News

The Tragedy of Suburbia

I always meant to post this talk by James Howard Kunstler. As a “foreigner” in the U.S. I cannot help but observe certain differences from my native Germany and Europe as a whole, that really have a profound impact on day-to-day living here—especially in the Midwest. James makes a lot of points along those lines that I sympathize with. I encourage you to watch this lecture carefully. I believe that it is our responsibility as building designers, architects, and urban planners to better understand the human nature and human desires—then turn them into a built environment worth caring for, worth being proud of. I believe it is important for people to identify with their surroundings. As a result, we have the opportunity to create comfortable, efficient, and enjoyable space (indoors and outside) that will empower us, encourage us, and impact the environment less, while at the same time help define who we are and what we stand for.

(Please note, the talk contains some strong language that may not be appropriate for children)

Updated Passive House FAQ section

I updated the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of the TE Studio website. You may find it at: www.testudio.com/passive.html  Please click on FAQ at the top. I will also add that information as a page to this blog for your convenience.
 

Reactions to Passive House Talk

“Once again, your talk was great. You drew the largest crowd we have ever had. It is a popular subject that people want to learn about, and they should, as this is extremely important for the planet. Thanks for doing such a great job of conveying the information to us.”


Oram Miller, CreateHealthyHomes.com

 

“[…] I’m even more intrigued by the Passive House approach based on new information I learned from your talk. You are an effective presenter.  Again as I said last night I think you were in your element.”


J Chesnut, Studio 2030


 
“Hey, Tim.
Good job tonight! […]”


Samantha Strong, Metamorphosis Realty & Design/Build

 

“Tim,
I really enjoyed your presentation.  […] I got a good overall feeling for the intelligence behind the Passive House system.  […]”


David Washburn, Valcucine Kitchens

First Passive House Talk a Success

I’d like to thank all those who came to listen to my first talk about Passive House design and building standard here in the Twin Cities last night. I greatly enjoyed the discussion and appreciate the overwhelming amount of positive feedback.

To those of you who would like to see the last 6 slides that we did not get to, I posted them after the break. Read more →

Amory Lovins: We must win the oil endgame

This is already a few years old but Amory Lovins is just amazing at putting things into perspective. I believe, that we can make a similar case as he makes for automobiles and airplanes for buildings, and I secretly wish that I can one day point to a convincing lecture like this about Passive Houses versus existing and new construction buildings.

Reminder: Passive House Talk tonight

Just a quick reminder: I will giving a talk about Passive House Design tonight at 6.30PM, at the Ramsey County Library in Roseville on Hamline & County Road B, in the Community Meeting Room. I hope to see you there.

Upcoming Passive House talk in Roseville on 10/13/2008

I will be speaking at this month’s Mid-West Building Ecology Coalition meeting on Monday, October 13th, at the Ramsey County Library in Roseville (Northeast corner Hamline and County Road B, Community Meeting Room to the left as you enter the library. The library is one block south of Highway 36 on Hamline Road.)
The meeting starts at 6.30PM. My talk will focus on an introduction to the concept of Passive House design and the potential it holds.

The Mid-West Building Ecology Coalition is hosted by Oram Miller of Create Healthy Homes.

You may find other upcoming events on this page of my blog.

Passive House mentioned in Journal of Light Construction article

image source: JLC online

In the August 2008 issue, Journal of Light Construction published an article titled: Making the best of rising energy costs, by Paul Eldrenkamp. In his article, Paul talkes about different building standards, one of which is Passive House. Paul also addresses one of my biggest issues with “green” building — the leck of emphasis on energy! I could not agree more that we can do so much better in terms of performance of buildings.
While Energy Star and LEED offer a potential 25% reduction in energy consumption over code-construction, Passive House uses energy modeling and field-testing to deliver up to 90% reduced energy consumption for space conditioning, and a 75% reduction in overall source-energy consumption. All of this at a very small increase in day-one construction cost, which are easily offset in a very short amount of time, while creating real value, increased sale or resale prices, and up to 25% quicker sales. 
Passive House retrofits offer the potential of reducing energy consumption for space-conditioning by up to 80%. This is still much more than a LEED conversion would yield. Nevertheless, LEED can be a great partner, as many of its requirements compliment Passive House standard quite well.
So, enjoy Paul’s article and consider energy when looking at your next project, no matter what the type or budget may be. Improvements can be made at any step along the way. And the benefit is always yours.

