Passive House New England Symposium review

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Passive House New England Symposium
Saturday, October 27th I went to the Passive House New England Symposium to see what’s what so to speak. I came a way with lots of good information about where to take my own practice, where the state of the art in building science is at, currently, in New England, who is involved with Passive House, how Passive House technology is being used and what my next steps as an architect will be.

Update November 12: Martin Holladay’s review on Green Building Advisor

Passive House is a performance based standard of energy use in a building. It really is the gold standard and very hard to achieve. It goes far beyond current energy codes but represents where most (residential at least) energy codes will be within 20 years. It focuses on measurable standard of quality, high levels of air-tightness and high levels of insulation – and there is a very big focus on air quality. In these areas it goes much more to the heart of the matter than LEED and most of the other “green building” certification programs. All these issues are worked out in the planning phase with the Passive house planning software (PHPP) along with other geeky software programs and verified during the construction process with multiple blower door tests, for instance. The end result is not necessarily a more expensive building, especially when you add in a few years worth of fuel costs that you won’t have. I like the simplicity of the approach.

This is from Passive House New England:
Passive House is the world’s leading standard for energy efficient construction. It combines building enclosure efficiency and passive solar strategies in a system for designing and building cost effective, comfortable, energy efficient buildings. In the New England climate, the major components are:
Super-insulated envelope
Ultra-high-performance windows
Eliminating or reducing thermal bridging
Airtight construction (0.6 ACH@50Pascals)*
Heat-recovery ventilation
Using passive heat sources (solar of course, but also equipment, lighting, and occupants).

The roots of Passive house were in the United states in the 70′s with all the “Mother Earth News” folks. Lots of mistakes were made back then but the Germans took notice and carried it forward. This is passive solar perfected.

The Conference was a who’s who of leaders in the green building field which was encouraging and lent legitimacy to the passive house concept. The level of discussion was exactly what I had hoped for. There was real criticism about the place of Passive house principles in single family housing. So often these types of events can be just a bunch of like minded Architects wearing black and stroking each others egos. It seems that the real value of passive house is holding it as the gold standard which may not be achieved on every project and that’s okay. The whole passive house approach is based on sound building science and simplicity. So often, green building is all about gadgetry – if you read and believe the magazines. The passive house approach is more about simplifying. If the Shakers were still building, they would be building passive Houses! The passive house standard is actually rather arbitrary. The whole idea is to be able to make financial decisions based on sound science. The standard is often used to reach a point where the heating system of a building can be achieved with a mini-split heat pump – which can also provide cooling. Once you eliminate the boiler, radiant floor heating etc., you’re golden! Money saved!! Score one for simplicity.

Many of the projects we went through in the presentations were not actually up to the Passive house standard. But Passive House principles and the actual software (PHPP) were used to inform the decision making process in the design phase of all these projects. It was great to see the care and concern of builders and architects – and developers in creating such high quality projects. Passive House is not just about levels of insulation, it is really all about measurable, verifiable quality.

Getting back to my own practice, I intend to go through the passive house training – nine days of classes and an exam which will result in my become a certified passive house consultant and designer. This will allow me to offer a higher level of service to my clients, create better projects, be a part of a great community, and generally stay at the highest and farthest to the right end of the curve. I’m feeling very good about things right now.

Toward the end of the day Marc Rosenbaum of Energysmiths (and one of the aforementioned gurus) made a “plea for beauty” which was a nice to hear. (That’s where I come in)

5 Comments

  1. Do you think the mini-heat pump is an option for us in our SIP house and ‘already installed’ HRV? Sounds good on paper…

  2. It would be a good option as your primary heat source is a wood stove. Your heat loads are not low enough for a heat pump to keep you warm alone but it would do well when you go away and don’t need the house to stay at 70 degrees. However, you have radiant heat tubes cast into the basement concrete so why not hook those up to a cheap electric water heater? ou could add a small loop under the kitchen area as well.

  3. You may want to look into the a Daikin Altherma, which is also a heat pump but is air to water vs. air to air.

    The electric water heater is a COP of 1.
    These heat pumps are three times more efficient.

    best of luck with your project
    TJ

  4. PS: I also enjoyed the Passive House Workshop and was touched that Marc made a plea for beauty, as many of these designs are a box.

    I don’t think a little style and common sense is that expensive, how about a covered entry and mudroom, screen porch and outdoor room? Add some style, but make the rooms smaller and have them do double duty.
    Oh yeah, you don’t really need an open fireplace and glass wall. Especially with the triple pane window pricing!

  5. Pingback: Passivhaus Practitioners Share Their Success Stories | SeattleWindowsAndDoors.com

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