"Green Tax Credits"

I just came across this article on CNN, which I find worth reposting. CNN asked readers to tell President Obama what they think needs to happen under his administration. This article is called “Green Tax Credits” and it deals with an issue that is brought to my doorstep all-too-often these days. Many people agree that improving their home is important and they are willing to do the work, but they don’t know how to afford the initial cost of construction. I believe that the idea submitted by Tom Julian is great and hope to see some of it turn into reality under President Obama. 

Here is the link. And here is a clipping of the actual letter as published by CNN:

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Pioneer Press publishes Editorial on Passive House

In the latest weekend edition of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, it published an editorial on Passive House. Please click to read the complete article titled “A case for active government on passive houses”

My Comments: I agree that some light-handed legislation can help get standards like Passive House under way. Ultimately, I believe that Passive House produces enough return on investment to be attractive to building owners. One of the key aspects of Passive House is its future-proof design. I believe that it is not a matter of if we will see another energy crisis or price hike, but rather when it will happen. Passive House is the best standard available today to help insulate building owners from the impact of such developments. In cold climates, survivability is another important factor. I encourage anyone to shut off their heat for a brief period of time on a cold winter day and watch the rate at which the interior temperature drops. Ultimately, I think most people will agree that in freezing temperature, the building will freeze too. Passive Houses are built to retain energy. The rely on the sun for part of their heating load. As a result, they typically do not freeze, even when unoccupied and unheated—creating a highly survivable structure for its inhabitants.

I would also like to stress some other advantages of Passive House design

  • Health—due to improved interior environmental quality
  • Comfort—due to continuous air-exchange, reduced noise pollution, as well as warm interior surfaces, which reduce radiant heat-loss potential (make you comfortably warm in your building)
  • Durability—due to quality construction and quality control, as well as third party testing
  • Reduced Carbon Footprint—due to its low energy consumption, which makes the use of renewable energy sources very attainable

Passive House’s energy savings potential is somewhat underestimated at 60% in the article. For existing buildings, and those built to code, savings can be in excess of 90%. Passive House is estimated to use about 60% less energy than today’s Energy Star (and therefore LEED) standards, which are not yet commonly applied to new construction.

The article does not talk in depth about retrofit projects. The energy savings potential for older structures is incredible. And while it may not be feasible or doable to convert any existing buildig into a Passive House, a Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit can be applied to any structure, utilizing Passive House principles and materials, to achieve energy reductions of up to 70% or more.

Please contact TE Studio for more information on Passive House and Deep Energy Reduction Retrofits.

New York Times Article on Passive House

Many of you alerted me to this recent NYT article on Passive House:

Passive House Economics

The economic principle behind Passive House is based on a concept by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute to reduce construction costs through energy efficient design.

By dramatically increasing the energy efficiency of a building, the mechanical system can be radically downsized to the point that the cost savings offset the efficiency investment. In other words, the lack of a boiler or furnace ends up paying for more insulation and better windows and doors.

This efficiency “sweet spot” is the basis for the Passive House performance standards and the key to its financial feasibility.

Source: Krapmeier & Drössler 2001

As always, I will maintain this article in the right hand side navigation bar on this blog.

How does a Passive House work? (Update)

I updated the “How does a Passive House work” page on the right hand side today. For your convenience, I posted the new contents below the break. As always, you can just click on the page in the right hand navigation column. Read more →

Energy Independence with Passive House

Passive House offers the potential for true energy independence. With its conservation first approach, Passive House minimizes the energy needs of a building very dramatically right up front. This reduction allows for smaller renewable energy systems like solar photo voltaic or solar thermal to become very effective. In most circumstances, a Passive House building can be designed and retrofit to meet these standards:

  • Net Zero Site Energy: A site ZEB (Zero Energy Building) produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the site
  • Zero Utility Bill: Produce enough energy on site to offset the cost of all utility bills
  • Net Zero Source Energy: A source ZEB produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the source. Source energy refers to the primary energy used to generate and deliver the energy to the site. To calculate a building’s total source energy, imported and exported energy is multiplied by the appropriate site-to-source conversion multipliers (to account for transmission losses)
  • Net Zero Energy Costs: In a cost ZEB, the amount of money the utility pays the building owner for the energy the building exports to the grid is at least equal to the amount the owner pays the utility for the energy services and energy used over the year
  • Net Zero Energy Emissions: A net-zero emissions building produces at least as much emissions-free renewable energy as it uses from emissions-producing energy sources. This is sometimes referred to as a carbon-neutral building
  • Carbon Offset and Net Positive Energy: A building offsets more CO2 than produced at the provider to deliver the energy consumed on site. It produces more energy than used at provider to deliver site energy. In this case, the building helps offset energy used elsewhere
All the above options offer a clear path to energy independence—both for the building, as well as society. An energy independent building is a true asset for an uncertain energy future. Imagine a home that pays you, rather than you having to pay for it.

