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Green Building News

The American Passive House Institute Responds to Dr. Feist

PHIUS calls Feist’s letter “inaccurate, destructive, disappointing and hurtful”

Katrin Klingenberg is the founder of the Passive House Institute U.S. in Urbana, Illinois.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay

UPDATED 9/7/2011 with a new blog link

The Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) has published a response to Dr. Wolfgang Feist’s August 17 letter announcing a severing of all ties between PHIUS and the Passivhaus headquarters in Germany. The PHIUS letter has been posted on the PHIUS website.

According to the official PHIUS response, Dr. Feist’s letter:

  • Includes “several claims that can most charitably be characterized as inaccurate.”
  • Is “unfortunate and somewhat bewildering.”
  • Is a “broadside attack on PHIUS.”
  • Is “not only inaccurate, it’s destructive, disappointing and hurtful to those of us who have worked closely with him.”

No organization owns the standard

Moreover, PHIUS claims that:

  • The Passivhaus Institut (PHI) in Germany has made “often-capricious, bureaucratic and cumbersome demands.”
  • The Passivhaus Standard “belongs to no one or no organization.”
  • “Dr. Feist and PHI long ago lost control of the European certification process and with it lost its legitimacy on this issue.”

The PHIUS response lists only one substantive dispute with the Passivhaus Institut in Germany, and the issue is fairly obscure and technical. According to the PHIUS letter, “PHI continued to deliver the metric exam only 2 days before the exam date and not five as stated in the contract — this was too little time to translate the test into metric and rewrite the answers.”

Responding on August 20 to rumors that the Passivhaus Institut would insist that all U.S. documentation must use metric units, Dr. Feist posted the following comment on the Brute Force Collaborative blog: “We (PHI) do not insist in using the metric system in America – that would be ridiculous. There will be an easy to use converter available for IP within PHPP. What we do not agree to is to hide the whole open PHPP structure and to make such a discussion out of this tiny little units conversion.”

For American observers who remain bewildered by the origin of the dispute between PHIUS and the Passivhaus Institut, PHIUS suggests that all mysteries will be revealed in time. According to the PHIUS letter, “We intend to respond to some of Dr. Feist’s more objectionable assertions item-by-item, and will post that response shortly.”

More perspective on the PHIUS-PHI divorce can be found at the Environmental Building News website; see the EBN report, “Passive House Schism Leaves U.S. in Limbo.”

Bloggers are also beginning to chime in. See:

A new letter: Now it’s slander

Late on Friday August 19, Katrin Klingenberg issued a new letter to Dr. Feist. In her latest volley, Klingenberg wrote, “I would have wished for you to respond … in a more civil, mutually respectful way and without the decision to slander our company publicly with our client and stakeholder base. … Slander is against the law in this country and I believe it is equally serious to target the client base of a company directly to intentionally defame the business partner in any way.”

In the main body of the letter, Klingenberg’s accusations (and prose) get a little dense, as when she writes, “It appears that they [employees of PHI] have a sense of a tenuous hegemony and respecting the work and collaborating with those who have significant experience by now apparently does not fit this worldview.” Tenuous hegemony, indeed.

The latest letter explains one point: it appears that the the straw that broke the camel’s back was the low pass rate for students taking the international Passivhaus exam in the U.S. Klingenberg wrote, “In the meantime the exam situation had gotten untenable. Lack of communication from them, seriously late receipt of the exam prior to the exam date for translation into IP units, climate misunderstandings, German details and a surprise change in weighting points made only 15 out of 63 pass the exam. People were extremely unhappy. It was a disaster. PHIUS was soon blamed for not preparing people to pass the European test.”

For those who want to dig deeper

The Passive House Institute has posted an interesting document: the notes prepared by PHIUS to document a meeting held between representatives of PHIUS and representatives of PHI in Innsbruck, Austria, on May 30, 2011. The meeting was an apparent attempt to iron out differences between the two organizations.

As might be imagined, the notes document a host of petty differences and inabilities to agree, and most of the document makes for fairly boring reading. Here are a few interesting tidbits, however:

  • “PHIUS expressed that there are concerns about the use of the ‘Passive House’ label in the US market and that if the label is not protected, anyone is free to call anything a Passive House, which may lead to market confusion and a reputation for the standard that has been compromised by projects claiming to be Passive Houses, which in fact are not.”
  • “PHI stated that they have been told PHIUS has contracts with individuals that prohibit them from speaking with PHI. PHIUS responded that this was not the case…”
  • “PHI stated that PHIUS is welcome to run its own program in the US, but that PHI wishes to be left out of it, and if this is what PHIUS wishes to do, there is no need for PHIUS to have agreement for project certification from PHI or for us to waste time on further conversations.”
  • “PHI stated that if PHIUS wishes to work with PHI that it wants symmetrical collaboration and at this point feels taken advantage of and that PHIUS is only taking and not contributing anything.”

