – Southern California, for example – it’s technically and economically practical to do better than 15kwh.  And it’s worth reiterating: adjusting the standard will allow us to do away with the small-house penalty (that being that it’s actually easier to achieve 15kwh in a larger structure than a small one, thereby presenting an incentive to build larger).

As mentioned in the first blog post, other parts of the world have already concluded that 15kwh is not universal. This is really not a new development.

More important, is the suggestion that modifying the standard creates market confusion. Three points argue against this being a concern:

1. Passive house is not a brand. Passive house is a generic term for structures that require little or no actively generated energy for heating and cooling. Put another way: “Passive house” is the equivalent to “hybrid automobile.” Car manufacturers now make their versions with their brands.

2. Passive house applies to the principles and practices – which are universal – required to build passive structures. Many of them — superinsulation, airtightness, energy recovery ventilation, managing solar gain — originated in the United States and Canada. They don’t belong to anyone. They are not brands. And they are available to all designers and builders who want to learn to apply them. They remain intact and powerful regardless of any number.

3. As more competitors arrive in a growing market wishing to offer passive house products clear branding of different passive house products (different trainings, quality assurance protocols or standard variations) is important to avoid confusion in the market place. PHIUS has differentiated its product by creating the PHIUS+ program.

Market size is a bigger concern. Passive house has come a long, long way in the past several years. But the market is still tiny. The imperative is to grow the market. And it will not grow if we adhere to a standard that isn’t practical in large swaths of the continent.

By making the standard applicable across the continent, and teaching professionals how to make passive house work where they work, we can help passive house principles go mainstream here in North America. We can make passive house principle best practice. And that will achieve all of our ultimate goals: Less energy, less pollution, more comfort. All thanks to passive house.


37 thoughts on “The standard: Less energy, less pollution, more comfort.

  1. Passive house is not a brand but Passive House or Passivhaus (capitalized) is a recognized energy standard. Those of us in the sustainable design industry will build our own brands and those brands likely will incorporate standards covering different design aspects (energy, air quality, materials, etc.). Thus Passive House is not like the generic “hybrid automobile” but rather the specific EPA Mileage rating. If a car manufacturer used a different standard it would make fuel efficiency comparisons difficult, and would weaken their brand. If my banding includes something like “Meets or exceeds the Passive House energy standard” I want that to mean something specific and comparable to the offerings of other designers. Now I might very well choose “Meets or exceeds PHIUS+ Maritime 3 energy standard” if I conclude that to be superior. What I’d hate to see is Passive House meaning whatever some self-interested group wants it to mean and thus have it end up meaning next to nothing. What’s to stop the reactionary BIAW from developing their own Passive House standard and incorporating “Meets or exceeds the Passive House energy standard” in their brand?

    Geoff Briggs
    I & I Design, Seattle

  2. Katrin, thanks for this column. A correction: The Passive House petition is not “in support of maintaining a single numerical standard associated with the term passive house.” On the contrary, it contains statements in support of both PHIUS’s desire to create its own performance criteria and the larger conversation around potential improvements to Passive House.

    In this column, as well as your previous one on the topic, you articulate the rationale for creating a new standard that will, in much of North America, be less stringent than Passive House. However, I feel you have not justified PHIUS’s plan to adopt the name of an existing, widely recognized standard. You are right in pointing out that the term Passive House has come to represent not only the standard itself, but also the strategies used to achieve it. However, your rationale does not address the fact that Passive House IS a standard; that it was developed, and has been maintained for more than 20 years, by PHIUS’s namesake, the Passive House Institute; that it is used and agreed upon by hundreds of professionals across the U.S.; and that its criteria are universally recognized by the certifiers competing with PHIUS. Under these circumstances, as many critics have pointed out, PHIUS’s plan to refer to its new program as Passive House cannot avoid creating confusion and controversy. The petition, currently with more than 140 signers from 12 states and 18 countries, has a single request: that PHIUS “distinguish its program by giving it a distinctive name”.

    Any standard is dependent upon widespread recognition and a consensus of legitimacy. As I believe the petition makes clear, much of the Passive House community, while supportive of PHIUS’s broader intention, would not recognize a relaxed standard as Passive House. The confusion and controversy promised by PHIUS’s plan would therefore not only harm the larger Passive House community, it threatens to damage PHIUS, delegitimize its new standard, and create confusion around the meaning and value of Passive House certificates already issued by PHIUS.