Pat Murphy's Summary of the 3rd Annual North American Passive House Conference

Pat Murphy, the executive director of Community Solutions and author of Plan C, wrote a summary of the 3rd North American Passive House Conference this past November in Duluth.  Just a quick correction: The R-values that Pat talks about are based on his location in Yellow Springs. R-values for Passive Houses will vary locally based on climate conditions.

Today's event

“Passive House Building Standard and PHPP Energy Modeling”
Tuesday, December 9, 2008 – 12.30 PM to 2 PM (presentation and panel discussion)

MN ASHRAE Sustainability Seminar – Energy Modeling
Doubletree Hotel Minneapolis, Park Place
1500 Park Place Blvd
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Betti Iwanski, The Energy Conservatory, (612) 827-1117

Passive House designer visits Eagle Bluff

Here is a link to a newspaper article on my visit at Eagle Bluff a couple of weeks ago. It came out today thanks to writer Mary Whalen. I had a great time at Eagle Bluff where I also experienced a high-ropes course for the first time. Let’s just say, I will be more confident at the next job-site visit.

Passive House Remodel on ABC

A Passive House remodel project in California made the news on ABC. Find the article and video at this link.

TE Studio & Appleseed House on TC Daily Planet

Twin Cities Daily Planet published an article on TE Studio and the Appleseed House project. You can read the entire article at this link.

TE Studio Event Recap for this Week

This week, I will be speaking at three events around the Twin Cities. Please note that only one of them is a public event. All events are listed on the Lectures & Talks Page (Link on the right side of this page). To view this week’s events, please click for more information below. 
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Passiv Haus Lecture Date added

“Passiv Haus Vorlesung”
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 – 12.30 PM to 1.00 PM (30 minute lecture in German)

Germanic American Institute Saint Paul
Stammtisch – Senior Luncheon
301 Summit Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55102
(651) 222-7027

Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit! This is how TE Studio thinks about Remodeling Projects

Linda Wigington of Affordable Comfort, Inc. spoke at the recent 3rd North American Passive House Conference about something she calls “Deep Energy Reduction Retrofits”. A Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit project includes all the measures needed to cut 70%+ of a building’s energy consumption.

Most people in the sustainable building industry now agree that we need these kinds of energy goals in order to curb the energy use-related environmental pollution and CO2 emissions from the building sector significantly enough to achieve true sustainability.

Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit projects will typically include more insulation, better windows and doors, and likely a new or enhanced mechanical system. While that may seem like a lot, it can potentially be done without changing the layout or interior finishes much at all, therefore keeping cost to a minimum. If you start with a building that needs new siding and windows, you can essentially eliminate this cost from the deep energy retrofit budget, as it is part of the ongoing maintenance the building needs anyways. This is when Deep Energy Reduction is most affordable. In other words, you buy or own a house with obsolete mechanical system, shot siding (roofing) and windows, and you are in the optimal position to do an affordable Deep Energy Reduction Project. I am starting to advise people to consider this when purchasing a used home.

You may notice that I have not mentioned embodied energy, green building materials, or improved indoor environmental quality at all. It is my assumption that a best practice management approach goes along with any Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit project. The designer should be aware of both the energy consumption potential, as well as the necessary “greening” potential. I find that a lot of the discussion in the industry is still focused around what I call “surface greening”—meaning putting in more earth-friendly materials. In the greater scheme of things, and while this is a proper approach, green building materials and finishes alone cannot help overome the energy challenge we are facing today. It is therefore imperative to analyze each building’s potential, and put together a package that offers true sustainability and long-term value to the client. Anything short of that will likely result in a “sunk investment”, that will effectively prevent the current owner, or future owners from giving the building the make-over it needs to overcome energy obsolescence.

The duty of a building designer is not just to the client, it is also to the society as a whole.

Deep Energy Reduction Retrofits do not require Passive House standard. As a Passive House Consultant however, I will likely use tools and ideas derived from Passive House for your Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit project, which means that you will benefit from the knowledge of the arguably best building energy standard today, even if you are not building a house from scratch.