Cradle to Cradle

I just got the audiobook version of Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The concept is extremely interesting and in anybody’s search of sustainability, it presents the ultimate concept of how to achieve it. William McDonough spoke at TED, which I frequently look at for excellent talks on all sorts of subjects, as a matter of fact, you can subscribe to TED’s talks in iTunes (as Podcasts) and receive all their available videos for free.

Green Collar Jobs

With all the conventions and political activity these days I hear a lot about green collar jobs. I would describe myself as having one of these green collar jobs, and I have even had people send their resumes to work with me in this green economy. Now we just need the economy to catch up with the green collars that are out here. So my political message of the day is: Read more →

More Passive House 101 Pages posted

Today, I posted a number of small text pages that highlight these areas of Passive House design in a nutshell:

The links will remain posted under the “Pages” menu item in the right-hand column of this blog. More information is also available on the TE Studio website.

Hawthorne Neighborhood approves cooperation with MinneAppleseed

In a unanimous vote at last night’s housing committee meeting, North Minneapolis’ Hawthorne neighborhood agreed to partner with MinneAppleseed to build a Passive House. The committee vowed to work with MinneAppleseed on the design. The next steps are now to find and secure a lot, and start design in earnest. This important step puts MinneAppleseed and the Appleseed House on track for a 2009 groundbreaking.
I would like to extend my thanks to the housing committee for being open-minded and embracing MinneAppleseed’s ideas for North Minneapolis. I look forward to working with them.

TE Studio adopts the Architecture 2030 Challenge

TE Studio today adopted the Architecture 2030 Challenge, further dedicating its services to avert a global climate crisis. Offering Passive House design, TE Studio can help meet the CO2 reduction goal for 2020 today! Using renewable energy sources, TE studio can also offer ZEB (zero energy building) as well as carbon-neutral buildings, today. For retrofits, we offer Passive House standard remodeling options that can help buildings achieve 2015 standards for new construction, today.

Synopsis (source: architecture 2030 website)

Buildings are the major source of demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases (GHG). Slowing the growth rate of GHG emissions and then reversing it over the next ten years is the key to keeping global warming under one degree centigrade (°C) above today’s level. It will require immediate action and a concerted global effort.
To accomplish this, Architecture 2030 has issued The 2030 °Challenge asking the global architecture and building community to adopt the following targets:
• All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil
fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.
• At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to
meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.
• The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings shall be increased to:
60% in 2010
70% in 2015
80% in 2020
90% in 2025
Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).
These targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power and/or purchasing (20% maximum) renewable energy and/or certified renewable energy credits.

New Pages for Lectures and Passive House Metrics added to Blog

I added a page for lectures and talks to the navigation menu on the right hand side, under Pages. In addition I created a page that holds all the metrics regarding Passive House design, as well as some recommendations, opportunities and links to resources. I thought it may be helpful to have it all in one place.

Space Conditioning Energy for the average U.S. home?

I was wondering if anyone had numbers on the space conditioning energy used in the average U.S. home today. I’ve heard numbers like 185kWH/m2 yr or 58,580 BTU/sf yr. I am also looking for numbers for residential electrical use per year and domestic hot water energy. It’d be nice to be able to make a general comparison between the built housing stock and Passive House standard to illustrate Passive House performance.

The Zero Energy Conundrum

Call me crazy, but I want to get this straight once and for all. Here is how I understand zero energy for a residential building. Please feel free to way in with comments.

Step 1) Zero Site Energy
energy produced on site = energy used on site

Step 2) Zero Energy (edit: Zero Source Energy)
energy produced on site = primary energy used at provider to produce site energy
(assuming all systems are grid-tied and all incoming energy comes from the grid, all outgoing energy goes to the grid)

Step 3) Carbon Neutrality or Zero CO2
energy produced on site offsets CO2 in the amount of CO2 used in primary energy production at provider to produce site energy
(assuming systems are grid-tied and all incoming energy comes from the grid, all outgoing energy goes to the grid)

In reality, I think the Zero Energy and Zero CO2 standards can be achieved without offsetting all theoretical primary energy and primary energy production CO2, since that amount of energy is never fully utilized from the provider—some part of it is directly produced and consumed on site.

Step 4) Carbon Offset & Net Positive Energy
enough energy is produced on site to offset additional carbon and add additional energy to the grid 

It appears to me that the only way to make a dent in energy consumption and CO2 production by buildings is to build a bunch of “Step 4” buildings. Feel free to disagree with me in the comment section. 