  3. I hope you reconsider this plan. The petition simply asks that if a new standard is developed, that it be given a new name. I’m confused by a few points in this post. How will the new standard eliminate the so-called small house penalty? Why use the term “passive house” if it doesn’t meet the functional definition or equivalent energy use? What did you learn while constructing your house that led you to question the cost-effectiveness of the Passive House standard?

  4. Firstly, its seems that PHIUS is not suggesting a less stringent, but rather, more flexible standard. That is, less in the north and more in the south, the way we all know it should be if we were to share the responsibility as a society to tackle emissions on a continental scale. This is my take, at least.

    Secondly, PHI is not the only organization that pioneered Passive House. Look to Passivhuscentrum in Sweden and the work of Hans Eek. Both knowledge-bases grew in parallel from the pioneering work in Germany and Sweden.

    Sweden has an established voluntary variation of the Passive House concept. I believe it prescribes a heating load relief of 2W/m2hr for buildings under 200m2. Because apparently it is just too hard to get to 10W/m2 in Sweden. Furthermore, there is a 4W/m2 relief for northern Sweden.

    What I can’t help but see here is a preemptive campaign to discredit the Passive House Institute before any official announcement of changes. The political nature of the petition and its message is a strong-arm tactic that does not operate on consensus, nor addresses any of the adverse consequences that would result from it. Deligitimization of PHIUS’ plan has already began…we don’t even have to wait for it to come out, let alone let the market have a shot at it.

    An alternative method of voicing concerns through healthy dialogue would be more appropriate for the type of “unified” goal we have in mind.

    Jesse Thomas
    Port Townsend, WA

  5. Thanks for everyone’s well-thought and passion participation in this dialogue, I really appreciate, where appropriate, the positive nature of this discussion. Together, whether we like it or not, we are shaping the future of low load building in the United States, not just Passive Houses.

    I’d like to agree with Jesse’s point that PHIUS’ changes are about flexibility not relaxation of the standard. In the interest of greater implementation of Passive House projects we need to make the standard practical for as many climates as possible.

    The concept that one standard works in Miami as well as it does in Fairbanks is counterintuitive and speaks to a lack of sophistication that I am uncomfortable with.

    For instance, relaxing the heat load or total primary energy standard for very high latitude climates is a practical way to encourage Passive House construction in those climates. This can be balanced by a more rigorous requirement for climates where the heat load and primary energy can be tightened. At the same time, flexibility allows us to address specific conditions in high latent load climates, which is a blind spot in present PH modeling. All towards increasing the implementation rate of PH building.

    I firmly believe that it is in the best interest of everyone to use Passive House as an umbrella concept that provides the framework in which we discuss the minor technicalities of PH and low load buildings.

    The idea that a unified PH standard exists across the planet is not entirely correct. In practical implementation PH has been regionally tweaked in ways to increase the rate of adoption, therefore serving the greater good. This emphasis on diversity reflects a more realistic picture of the low-load and sustainable building landscape.

    PHIUS+ provides a clear path to the implementation of PH in the US because it satisfies industry and government’s need for independent 3rd party verification (QA, QC). If you build PH, call it PH. If it’s a PH that is certified by PHIUS and therefore called carries the PHIUS+ certification, call it PH.

    If you build a PH that is certified by the PHI, call it a PH.

    According to PH leadership in Europe, if you build a PH that doesn’t quite meet the basic standard but comes close, call it PH, just publish the actual results. It won’t have a certification, but still call it a passive house. That way we have more of them.

    Pick your poison, but we are all headed for the exact same tiny spot on the horizon.


    Sam Hagerman

  6. Even today, PHIUS itself recognizes and upholds the specificity of the Passive House standard and its criteria as maintained by the Passive House Institute. As the PHAUS website, before enumerating the PHI performance criteria, explains: “Passive House is both a building energy performance standard and a set of design and construction principles used to achieve that standard. The Passive House standard is the most stringent building energy standard in the world…”. In a recent public letter, after enumerating the PHI’s criteria, PHIUS stated that “The beauty of the standard is that it is clear-cut. A building performs to these standards, or it does not.”

    Buildings constructed under PHIUS’s less stringent requirements will not perform to the Passive House standard.