PHIUS releases answers to FAQs

The latest PHIUS document to be posted contains the organization’s answers to frequently answered questions on the PHI-PHIUS divorce. The document is titled Town Hall Summary and FAQ.

Interesting comments

The following interesting comments have been posted on the Inhabit website:

  • A reader using the nickname PHbuilder wrote, “There are many people unhappy with PHIUS’s lack of professionalism, undermining tactics, and poor/misleading educational classes. They have been leveraging the regional grassroots Passive House organizations with big brother tactics via chapter affiliation contracts all over the country. And when the local people questioned their odd organizational terms or speak directly with PHI, PHIUS would start another local chapter to undermine these communities. They are power hungry and their motives are not inline with the community that is actually building Passive Houses! If PHIUS wants to go it on their own, so be it. Most people I speak to would rather be affiliated with the international movement that has brought these amazing structures to fruition. Better air quality, massive energy reduction and longer building shell life are just a few of the elements that are gained by sticking to the PH plan. And America would have none of these without PHI’s commitment and effort. Thank You Dr. Feist! (Diff between SI and metric units? seriously?)”
  • A reader using the nickname PHarchitect wrote,”On July 22, 2011, PHIUS issued a letter to its members stating that they, PHIUS, would be breaking away from the German organization. The reasons given were that the German standard, while highly tuned to their specific climate, is not relevant to the much more diverse and demanding North American climate; requiring consultants to input data in SI made the planning package needlessly cumbersome and seriously impeded its implementation by a larger US audience; and the certification exam was presented in broken English with largely irrelevant content. Attempts by PHIUS to remedy these issues in order to make this excellent standard viable for North American implementation were met with refusal. Hopefully the two organizations will make amends and find common ground; in the mean time, however, the US program stands a better chance of moving forward without the burdensome control of the German organization.”
  • A reader using the nickname PHengineer wrote, “I also got that letter on July 22 saying that PHIUS was breaking from PHI, mainly over complaints from trained consultants about PHI’s certification exam. It is interesting to see it spun like this…who broke up with who?”
  • A reader using the nickname PHhan wrote, “The PHI exam wasn’t in ‘broken English’ – no more than previous exams prepared by PHIUS were. And the questions weren’t ‘irrelevant’ – it just featured a number of issues (e.g. economics) that we had absolutely ZERO education on during training. Frankly, this is highly unfortunate and the ‘go it alone’ attitude of PHIUS was the wrong choice (guessing one of a series of horribly incorrect choices). Everyone who took the training and exam thinking they would be dealing w/ a logical PHIUS that would be working in conjunction w/ the PHI to certify actual buildings to the passivhaus standard, needs to be refunded their money. or maybe the PHIUS board needs to be disbanded. Did it really come down to, ‘The European exam is too hard, but I paid $2,500 for this training – I deserve to pass!’?”
  • A reader using the nickname Kgregoire wrote, “What is even more frustrating is PHIUS’ attitude and language in reference to the ‘North American’ market. CanPHI, the Canadian Passive House Institute, has no such issues and has worked with PHI since its’ inception to ensure compliance with the greater global community. It has been clear for a while now that PHIUS was pursuing the business model of the USGBC and looking to generate fees via regulation. Compliance with the international community is critical in maintaining the integrity of the designation and the standard. PHIUS is doing harm and a disservice to the PH moevment and concept through their cavalier attitude. America may want to look north for compliance and future certification.”
  • A reader using the nickname AGbuilds wrote, “I too recently took the PH training course through PHIUS at Parsons. There was a lack of organization throughout the entire course, and in the end, most participants felt that they had not been adequately prepared for the exam with the material covered during training. Personally, I feel that I paid to take the consultants training, which should have covered the material necessary to pass the exam.”

26 Comments

  1. Shane Claflin | | #1

    crazy
    So much for chai tea and group hugs.

  2. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #2

    Its moot
    The Passivhaus standard is rapidly being made irrelevant by rating systems that are easier to understand and less presciptive: http://www.ecohomemagazine.com/news/2011/01-january/energy-labels-a-powerful-tool-for-new-homes-and-retrofits.aspx?cid=NWBD110121002

  3. Doug McEvers | | #3

    I disagree
    The Passive House standard is not irrelevant, it is state of the art building envelope design and efficiency. We have slogged through twenty years of light green rating systems in the US with little to show for it in energy savings or building efficiency improvements.

  4. Paul Panish | | #4

    There are many things that
    There are many things that can be said about the PH Standard, but I don't believe the claim that there are systems that are easier to understand and less prescriptive are valid arguments.