Passive House Indoor Air Dehumidification

I am currently working on a strategy for a dehumidification system for the Appleseed House in Minneapolis, MN. There are a few weeks out of any given year that make dehumidification a necessity. Most Minnesotans agree that the humidity is what makes July and August unpleasant, rather than the temperature. During the Passive House Consultant’s training I was able to spend some time with David White from Transsolar on the subject. We identified one strategy that uses a Thermastor UA-XT150H dehumidification machine (see image) that can be added to the airflow at those times of the year. In further discussion with Thermastor I learned that I actually have options on how to use their equipment. The original idea that David and I discussed was to utilize a ground-loop to run a water-cooled coil in the Thermastor machine. In this case, heat generated in the process would be deposited in the ground. A way to put that energy to better use would be to run a loop through a DHW storage tank. Alternatively, the machine could be run without the condensing coil inside, and simply exhaust to the exterior. Further investigation is needed to make the proper choice. I also learned from Thermastor that the machine David and I were looking at is likely oversized. Thermastor does offer smaller capacity units that may be more fitting for my particular application. The water-cooled coil is a special order version of the XT150H.

Air Leakage Nostalgia

Random ventilation (in addition to being extremely energy inefficient) provides ventilation in random amounts, at random times, from random locations, at random temperatures and of random quality. The amount of ventilation literally changes with the breeze and the seasons, in a manner completely unrelated to what is actually required. Relying on random ventilation is “gambling” with indoor air quality and your family’s health.
 “Tight” houses are never “too tight” but they have been often “under-ventilated.” “Tight” houses are the only houses which CAN be ventilated in a controlled manner. Leaky houses often leak so much air of questionable quality that a mechanical system is overwhelmed.

Bob Lutz on Global Warming and the Chevy Volt

I just had to repost this. Enjoy.

Passive House Remodeling

During this last session of Passive House Training I learned that 25-35kWh per square meter and year are acceptable, and respectable space-conditioning energy numbers for a remodeled building. At the same time, any other requirements like air-tightness do not differ from the original Passive House requirements. While a remodel that achieves 25-35 kWh per square meter and year does not pass PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) calculations, it is a substantial achievement and definitely a significant improvement over performance before the upgrade (potentially up to 80% and more energy saved).

The Passive House Institute has researched and shown, that there is tremendous value in retrofitting to Passive House standard. Adding Passive House insulation and achieving high air-tightness helps avoid condensation and due-points at the thermal bridges and inside wall assemblies, therefore protecting the existing structure far better than a lesser improvement. This also ensures healthier indoor environmental quality.

Sundial Siding

 

Here is  photo provided by fellow Passive House seminar attendee Paul Eldrenkamp. What you are looking at is the effect of sunlight bouncing off of the neighbor’s windows and creating a sundial-like pattern on the facade of this building. I am not sure what temperatures are needed to produce this kind of damage—I have seen damaged vinyl siding from barbeque grills that were placed too close to homes. Needless to say, I try to stay away from the product as I don’t feel that it is suited for a quality building.

Thermacal Exterior Insulation for Retrofits

A few years ago I was part of a couple of projects where we used Thermacal (Cornell Corp.) for exterior insulation on stick-framed retrofits (see image). The product comes in standard sheetgood sizes, with your choice of insulation layer and sheathing product. The image shows a 7-1/4″ polyurethane foam—3/4″ plywood panel that was used for the roof. The walls were clad with 4-1/4″ polyurethane foam—3/4″ plywood panels. Before, all overhangs were cut off and an air-tight layer was established on the former exterior sheathing layer of the building. Installation of the product is more difficult than installing just sheathing—fasteners (screws) are very long and need to be put into the framing members beyond. Joints need to be sealed. All-in-all this is not a cheap and easy task, but it provides a thermal-bridge free exterior insulation package with great R-value.

PHPP Shirt

No pun intended.

Air Intake

I have seen a great number of air-intakes for ventilation systems here in the US that all look alike: A duct protruding a wall; sometimes with a grille to keep debris out, sometimes cut at an angle or decorated to stand out as an architectural gesture. (FYI, the lip shown above in the image is the underside of an exterior metal window sill.)

Air Intake

Air Intake

 

During my visit to Germany I came across this intake, that also doubles as a filter for pollen and particles. I thought this was a neat idea and worth replicating, even if the design of the box could use a little bit of design attention. The filters in HRV or ERV machines are not really meant to take care of these pollutants and by the time they get to the equipment, they are already inside the duct-system. I have yet to locate a resource for such a product in the US—the model shown is made by a company named Paul in Germany. 