    In an abrupt about face, last week the Klingenblog proclaimed that “Passive house is a generic term” and went on to abandon PHIUS’s convention of referring to Passive House as a proper noun. This new position seems self serving for a Passive House certifying agency seeking to transform itself into an independent standards organization.

    As the Swiss have demonstrated with Minergie, there is room in the world for more than one energy standard. If it’s a Passive House, call it a Passive House. If it’s a PHIUS+ building, call it a PHIUS+ building. What is PHIUS’s objection to allowing its standard to succeed on its own merit?

    • >What is PHIUS’s objection to allowing its standard to succeed on its own merit?
      I am not certain what PHIUS’s objection may be, but who owns the term, and what gremium or body can be applied to for a proposal for change? And there have been single-handed changes over time. Passive House is not a religious belief, and as such, it needs to be agreed upon what is is. There is, unfortunately, no forum to do so. There are rules you may abite by – and just to make it clear: I abite by them as they stand – but nothing very rigid will withstand the test of time. I propose to spread the ownership of the term on a much broader basis, and have a proper gremium defining it. Personally, I do not see much need for change, but am of the view that it is always better to include the wisdom of many in decisionmaking.

      What I am struggling with is the rationale of rules being too strict to allow for greater volumes of houses being built that way, due to economic hardship. The economy of energy efficiency is constantly in flux; higher requirements have continually led to dropping of specific cost, thus lowering requirements is not warranted for improving the affordability of PH. There may be physical reasons for reconsidering things, though.
      The so called “small house” penalty is no such thing, in my view, as it simply is smarter to build attached units – though some people may prefer indefinite sprawl. That these people continue at a higher the cost for a better performing building envelope is fine by me.

      • Kara,

        Really good to hear from you! It has been a while. This discussion and of course your always valued very clear eyed opinions reminds me of a few conversations from a very long time ago which I enjoyed very much.

        It might be time to revisit our idea from way back when you suggested an international council on all things passive where participating organizations have equal rights to discuss, bring forward, propose and vote in a democratic manner on these issues that are vital to all of us, vital to our survival on this planet. Jens Laustsen was heading a few panel discussions with government agency representatives, other non-profit organizations and passive house professionals from different countries during our last National US Passive House conference in Silver Spring. The consensus then was, that that is what is needed and wanted. He said he was going to work on it. I’ll ask him, if he has time, to chime in here.


  7. Kara, it’s good to hear from New Zealand! I think a lot of us agree with you; technologies are expected to improve and evolve, and Passive House will probably not be the end of the road. If an altered standard is wanted, there are two choices: lobby the Passive House Institute, the administrator of the PH standard; or develop/choose a competing standard. The Swiss took the latter route with Minergie.

    Some context might be helpful: Like Passive House Northwest or the Passive House Academy, PHIUS is a non-profit corporation. Though their activities may be wider, these kinds of organizations are registered by individual U.S. states. PHIUS is one of a number of Passive House certifying agencies offering services in here. Others include the Passive House Academy, CanPHI, and the PHI itself. At one time, PHIUS was a PHI-licensed certifier, but that accreditation has been revoked. A public letter from the PHI alleged “Evidence of PHIUS’ certification of Passive House buildings without the requisite documentation….” and that “PHIUS has infringed upon PHI’s copyright of the PHPP software….”. PHIUS is now in the unique position of competing as the only non-PHI-recognized Passive House certifier active in North America. For some, this has delegitimized PHIUS and its certification program. PHIUS now indicates a desire to transform itself from an unaccredited certifying agency to a standards organization. PHIUS has the right to recreate themselves. What many people disapprove of is the idea of PHIUS appropriating the name of the Passive House standard, with which they intend to compete, in order to promote their own standard. Such a move would not only create confusion and controversy, it could be perceived by some as unbusinesslike and unprofessional. It could also risk marginalizing the PHIUS standard as “not the real thing”.

  8. In your opinion: who at PHI needs to be approached for proposing any changes to thresholds? Is there a standards committee with independent members? Are there any organisational structures in this regard? I fail to identify any. In the absence this approach, I find it unsurprising that there is rebellion. While the Swedish rebellion was rather quiet, the US rebellion is not – hence it gets the attention. I do agree this creates confusion, and is an undesirable situation.

