Lecture Reminder

Passive House Building Energy Standard
Tuesday, April 7 2009, 11.15 AM – 12.30 PM
Invitation by the Architecture and Ecology & Environmental Technology courses

U of M logo
University of Minnesota – Rapson Hall
89 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Earth Hour – lights off!

I was just alerted to Earth Hour, a WWF supported event that is coming up this Saturday. As a reader of my blog, you may want to participate and become part of Earth Hour.


You have successfully registered to turn out and take action for Earth Hour 2009. On March 28, 2009 at 8:30 p.m. local time, you will join hundreds of millions of people around the world in making a bold statement about climate change. By turning off your lights for one hour, Earth Hour, you will send a message that Americans care about this issue and stand with the rest of the world in finding solutions to the escalating climate crisis.

As a participant, there are several ways to ensure Earth Hour 2009 is a success. Earth Hour encourages individuals, educational institutions, organizations, businesses, and cities to sign up and participate. Spread the word by inviting them to join.

Take it a step further, and urge your elected officials to turn out the lights and take strong action to fight climate change.

One person committed to reducing energy consumption can make a difference, but millions working together can change the world. The Earth Hour Team will communicate with you to ensure you’re receiving up-to-date highlights and additional ways to make Earth Hour the most successful climate changing event in history.

Earth Hour 2009–WWF’s global climate change movement.

March 28, 2009 at 8:30 p.m. Turn out. Take action.

The Systems Approach

I just read a passage in ACI‘s “Moving Homes Toward Carbon Neutrality” whitepaper that I find to be a wonderful summary of the paradigm shift the building industry needs to accomplish. In my opinion designers, contractors and homeowners alike need to consider the building as a system in order to understand how to make significant and truly valuable improvements—not just in regards to energy.

In housing we have discovered that moisture and mold problems, combustion spillage, and indoor air pollution can only be addressed by the systems approach, whereas the component by component approach of old did not work. With all of these problems, the interactions between components of the house were very important, but were not always obvious when we looked at one component or area at a time. For example, while the moisture problem may have seemed worse in the bedroom of a sick child, it often started either outside or in the basement/crawl space. Combustion spillage problems in the utility room were sometimes caused by the powerful new kitchen range hood. Changing a natural draft furnace to a high-efficiency one, without introducing controlled, low-rate ventilation, often resulted in the build-up of pollution indoors that was worse than the occasional spillage problem from that furnace. All these were system problems and they were much more easily identified when the systems approach was used.

I encourage anybody who is thinking about remodeling to look at ACI’s whitepaper and consider the opportunities it highlights. A building is like a set of dominoes: tip the first one over and a whole bunch of others will start to fall also. Each component has an impact on other components. Together, they work in concert—creating a wonderful symphony, or a ghastly amount of noise. It is therefore of utmost importance to carefully and decisively create a retrofit composition that enhances the features as well as the performance of a building, and returns the favor with a Whole that is greater than the sum of its parts (okay, I borrowed that one from the last Passive House conference).

Beauty, delight, performance, efficiency: those are some of the things that fascinate me with buildings. Hence the company slogan: beautiful, resource-efficient buildings. The systems approach is key to success on these fronts.

Lecture Announcement—U of M

Passive House Building Energy Standard
Tuesday, April 7 2009, 11.15 AM – 12.30 PM
U of M logo
University of Minnesota – Rapson Hall
89 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

First Passive House Interest Group Meeting, Summary

Last Saturday, a group of people who are interested in Passive House gathered at the Red Stag Supperclub in Minneapolis to exchange thoughts, ask questions, and share visions. Fourteen guests joined host Tim Eian and special guest Stephan Tanner for a 2+ hour long event. The group was comprised of people who are interested in building a Passive House, educators, students and professionals.

