by Tim Eian
12 years ago, I was working for a very creative design/build firm in Minneapolis. We officed out of a warehouse loft (read: the polar opposite of a Passive House), and practicing “cowboy green” architecture. What I mean by that is the approach of essentially shooting from the hip at energy efficiency and comfort measures.
In 2007, I heard about this Passive House conference that happened a place called the Waldsee Biohaus in 2006. I also knew the guy who designed it as he had been a client of my firm a couple of years prior. So I dug in and started to research Passive House and how we may be able to apply metrics and targeted measures in the US and in Minnesota. Much to my surprise, the building professionals surrounding me at the time did not find as much excitement in this scientific approach as I did—perhaps a function of the perceived stakes being higher than the status quo, and creativity and “surface-greening” being higher priorities than modeled energy performance, comfort and durable assemblies. I have come to know this attitude well in the years since, as it is still seemingly pervasive in our industry. I digress.
After a bit of research, I found a person who was looking at organizing the Passive House effort in the US, and we had a call. During that call I realized that we were at the very beginning, or perhaps even before the real beginning of Passive House in the US.
At this point, I remembered all of my building science and ecological construction classes back at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern—my alma mater. Passive House was mentioned a few times during those years—mostly in my building ecology classes and building science class, but most of the predominantly design-driven professors were also not too keen on this measurable stuff, that snake-oil that offered salvation by cutting that pesky Carbon out of the built environment; and also, the early years of high-performance architecture were littered with failures, but also with a huge learning curve—one that I was ready to tap all these years later.
I signed up for the first ever Passive House training in the US and found myself with 30, or 40 other misfits in a room, trying to get on top of things, on top of energy modeling with Excel, on top of building science, on top of math and calculations. I went back—2 more times (more than most who attended the first session), and I graduated that class with a certificate (that was not even the organizer’s plan). I became one of the US’ first Certified Passive House Consultants. Now what?
Well, once I “got it”, perhaps much like Al Gore, I figured, this is it! We solved it! Passive House was my calling and I felt, and still do, that it is the way that we can rejigger the built environment to make our way of life sustainable.
So I did the next logical thing and quit my job!
I started TE Studio to focus on Passive House. I started giving lectures, and talking to all sorts of people, decision makers, home owners, politicians, business owners and colleagues.
In late 2008, I got my first Passive House commission for a project that went on to become Wisconsin’s first certified Passive House, also known as the Passive House in the Woods. I was also fighting cancer at the same time but was fortunate enough to live to tell—about both experiences. My life was completely transformed
Since then, I designed many Passive Houses, not all of which were built. The years came and went with Passive House still being exotic, weird, cool, amazing, too-good-to-be-true, a no-brainer, the best thing ever, snake-oil, salvation and everything it always had been. And the story is much the same today, over 10 years later, albeit on some days I struggle a bit more to be find that same enthusiasm I had in 2008 after telling the same story so many times. Nonetheless, it is a story that needs to be told until it sinks in and we change the way we do buildings—for our children’s sake!
Now, in 2018, I am finally embarking to build my own Passive House: The Good Energy Haus. And if the first Passive House I designed, the last demonstration project I had part in, current pilot projects, those first of their kinds, or firsts in their respective places did not convince the rest of the world, of course, this one will!
Join the building revolution. Build, or retrofit to make a Passive House. It’s Good Energy.
- Architecture: Tim Delhey Eian, TE Studio
- Structural Engineering: ALIGN
- Renewable Energy Systems: Innovative Power Systems
- Construction: Tanner Construction
- Certifications: Herz & Lang and DPIS
- Project: 2018 – 2019
Unique Project Features
- Passive House Certification
- Super-insulated, airtight building envelope
- Passive House window frames with triple-pane glazing
- Avoidance of thermal bridges
- Whole house, balanced, heat recovery ventilation with enthalpy recovery
- Accessible design
- Use of durable earth and people friendly materials
- LED lighting throughout
- Air-to-air heat pump system for heating and cooling
- Sustainable landscaping
- Rain gardens
- Passive House 5894, pending
- HERS, pending
- Energy Star, pending
- DOE Zero Energy Ready Home, pending
- EPA Indoor Air Plus, pending
- EPA WaterSense, pending