    I still find PHI’s allegations you reiterate unsubstantiated; I am not saying they are untrue – but I have not seen any evidence of their veracity; it’s mostly a he said- she said situation, and: in the absence of evidence, looks a lot like bullying. The consequences of this were devastating for the fabric of the worldwide PH movement. How could this happen? I my view: due to a lack of proper structures and processes on the German side. “Institut” suggests an organisation – yet PHI is operating as a sole trader, owned by a single person. With structures I refer to committees or panels for evolving the standard; with processes I refer to mediation.

    One last word: Minergie was introduced long before PH as a standard took off. You are probably referring to Minergie P? Ask anyone in Switzerland what the “P” stands for …

  9. Response to Kara Rosemeier:

    I don’t know who at PHI would be best to approach about their standard.

    I am sure that different people have different opinions on the reasons for the PHI/PHIUS split. In my experience, such things are rarely black and white.

    I was referring to Minergie generally, as a family of performance standards. As I understand it, Minergie P is that program’s equivalent to Passive House. I think most everyone considers Minergie P buildings, by virtue of their compliance with the PHI’s Passive House criteria, to be Passive House buildings. Similarly, the performance criteria of PHIUS’s current certification program match the PHI’s for Passive House. With the possible exception of a single controversial case, because they comply with the Passive House standard, I think most people rightfully regard current PHIUS certified buildings as Passive Houses. Although a lot of people are very rigorous about Passive House compliance, certificate or not, I think a lot of people are not as concerned with the minutia of compliance. The current controversy arose from the PHIUS plan to promote a declaredly different and more lenient standard using the PHI’s Passive House name.

    What are the drawbacks to letting the new PHIUS standard stand on its own merit?

  10. >What are the drawbacks to letting the new PHIUS standard stand on its own merit?

    The one drawback I see is conceding sovereignty of definition of PH to one man in Germany. I’d be more than happy to have a debate on what are the non-negotiables and where is the local wiggle room – yet there is no forum for this. I am very happy to bow to the considered view of a legitimate panel – but there is none. You and I don’t know whom to approach for this at PHI, as everyone but one person there is an employee – structures for consultation or reflection are not in place. So: everyone having issues with some aspects of the current definition (there were prior incarnations) needs to come up with their own label? This seems odd, and like an unnecessary splintering of forces. I would rather see an integrative approach. This requires a dialogue. But with whom?

  11. Kat,
    Thank you for clarifying the PHIUS approach. What really excited me about PH when I first learned of it was that I could make my buildings climate and site adapted from the beginning of architectural design. Clearly PHIUS’ experience in reviewing projects from Louisiana to Minnesota and Alaska has shown that the tools and approach need to recognize climate extremes beyond just the climate file itself. As such, the work PHIUS is doing can offer a path to an audience far beyond North America. I really don’t care about the label and branding nearly as much as I care about (and deeply appreciate) the work PHIUS is doing to answer the critiques of our native building scientists, work that will make this building standard more robust and applicable world wide.

  12. Response to Kara Rosemeier

    Minergie: I stand corrected; Minergie P is a more lenient standard; Minergie P buildings are not Passive House buildings.

    Democracy: Is your organization, Passive House Institute New Zealand, a PHI licensee? I get the frustration. I’m not here to apologize for the PHI. I don’t claim that it’s a democratic organization. I’m also am not claiming that their standard is superior to what PHIUS has in mind; I encourage PHIUS in their ambition to innovate and create their own, competing standard.

    Before establishing my practice, I was part of a well regarded, international firm. It would have been easier if I could have assumed its name, good will, and reputation. But it would have been wrong.

    How is it okay for PHIUS to refer to its program using the name of an established, competing standard?

  13. Hayden:

    again, my clear preference would be to have only one standard for Passive Houses -yet, there is already a multitude of them (Belgium has another deviating incarnation). I would very much welcome a dialogue to bridge the differences, as it is nonsensical to have the movement splintered – oddly reminding me of some scenes in The Life of Brian.

    I do however find it unsurprising that these keep popping up. Ownership comes with responsibility, and without responsibility becomes contestable.


  14. >How is it okay for PHIUS to refer to its program using the name of an established, competing standard?
    Because PHIUS is responsible for establishing the name in the US.

    In my interpretation, the 30 kWh/m2 is the “energy performance value,” the sum of primary energy for heating, ventilation, and hot water. So I suppose it is very close to PH. It is also important to note that the Swiss use gross floor area.

    …Thank you Kara, for addressing the issue of centralized power head on.

