Last weekend I attended the Fourth Annual North American Passive House Conference in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. The conference offered a great opportunity to learn more about the Passivhaus standard and to discuss low-energy buildings with an experienced group of architects, engineers, and builders.
Among the most valuable sessions offered at the conference:
The Passivhaus advocates I met at the conference are responsible for some of the best new buildings in the country — buildings with extraordinarily low energy budgets. These exemplary buildings can inspire all designers of low-energy buildings to sharpen their pencils.
Unfortunately, the launch of the Passivhaus movement in North America hasn’t been particularly smooth. Some Passivhaus advocates have reacted defensively to legitimate technical questions from knowledgeable American builders. On the other side, the chance for fruitful dialogue has been hampered by a few Passivhaus critics who have adopted an unnecessarily adversarial tone. Fortunately, these bumps are only public relations problems; they shouldn’t seriously detract from the great accomplishments that Passivhaus builders have achieved.
Clearing Up Misconceptions
In my opinion, the Passivhaus movement in North America needs to do a better job at disassociating its message from a package of misconceptions. It’s important to emphasize the core strength of Passivhaus — namely, the fact that PHPP software provides a sophisticated method for designing and constructing buildings that use very low levels of energy — and to clearly separate this message from a collection of red herrings originating in Europe:
Red herring number one: Very low U-factor windows (U-0.14) are necessary “for the comfort of the occupants.” It’s true that occupant comfort is one of the benefits of high-quality triple-glazed windows. It’s also true that windows with a very low U-factor may be necessary to meet the Passivhaus goal of 15 kWh/m2. But a very high level of occupant comfort…