Stephan and Tim shared the basics of Passive House design in a cold-climate. Stephan offered insight in some of the specific challenges of building the Biohaus in Bemidji, MN. He also covered many building design-related questions and talked about materials available in the U.S., while Tim answered questions about Passive House education through PHIUS (Passive House Institute U.S.) and ongoing work in his practice.

A great part of the discussion focused on similarities and differences between “standard” construction and Passive House design. Stephan offered the comparison of the 150 mpg car. He pointed out that while standard design and construction practices can yield incrementally higher performance utilizing existing paradigms, Passive House in a cold climate offers a leapfrog approach with extreme performance. At the same time, Stephan cautioned of a much smaller margin of error as well as the requirement for great attention to detail in both planning and execution.

As a group, we decided to collect thoughts and ideas following this first meeting to develop a schedule and agenda for future events.

I invite you to send your comments and thoughts to help with this process.

Event Reminder: PH Lecture at MN CEE today

Introduction to Passive House Building Energy Standard
Wednesday, February 25, 2009  11.30 AM
Center for Energy and Envrionment
212 3rd Avenue North, Suite 560
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: (612) 335-5858

This is not a public event!

Reminder: PH Interest Group Meeting

First Twin Cities Passive House Interest Group Meeting
Saturday, February 21, 2009  10 AM to Noon
Red Stag Supperclub
509 1st Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 767-7766

IT Public Lecture: Beyond Fossil Fools

Beyond Fossil Fools Lecture
The U of M recently published a lecture by Joe Shuster, the author of “Beyond Fossil Fools”. It is great to have these lectures in the public realm. While Passive House’s biggest concern is conservation, this is still a very interesting recording with a focus on energy. Please click this link to view the lecture.

First Twin Cities Passive House Interest Group Meeting

The first Twin Cities Passive House Interest Group Meeting will be held on Saturday, February 21, 2009  from 10 AM to Noon at the Red Stag Supperclub at 509 1st Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413. Please RSVP by 2/14/2009 to

Directions to the Red Stag Supperclub

Event Reminder: Talk at GAI tomorrow, Tuesday

“Passiv Haus Vorlesung”
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 – 11.30 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

Mark your calendar, Living Green Expo '09

TE Studio at the Living Green Expo
May 2-3, 2009: Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. / Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Living Green Expo Logo
Minnesota State Fair Grounds (Saint Paul)

Transatlantic Climate Bridge

Transatlantic Climate published a website dedicated to the Transatlantic Climate Bridge: “For decades, Americans and Europeans have joined forces successfully to address the key challenges facing us. Today, an opportunity exists to tackle the common challenge of climate change and energy security together in the form of the Transatlantic Climate Bridge.”

One subsection focuses on the potential of Passive House design. Please find the article using this link. The Transatlantic Climate Bridge website can be found at this link.

Updraft for Wind Energy

According to a news article from German, the U.S. are making headway in terms of the implementation of wind energy systems. Germany’s global share of wind technology exports is at 80%. A lot of German machines end up here in the U.S. Last year, according to the article, between 8,000 and 9,000 megawatts of capacity were installed in the U.S. German manufacturers expect this to increase yet again under President Obama.

"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:

Read more →

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. 
Read more →

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.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I was thinking that I should have another goal besides being thankful for our food crops this Thanksgiving. With an average of 3,500 calories per capita I am not too worried about our food supply these days (no pun intended). Therefore, I have decided that it would be a great day to be thankful for the Earth and the Sun, and all of their free gifts that make our lives possible. I am happy to take a chance here and sound cheesy, but I truly believe that we don’t think about these basics of life a whole lot and therefore, I will make an effort to commemorate them as part of my Thanksgiving weekend. I posted Nasa’s Earthrise image because to me it symbolizes the ability to look at ourselves, reflect, re-evaluate, and reconsider who we are and how we exist and live on planet Earth. So join me, if you would, in saying: thank you Earth, thank you Sun, thank you Universe for allowing us to exist. I also pledge to further reduce my environmental footprint as a goal for next Thanksgiving.