Filtered Air Intake

Filtered Air Intake

Contribute to my blog!

Just for your information, this blog is interactive and You can participate. Simply click on the “comment” button underneath a post to share your opinion, or contact me if you would like to author an article so I can set you up with a login. I welcome diverse opinions and articles focused around Passive Houses in the US, and anything that is loosely related (see CD of the month?!). So bloggers, fear not and unleash those comments and posts!

Passive House Seminar 3/3

I am in Urbana, IL this week to complete the third round of the first ever US Passive House seminar. At this point there is a core group of people that is going for certification. The conversations and discussions are exciting and inspiring. Today’s exercise actually revolved around the Waldsee Biohaus in Bemidji, MN. I have not been up there—unfortunately a trip with the MinneApplessed group had to be cancelled—but I have met with the architect Stefan Tanner to learn a little bit about its conception and construction. I am going to miss Urbana after this session, and the people that come here to become Passive House pioneers and make history 😉 Fortunately, some of them will come to Duluth in November, so that conversations and discussions can be continued and experience be shared. At this point it is only appropriate to thank Katrin Klingenberg and Mike Kernagis for their relentless effort to bring Passive House to the US and share their wisdom with those who will bring it to the masses.

3rd Annual North American Passive House Conference

I am all fired up after my trip to Germany and the studies of a few Passive Houses in the birthplace of Passive House design. Along those lines I don’t want to forget to mention that this year’s annual North American Passive House Conference is right around the corner. PHIUS (Passive House Institute US) is hosting the third annual conference right in our backyard, in Duluth, MN. Click on the image below for the conference website. I am signed up for the conference and tour, in case you would like to hook up with me up north. This is the place to be for everything Passive House in North America.

Passive House: Where the Whole is greater than the Sum of its Parts.

Passive Houses in Germany

I’m posting from Gotha (Germany) today. Over the course of the last two weeks I explored a couple of Passive Houses and carefully studied the latest and greatest strategies and details. The images below show a coupe of projects I toured, as well as one that caught my attention along the way. I look forward to implementing the recent experience into my current work.
 

AIA catching up to sustainability

I found this worth reposting since it is a new requirement for registered architects. I highly welcome it.

To demonstrate its commitment to sustainable design and the architects’ leadership role, the AIA Board of Directors modified the AIA member Continuing Education requirement to include four (4) hours of sustainable design continuing professional education as part of the existing 18 hour annual requirement. This sustainable design continuing education requirement goes into effect in calendar year 2009 through 2012.
(Excerpt from AIA knowledge net newsletter – September issue)

Energy Independence, not just through Hybrids please

During yesterday’s speech at the Democratic Convention, Brian Schweitzer (Governor of Montana) spoke at length about energy independence. If you strip the political messages out of it you can find some interesting remarks about energy and the future starting at about minute 5 of the video below. While hybrid cars take the spotlight as usual, I believe that retrofitting buildings, and sustainably engineering new ones holds a tremendous potential for energy savings that will likely have greater impact than the hybrids. At any rate, all efforts are welcome. To truly achieve energy independence, which also happens to solve the environmental crisis we are in as well as create an abundance of green-collar jobs and therefore fuel the economy, is a great goal that I fully support.

MinneAppleseed Blog live

The MinneAppleseed Blog went live today thanks to yours truly. It’s in its infancy yet and will likely grow around the group and the project. MinneAppleseed is the organization behind the Appleseed House, an affordable, LEED and MN GreenStar certified Passive House to be build in North Minneapolis in collaboration with the Hawthorne Neighborhood and Minnesota Green Communities.

Eco Village in North Minneapolis

I had the opportunity to tour the site of the North Minneapolis Eco Village in the Hawthorne neighborhood today. In lieu of a MinneAppleseed blog at this point I just want to post a link to the project on this website. This is one potential site for the Appleseed House.

What is primary energy?

