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Green Building News

PHIUS Draws a Line in the Sand

Is the Passive House Institute U.S. the only organization that has a legal right to use the phrase ‘certified passive house consultant’?

According the the Passive House Institute U.S., it is the only organization authorized to use the phrase “certified passive house consultant.”
Image Credit: Passive House Institute U.S.

UPDATED on 1/27/2012

On August 17, 2011, the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany cut all contractual ties with the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS). The director of the Passivhaus Intstitut, Wolfgang Feist, announced, “We must make it clear that PHIUS may no longer rely on PHI’s name and expertise to bolster its own image.”

This announcement meant that Americans interested in obtaining internationally recognized Passivhaus training could no longer depend on PHIUS to provide that training. Stepping into the breach, trainers from the Passive House Academy in Ireland began offering training in New York and California. Unlike PHIUS, the Passive House Academy has good relations with the Passivhaus Institut in Germany, so training by the Passive House Academy is internationally recognized.

PHIUS fights back

Apparently worried about its eroding share of the lucrative market for Passivhaus training, PHIUS has issued a broadside aimed at the Passive House Academy.

On January 17, 2012, PHIUS sent out an e-mail announcing that only PHIUS was allowed to use the phrase “certified passive house consultant.” The e-mail noted, “PHIUS has invested and continues to invest a great deal into its North American-focused training. … Consequently, PHIUS intends to assure the common law rights inuring to it from its long-standing use of the CPHC mark. It is a term that can only be used by our PHIUS-certified CPHC community. PHIUS’ attorneys are issuing a cease-and-desist request to the Passive House academy and other organizations using the term CPHC. We are also requesting that the Academy carefully and explicitly identifies itself as distinct from PHIUS or Passive House Alliance. We will ask other Passive House organizations to make the same distinction.”

Whether or not PHIUS’s claim to exclusive “common law rights” to the phrase “certified passive house consultant” will survive the scrutiny of the courts remains an open question. (For more information on attempts to trademark Passivhaus terms, see Can ‘Passive House’ Be Trademarked?)

One person who received the PHIUS’s e-mail was New York architect Ken Levenson. “The Passive House Academy is doing trainings on both coasts,” said Levenson. “PHIUS is worried that there is confusion about whether the Academy is associated with PHIUS. Unfortunately, their response is to come down like a ton of bricks.”

PHIUS tries to trademark CPHC and threatens New York Passive House

On January 12, 2012, PHIUS tried to trademark the letters “CPHC.” Moreover, on January 18, 2012, PHIUS sent a cease-and-desist letter to New York Passive House, challenging the organization’s use of their e-mail address list. For details on these stories, see PHIUS Tries to Trademark ‘Certified Passive House Consultant.’


  1. Expert Member
    ARMANDO COBO | | #1

    And the story continues...
    It’s amazing how “The Powers that Be” at almost every organization seem to drink from the same water. It always starts with good ideas and good intentions, and then, egos, greed and arrogance takes over and the members or public get the shaft. It never fails to amaze me.
    Just name any organization related to our building-green building-construction industry, and there will be dozens of stories just like this. It's a non ending cycle.

  2. lindawhaley | | #2

    Passive House - the cause is genuine, the movement is good.
    I am a CPHC certified by PHIUS. I have worked with PHI to develop the new IP calculator tools for the upcoming PHPP 2012 release. My partner Albert Rooks and I are partnering with Passive House Academy to bring the PHPP Visual Guide to market.

    There are very good people involved with the Passive House movement and I have been fortunate to meet quite a few in the short time I have been involved with Passive House. Many very creative people are gung-ho to promote Passive House in the United States with others who are equally passionate about Passive House. Unfortunately some of our growing pains are getting more press than our successes and I would like to make an attempt to remind those who do care that the growth of Passive House in the US be a success depends on the unity of the message, not the clamor of dispute. There is plenty of room in the Passive House community for all to promote their businesses and their ideas no matter how diverse they are, just as there is room in the Passive House standard to build a house with any materials you choose as long as they meet the underlying Passive House requirements.

    The common goal is to promote a standard worldwide that will achieve incredible energy savings, increase a healthful environment, and have a truly positive impact on our world. Will there be disagreements on differing levels of just what is the best way to do something? Of course, we are human. But if we keep the larger picture in mind, and acknowledge the earnest, committed, and caring intentions of every member of the Passive House community, these disagreements will work themselves out. As I mentioned earlier, I have met a lot of people in the Passive House community and I do not count any one a slacker. They are ALL committed and intent on doing the right thing.