    • Jesse,

      There is a lesson to be learned from the regional adaptation of the PH standard that the swiss have performed. As I understand it it grew out of similar problems that we are facing here in the US. The pre PH existing Swiss energy metrics and low energy standard thresholds typically used a different conditioned floor area as reference – as you point out the gross floor area. The Swiss decided to not to cause confusion with those existing programs in their local context and decided to use the same reference area for their Minergie-P standard which makes a lot of sense. Now they could compare – apples to apples – the governing PH metric to other existing Swiss standards.

      Here in the US we have the unfortunate situation that we started out introducing PH using the reference area TFA based on the German “Wohnflaechenverordnung”, which, if you look at it, makes no sense whatsoever in the North American context. It is another arbitrary assumption over here (it made sense in the German context). It complicates things for us over here. Now we end up with a PH metric that is not directly comparable to other programs, standards and existing low energy thresholds and people don’t understand these intricacies of the calculations, which leads to incorrect apples to oranges comparisons, misunderstandings, and underestimation of how good PH really is.

      The harmonization of the energy metric reference area performed by Minergie-P with the existing convention in their context leads to roughly 10 kWh/sqm yr PH baseline instead of 15 if I understand this correctly. It reflects a similar difference of the PH metric here in the US and if you want to compare it to conventional energy calculations using exterior dimensions of a building as reference area, then you get a similar difference of roughly 30% to the German way of doing it. Converting the PH metric to US conventional energy modeling language results in a similar value as the Swiss arrived at, roughly 10 kWh/sqm yr.

      This all really only points out that there need to be guidelines, lessons learned and sharing amongst folks who have significant experience of transferring the European PH experience into different local contexts and countries. Its not straight forward and certainly not a 1:1 experience. I think the evidence from different countries struggling with this is apparent.

      That said, it is not that hard either, if we just had this international council for sharing and learning from all equal partners at the table interested in moving this forward in good faith we could all agree on a common approach that makes sense in most contexts with certain local deviations…its not the physics that are failing us as an international community, its the politics.

  15. >Because PHIUS is responsible for establishing the name in the US.

    Sorry, Jesse – I feel this is just as weak a legitimisation for ownership of a term as the claims other people make to it.

    There certainly was ground breaking work by Wolfgang Feist, but since then, and particularly in the international context, the evolution of Passive House has become a collaborative effort. As I understand it, this is the same in the US – there is no ownership of the term, despite occasional attempts to lock it in with registration. This is how it should be. There are established frameworks of how to work collaboratively in open systems. The Open Source community is an excellent example. And Linus Torvalds is a great example of how you can come up with a fantastic idea – a new operating system: Linux – and let it grow up as an open system in the hands of many without micromanaging its evolution.
    With all sympathy for why PHIUS believes the contrary: PHIUS certainly does not own the right to define what a Passive House is. I cannot see any legitimation for this stemming from local specifics or anything else.

    • Kara,

      Actually, we don’t believe that. Some folks in the US have a vested interest in
      portraying it that way…We would like to advocate (see posts
      previous) for real international collaboration based on democratic
      decision making.

      I do like to say though seeing merit in Jesse’s sentiment, based on
      our longstanding work in the field (since 2002), I feel we rightfully so deserve a
      seat at the table.

      • Kat: if PHIUS doesn’t own Passive House – would you say this extends to all aspects of it, nationally and internationally? I am asking because tracking down some forums, it seems that PHIUS was making attempts to fence a couple of things in – but this may be constructed, in which case I was very interested in your point of view.

        Seat at the table: certainly!

        • Kara,

          Yes, constructed. Politics, power, PR. It is unfortunate, very!

          We have continued to bring PHIUS up on a shoestring since 2003, when only a few people in the US were remotely interested in PH if at all. We created the market since with all those along the way who started chiming in. A few people put their livelyhoods behind this to finance the effort (donating salaries and time and such). With time, persistence and continued growth we were able to put the resources from CPHC training back into development and support of the community over the past years. We financed the Passive House Alliance and with it the benefits for members to support a growing professional community in their quest to make their businesses work, sharing of the latest knowledge etc. during our annual conferences, which by the way is continuously and very quickly growing right now. We are up to something like 15 chapters around the country with more in the pipeline.

          We have finally been able to add committees this past year that actually, at least on the US level do what we are discussing here, form a democratic forum of those who are currently most experienced in this North American context of applying PH and have a stake in the discussion.