Most energy sources’ embodied energy is diminished by the time it is delivered to and consumed in your home. For example, the energy that is embodied in a piece of coal that is used in a coal-fired power plant to generate electricity is roughly diminished by up to 70% by the time it reaches an electrical outlet in your home through inefficiencies both in the production of electricity and in the transmitting power grid. It is important to take this into account when making choices for what energy source to consider for a building. In terms of electricity, I can recommend Xcel’s wind-source program for the TwinCities, as it’s production does not produce carbon emissions. Nevertheless, transmission losses are an issue here as well. On-site solar photo-voltaic systems can be a great option to eliminate high primary energy use. The best solution will depend on the location and solar exposure of your building. 
In the Passive House calculations, primary energy is calculated using factors that describe inefficiencies and energy loss as opposed to just looking at the energy use in the building. Passive House standard limits this primary energy use to 31,700 BTUs per square foot of living space and year, or 120kWh per square meter and year in the metric system.

minneAppleseed website "planted"

minneAppleseed is the group of do-gooders behind the Appleseed House project. Their website just launched, though still with a coming-soon message on it. Keep an eye on it as it will be following the efforts surrounding the Appleseed House and the community efforts that “grow” around it.
MinneAppleseed Logo
I am a proud member of minneAppleseed.

U of M Building Foundations Research Program

A couple of days ago I attended an AIA breakfast seminar by speaker Louise Goldberg, Senior Research Associate and Director Building Physics and Foundations Research Programs at the College of Design, University of Minnesota—that is a mouth-full, I know. Louise has done extensive research in the field of wall-system performance, or in simpler terms, ways to keep the water out and the space-conditioning heat and cold in. Louise made a point of demonstrating a Universal Standard (that she proposes) versus MN Energy Code. In my opinion this is highly relevant research, and Louise offers practical solutions for exterior wind wash barriers, water separation planes, air barriers, vapor retarders and insulation—all with research data to back it up. If you want to get technical you can find one of her research reports at this address. I am meeting with Louise this month to discuss wall systems for Passive House designs. Louise is a Ph.D (Eng) and her company —Lofrango Engineering— offers consulting services.
A thing of interest for Passive House designers is the fact that Louise talked about the benefits of wood fiberboard sheathing for stud-wall construction, as well as structural 1.5″ OSB stacked wood wall panels. I have yet to find more info on these wall systems. I think that the U of M did research on developing a stacked wood wall system, so if anyone has a link to that, please comment. 

Optiwin Windows now available in the US

Peak Building Products out of Watertown, MN is now offering Optiwin windows from Germany. Thermally broken frames and heavy duty construction put them up there with the best windows in the world. Their products are Passive House certified by the Passive House Institute but their unmatched R-values of 10 and better make them a great choice for any type of construction in climate zones with above average heating or cooling loads. Optiwin also offers glazing options that allow for passive solar heat gains, which are desirable in heating climates such as Minnesota. Find out more at www.optiwin-usa.com, or at www.peakbp.net
Before I forget, Optiwin also makes a stunning entrance door called the “Frostkorken Door”. Again, the R-value performance is incredible. In recent calculations I found that the entrance door to an average size residence alone can have significant impact on the heat loss.

"Your Environmental Speed"

I have seen a lot of these “Your Speed” Police displays around the Twin Cities lately, and while I think that they are a good idea, I feel that we are in desperate need of displays that tell us what our “environmental speed” is. 

Police \

Now I know, some people think that we are scolding people by showing them how much gas their vehicle burns or how much CO2 comes out of the tail pipe. Nevertheless, how is one to conserve if he Read more →

Do I need to adopt the metric system to build a Passive House?

The Passive House standard was originally developed in Germany, inspired by American pioneers like Wayne Schick and William Shurcliff, who explored the idea of making extremely energy-efficient buildings in the late 1970s and early 80s. The standard is now widely accepted throughout Europe, following a pilot program called Cepheus (Cost Efficient Passive Houses as EUropean Standards) in 2000, and the Germans are looking to make it building code in 2020. The Passive House Institute in Germany is the official authority of the standard worldwide. It was co-founded in 1996 by Dr. Wolfgang Feist at the University of Darmstadt. In late 2007, the standard was introduced in the U.S. with the launch of the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS). Since the standard has its roots in Europe, all energy modeling is done in metric format. This does not mean that it conflicts with building codes or construction methods in the U.S., as the numbers can be converted to the American standard and back. The important number to remember here is 15kWh per square meter and year (4,750BTU per square foot and year), which means up to 90% less energy used for space conditioning, i.e. heating and cooling. 

Metro Hippie elaborates on Passive House

Josh Foss most recently posted a great article on Passive Houses on his Metro Hippie’s Green Design + Lifestyle blog. Check it out, watch his GreenPrints webisodes and pick up a stylish Metro Hippie T-Shirt while you are at it.