What follows is a reconstruction of Martin Holladay’s keynote address at the Passive House Northwest conference in Olympia, Washington, on March 18, 2011. The piece has been fleshed out somewhat, in light of the fact that the original time constraints no longer apply. For the most part, each paragraph corresponds to one slide of the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
Are Passivhaus requirements logical or arbitrary?
Over the last seven years, it’s been exciting to see the Passivhaus standard take root in the U.S., where several dozen Passivhaus buildings have already been built.
But it’s important to remember that superinsulated houses are not new. Canadian and American researchers and builders began building superinsulated homes in the late 1970s.
A brief look at recent history
My own interest in superinsulation can be traced back to my years as editor of Energy Design Update, a superinsulation newsletter launched by Ned Nisson in 1982. I took over as editor in 2002.
In 1985, Ned Nisson and a co-author, Gautam Dutt, published a landmark book, The Superinsulated Home Book.
The book emphasized the importance of careful air sealing measures, and it provided details for building double-stud walls, Larsen-truss walls, and foam-sheathed walls. It described the advantages of low-e glazing, argon-gas-filled glazing, and triple-glazed windows.
By 1985, superinsulation concepts were well understood. Researchers had studied and quantified air leakage in homes. Books and magazines with superinsulation details were widely available. Builders could buy low-e windows, triple-glazed windows, HRVs, and blower doors. Builders had developed a number of techniques for building homes with very low rates of air leakage. And many successful homes with R-40 walls and R-60 ceilings had already been built.
Eleven years after this somewhat arbitrary milestone, Dr. Wolfgang Feist founded the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany, to promote the…