          If we propose to investigate the standard and suggest improvements, then we imply that this will happen through discussion in the tech committee before anything is officially suggested. Then it goes out to the stakeholders for continued feedback and votes. That was spelled out clearly in the first blog post.

          The US is also unique worldwide in that the term “passive house” was coined here. Superinsulation had made its first successful run in the market in 1985. Then there were about 10,000 superinsulated homes reported in the US and Canada. Political changes extinguished those efforts. And those homes were, as described in the early publications from back then exactly as you would describe today a modern passive house. I just received another publicaton today from the early 80’s. It is truly amazing, it is almost an exact carbon copy not just similar. Granted, they had no computer modeling available to them to optimize as well as we can now, but man, they did an excellent job without it. So there is an existing inherent ownership in the scientific principle of passive house, as it truly was pioneered here and lifted out of the crib.

          Passive house is solidly in the public domain in North America. Nobody owns it, the term has been around a long time, it is a building science principle, free for everyone to use and for us as a democratic group of practitioners to improve upon in an open discussion.

    • PHIUS’s sudden emphasis on the public-domain nature of Passive House feels like an abrupt about face. During a Passive House Alliance board meeting in 2010, I understood the PHIUS executive director to say that Passive House was a U.S. trademark owned by Wolfgang Feist. I further understood her to explain that enforcement of the trademark will be at the discretion of PHIUS, that Passive House Northwest could be subject to legal action for trademark infringement, and that it was PHIUS’s intention that all organizations using the phrase “passive house” adopt standardized names, affiliate themselves with PHIUS’s Passive House Alliance, and subject themselves to the terms of a PHIUS/PHA agreement. In a follow-up email, the president of PHIUS explained that: “Regarding the usage of the term “Passive House”. This term is held privately by Dr. Feist. He has asked PHIUS to protect that term from abuse. Passive House NW does not seem like an organization that is abusing this term, on the contrary, it appears to be a good, smart organization that deserves to be supported. It is important for them to know that they might want to be careful of what they name their organization though because the term “Passive House” is owned by others. This is just common sense, not a threat.”

      PHIUS formerly held an apparent monopoly on Passive House training and certification in North America. Is PHIUS’s changed opinion on Passive House related to its new, marginalized status as the only non-accredited licensing agency among many offering certification and training here?

  16. One more thing, that went under in the discussion of ownership of terms, thus to re-iterate: in my sky, neither the economic nor the small house penalty argument fly. I do not see the need for changing anything on these grounds. It would still be nice to have a proper forum to discuss this in depth and with authority.

    • Passivhuscentrum’s variation of PH addresses the small house penalty. I’m assuming their justification for this is that they are working in the Swedish climatic/economic environment and see what is feasible. But it would be interesting to hear their thoughts on this.

      When I was in Alingsas, they told me that PHI wasn’t happy about the small house waiver and that they were currently in “talks” with PHI about a single standarization. I don’t know if anything has come out of that.

      Like Kara, I appreciate that PH encourages you to share your neighbor’s wall. But in the US, this sentiment is not playing out. Underwriting for small Multi-family buildings almost dissapeared during the recession. [Bamberger, Lori, “Scaling the Nationwide Energy Retrofit of Affordable Multifamily Housing: Innovations and Policy Recommendations,” What Works Collaborative, Dec. 2010.] An effect we are witnessing is for clients to “push the envelope” just for certification. Whereas a small house relief might encourage some to pull back, below a certain thresshold. Maybe this is not the realm of PH, but it is at least worth exploring in the American context.

      An international treaty on PH would satisfy alot of viewpoints. Let’s hope that certain Institutes show up at the table.

  17. Response to Jesse Thomas, re: How is it okay for PHIUS to refer to its program using the name of an established, competing standard? Because PHIUS is responsible for establishing the name in the US.

    The claim seems exaggerated. Passive House was not introduced to the Pacific Northwest by PHIUS. And Nabih Tahan was popularizing Passive House in California long before the arrival of PHIUS. Katrin herself points out that Passive House was used in the Midwest long before she came to this country.

    For me, your earlier explanations that, if PHIUS didn’t call its program Passive House, they would “have to rebuild their reputation”, and that PHIUS-trained consultants (like you and me) who join the petition against PHIUS’s plan “are signing their death wish” resonate more authentically.