    When the PHI/PHIUS split occurred I wrote an article for the Small Planet Workshop Passive House blog. Last night I retweeted it after hearing about the PHIUS/Passive House Academy letter. I would like to post it here as well. It is very important that we reconsider how our message is being heard by those who are not yet sold on the Passive House Standard and what we want that message to be before this becomes an opportunity that we let slip away.

    Linda Whaley,
    Proud to be a CPHC and member of the world wide Passive House community.

  3. Ud4fdc9soH | | #3

    Passive House Trainings in California - A review
    I posted a long review of the different Passive House Academy trainings that were offered in California in 2011 on the Passive House California website. If you are interested training consistent with the international standard you may be interested.
    A note on disclosure - I was one of the people in Passive House California that invited Passive House Academy to come to California

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Response to Iain Scott Hunter
    Thanks for providing a link to a useful review. However, now that you have brought this review to the world's attention, it's only a matter of time before PHIUS sends you your own cease-and-desist letter for using the letters "CPHC."

    Please let us all know when the letter arrives in your mailbox.

  5. user-944275 | | #5


    I was in PHIUS's first CPHC training with about 20 others in May of 2008, and I currently help teach the North American CPHC course for PHIUS. So it is clear to me specifically when the term originated, how long it has been in use, and who is primarily responsible for it's market acceptance in the States. After all, why would the Passive House Academy adopt the term if not for the fact that it has become broadly recognized across the country? And the fact that they changed their course title only recently is telling. If I were teaching my own Passive House course for a profit, I'd sure want to be using the term, wouldn't you?

    Like Linda, I find the situation to be distracting from the real goal of building Passive Houses, and I can't quite figure out why your writing seems to be so skewed on this. You seem to be enjoying "fanning the flames". What's up?

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Response to Dave Brach
    I agree with you and Linda completely: "Like Linda, I find the situation to be distracting from the real goal of building Passive Houses."

    But I'm not the one sending out these distracting (and, in the words of three board members of New York Passive House, unpleasant) letters. I'm a journalist reporting what is going on.

    I think those who are using these tactics -- it isn't me! -- are, indeed, responsible for distracting and unpleasant results.

  7. user-944275 | | #7

    You missed my point.


    You missed my point. If PHIUS originated "CPHC", and used it for years before others, why shouldn't they trademark it? PHIUS is just doing what you or I or anyone else reading this would do after investing massive quantities of time and intellectual resources to create something unique.

  8. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Response to Dave Brach
    Q. "Why shouldn't they trademark it?"

    A. Well, Dave, I guess the way that an organization chooses to answer your question depends on whether it sees itself as an educational nonprofit group or as a profit-making corporation.

  9. user-944275 | | #9

    So a not-for-profit (which
    So a not-for-profit (which PHIUS is) should lay down and let a for-profit Passive House training company use credentials that they have spent years developing. Imitation is a form of flattery I suppose, but I somehow doubt this furthers the mission of education and research. Not sure what you are thinking there.

    I want to make clear that I do not speak for PHIUS. But I believe that what an educatioinal non-profit does is reach out to organizations that have a similar mission and suggest they work together to further common goals. When they are flatly turned down, only then do they decide to legally protect what belongs to them.

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Response to Dave Brach
    You wrote, "I believe that what an educational non-profit does is reach out to organizations that have a similar mission and suggest they work together to further common goals." That would be great! I suggest that PHIUS should begin that process by extending an olive branch to New York Passive House, another educational non-profit that shares the same goals as PHIUS.

    New York Passive House has always remained neutral in the PHI vs. PHIUS debate, and has tried hard to provide information to its members without any favoritism. PHIUS's cease-and-desist letter to New York Passive House, with an insistence that its "demands" must be met, was hardly an example of your proposed approach -- namely, to "reach out to organizations that have a similar mission and suggest they work together to further common goals."

  11. user-944275 | | #11

    You must have facts


    You must have facts that the rest of us don't have, because you are saying that PHIUS has never in fact practiced this approach.

    Regarding the subject of your post, I ask you again: If PHIUS originated "CPHC", and used it for years before others, why shouldn't they trademark it? Educational non-profits can and should clarify their position using trademarks as much as for profit entities.

  12. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #12

    Sharing facts
    I'm perfectly willing to share the facts I know: many members of New York Passive House were offended, even shocked, by the tone of the letter sent to them by PHIUS.

    PHIUS has been burning bridges for several months. I don't think this scorched-earth policy is equivalent to your suggestion: "reaching out to organizations that have a similar mission and suggesting they work together to further common goals."

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