Plastics Recycling at Eastside Food Co-op

Eastside Food Co-op is offering a program in my community, that I feel is worth mentioning. While recycling is never as good as avoiding trash in the first place (similar to renewable energy versus energy conservation), this is still a great effort and me and my family try to make use of it as much as we can. I hope that eventually, manufacturers and distributors will understand that plastics are too valuable to throw away, and that they need to circulate (on a parts per million basis per Cradle to Cradle). In the meanwhile, I pledge to do my part to reduce the amount of stuff I buy, and carefully dispose of what I have to buy and need to throw away.

Plastics Recycling at Eastside Food Co-op:
Thursdays 3:30-7:30 and Saturdays 10-2
Read more →

ACI's 1000 Thousand Homes Challenge

ACI’s (Affordable Comfort Inc.) Linda Wigington was one of the speakers at the recent Passive House conference in Dutluth, MN. Her organization offers initiatives to improve the performance of homes. Linda introduced the crowd to what she calls “Deep Energy Reduction Retrofits”, an effort to help overcome the energy obsolescence of the existing housing stock in the U.S. To help with deep energy reduction retrofits and encourage people to start, ACI just launched the Thousand Homes Challenge. Take a look at ACI’s website. It is a great resource offering white papers and resources on how to do deep energy reduction retrofits.

Story of Stuff

For those who have not seen the story of stuff, here is a link: It is somewhat similar to what Cradle to Cradle describes. I enjoyed the animations and the straight forward comments by the author.

TE Studio ranked 4th Greenest Startup by Startup Nation

This just in, TE Studio has been ranked the 4th greenest startup for 2008 by Startup Nation.  Here is a link to the press release: 2008-hb100-winners-press-release

Please find the TE Studio listing on this website 

I am excited about the honors and like to thank Startup Nation and everybody who voted for TE Studio.  Being recognized as one of the nation’s greenest startups goes to show how convincing the idea of Passive House design is. 

I added a new page in the “Pages” menu on the right labeled “Press” where I will be aggregating these kinds of things.

Event Reminder: Eco Tuesday tonight!

I will be speaking at tonight’s Eco Tuesday meeting at Pizza Luce, downtown Minneapolis, at 7 PM. This is a Q & A style conversation about Passive House design. 
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 – 6.30 PM to 9.00 PM


Eco Tuesday
Pizza Luce Downtown Minneapolis
119 N 4th St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 333-7359


Last Minute Event Announcement

I was just invited to speak at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center this Saturday night, 11/15/2008. The talk will focus on an introduction to Passive House Design. Start time is 7 PM. Eagle Bluff is located outside of Lanesboro, MN. Directions.

Appleseed House one step closer to reality

During last night’s neighborhood board meeting, the Hawthorne neighborhood passed a motion to collaborate with the minneAppleseed Association on a passive solar house for the Eco Village. This is great progress and means that the Appleseed House Project is one step closer to reality.
I produced an Appleseed House Project flyer I made in case you would like to read up on the project. You can download it here. 2008-11-13_appleseed-flyer

Appleseed House Project Presentation to Hawthorne Neighborhood Board tomorrow, 11/13/2008

minneAppleseed will present the Appleseed House Project and building site research tomorrow, Thursday 11/13/2008, at the Hawthorne neighborhood board meeting. The meeting will be held at the community building at Farview Park, at the intersection of 29th and Lyndale Avenue North at 7 PM. Directions

Passive House Comparison Tool

Speaker Manfred Brausem from Cologne, Germany, demonstrated this handy little software tool during his conference session. There is a toggle button at the bottom to change it to English. I will try to find out if it can also look at gas prices, or if it uses the oil price to extrapolate gas prices, since natural gas is such a prevalent fuel source in MN.

Welcome to Duluth (Passive House Conference, Day 1)

Day 1:
We just arrived in Duluth and are taking in the view from our 3rd floor lakefront room.