    As you seem to suggest, isn’t all this simply an attempt to appropriate the reputation and respect associated with a prestigious standard in order to promote the PHIUS program?

    • Well put. I suppose I am guilty of hyperbole as much as anyone. If I were to reframe my response, I would say that if any single organization is qualified to use the name Passive House and alter its parameters in the US, it is PHIUS, for its predominant role in establishing the Passive House market here.

  18. Jesse,

    we have the same situation here: banks are reluctant to lend money to multi-unit projects, as apparently their resale value is questionable. This can be substantiated with poor returns of heaps of grotty shoebox apartment towers that popped up like pimples all over the country. However: if you look at a small number of well designed multi-unit residences – they are in huge demand. Yet: the situation is as it is, and there is a difficulty to get finance for anything but standalone detached houses one a quarter acre section. The question for me is whether we should glorify these further with a more easily obtained certificate for energy efficiency. My vote clearly is: no way!
    Witless people will come up with the idea of enlarging the TFA for the purpose of obtaining PH certification, solely. I am not sure how to prevent this, but designers and certifiers should make it clear that this is just plain silly, as it is costing more to build, maintain and condition the needlessly created spaces, and that the money is far better invested in a more efficient thermal envelope.

  19. Hayden,

    who’s introduced what where is of no interest to me in answering your question. No one established anything anywhere in isolation. The PHI Passive House standard would not be well introduced internationally without people like Kat. This, in my view, does not give her or PHIUS a right to the standard. But nor does it give anyone else the right to say what is and what isn’t covered.

    Already people all over the world take different things to mean Passive House, as previously established. Which of these deviations is the prestigious standard that no one may use, and based on what reasoning? Note: there are no >30,000 certified PH to the PHI definition, and adding up all other PH variants may in fact yield a majority of PH built to other specifications.
    While I do believe that people can live with Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola, I would much rather only have one standard with the name. To have only one, we need a dialogue embedded in a democratic framework.

  20. Hayden,

    It was actually a little different. You might not be aware.

    Nabih was still living in Austria, where he had come across PH and was thinking about moving back to the States when he contacted me from over there. Mike Kernagis and myself then traveled out to San Francisco when he finally arrived back in town for our first meeting in 2005. We met in his still unrenovated house where he told us about his plans to turn his house into a first PH retrofit in California. We at e-co lab (former name of PHIUS and founded in 2003 offering passive house consulting and construction from then on) helped him with his project initially and did the PHPP calculations for him. We were there in support to help generate interest for the very first meeting at his newly renovated house to create interest for a California PH group and held the first Certified Passive House Consultant class in Berkeley in 2009, second one in 2010…

    Those of you in the NW who attended, might recall the presentation that I gave at a local library close to Seattle to members of the Eco Building Guild. Was it 2008? This was meant to help create interest in the NW for PH and possibly classes down the road. 100 people came, we still have pictures of some folks climbing in through the windows of the library room which we presented in, it was packed. It was a great event.

    Very first Certified Passive House Consultant class followed in Seattle in 2009 at the IDL: there were 28 or so people in that class. The second one during the following year had 32. And then a third one…parallel same size classes in Portland.

    Would PH in the NW and for that matter in all the other regions that are now thriving like Boston and NYC be where they are now without our classes? We trained a total of over 700 people all over the country since we started in 2008. You judge for yourself. In my mind that is a serious track record. Successful uptake starts with the skilled designer.

    There seems to be a clear correlation between successful instruction and uptake in realized high quality PH buildings in those regions which in my mind only speaks for our CPHC classes! It is a success story.

    • Katrin,

      We may disagree on a few specifics, but you have done much to promote Passive House and are to be thanked. However, that does not mean that PHIUS is incapable of mistakes.

      The high-performance building community in the U.S. thrives in its current state of cohesive diversity. Plus Energy, Net-Zero, Passive House, Active House, Pretty-Good House, 10-20-40-60, Minergie – there are plenty of available programs coexisting in honest, usually friendly, even cooperative competition. There is room for PHIUS. But a second, PHIUS-specific definition of Passive House would be divisive. It would also confuse prospective clients and result in decreased differentiation, effectively diminishing the public’s choice.

      I urge you to call PHIUS buildings PHIUS buildings, Passive House buildings Passive House buildings, and let PHIUS’s standard compete directly, under its own merits. Please.

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