    Though there is a huge amount of discussion on how to achieve the Standard, and the reasons for the derivation of its target values, the Standard consists of three numbers. These are heating/cooling demand of 4.75 kBTU/sq.ft.-yr, air infiltration of 0.6 [email protected], and source energy demand of 38 kBTU/sq.ft.-yr.

    How these goals are achieved is up to the discretion of the design and building team as long as the Passive House Planning Package tool is used for modeling the results. This is probably the least prescriptive standard one could conceive of defining while still attempting to meet the energy and environmental challenges of our times.

  5. Gregory La Vardera | | #5

    time to get beyond PH
    PH will never be adopted by the greater housing industry. Custom homes for singular clients designed by architects - great. But a housing industry that largely refuses to even hire an architect is not going to adopt practices that require layers of consultants and certifications.

    Passive House is great, but if we really want to accomplish something like getting more energy efficient houses built - and I think we can all agree that this is the goal here - then this is not the way to do it. Kevin is right - easier standards that promote building practices that are easier to adopt will make more ground than a stringent standard like PH. You can call them soft, but if you want to talk smack then you have to face that Passive House is soft on adoption.

    We will get much more benefit from achieving 75% of Passive House on 95% of houses then we will from reaching 100% of Passive House on less than 1% of houses.

    We have to start from the bottom and work incrementally to show the industry how to improve practices. If we are not doing that, then PH is just so much naval gazing.

  6. Doug McEvers | | #6

    Energy efficiency must be code driven
    Voluntary efficiency improvements in the building industry rarely happen. If we can move towards 75% of Passive House in all new homes I am all for it, when do we start? 75% of Passive House will be ACH50's under 1 and Btu's per square foot per heating degree day also under 1. These 2 metrics would nicely define superinsulation and we are light years away from superinsulation as the standard today.

    The 2012 IECC is a start towards measured efficiency in new construction. It will be interesting to see how quickly it is adopted and where. Building codes are meaningless if not enforced, we need to empower building officials to enforce current and forthcoming code changes.

  7. Gregory La Vardera | | #7

    Codes are the last thing to drive, they bring up the rear
    Doug, I'd love to agree with you, but if we look at the only country that has successfully implemented a wholesale improvement in the way they build - sounding like a broken record: Sweden - they did not do it by mandating performance via code. In fact code was brought up behind the prevailing building practice and still lags behind the status quo.

    So mandating it by code could work, but will also cause lot of grumbling and costs passed on to the consumers. Instead it should be market driven, with builders acting to provide better performance demanded by consumers. Now I'm not a regulation adverse Tea Bagger - the way to do this is to change the way we appraise and loan for construction. Houses that are big and have poor energy performance should not be valued higher because they have more sqft. Smaller houses with good energy performance should value higher to reflect their lifelong energy savings. This way prices will sustain a profitable model for developers and builders, the acknowledgment of lower ongoing energy costs will support the loan amounts for a slightly higher unit cost of construction, and here is where the goverment can stimulate the industry by providing further tax rebate, and low rate loan supplements as incentives for building this way. Sweden used all these tools to great effect. They did not use their building code.

  8. 5C8rvfuWev | | #8

    reply to Gregory
    You said:

    "Houses that are big and have poor energy performance should not be valued higher because they have more sqft. Smaller houses with good energy performance should value higher to reflect their lifelong energy savings."

    That would be great. But "should" is the operator -- appraisals are rooted in the consumer and consumers (in spite of the terrible present economy and the increasingly pricey and self-destructive future for energy consumption) value big houses and expensive finishes first of all.

    An increasing number of house buyers are interested in energy efficiency, but appraisals won't reflect "value" until the concept of what is of value shifts.

    Consumer education is important. A clear and simple, price-based label (like the energy guide used ref. Energy Star and discussed elsewhere on GBA) is important. And increasing energy prices will be the catalyst if they are based on declining supply. At present, price jumps are thought of as manufactured increases -- the oil companies looking for profit, government looking for tax revenue.

    The consumer doesn't want to learn building science; they want to buy a place to live that will make them feel good about their life and be affordable.

  9. Gregory La Vardera | | #9

    reply to JoeW
    I think your picture of how appraisals and lending work sounds idealistic, and in practice they do not play out that way. I can tell you from the experience of several clients who have built custom homes, that an effort to build a smaller home of higher quality, be it more insulation or "expensive finishes" as you put it is always trumped by more square footage. There is an artificial feedback loop in our current system where by square footage is treated nearly proportionally to value, and other factors riding on quality such as materials and finishes, and higher energy efficiency most certainly is not.

    As a result we've experienced a cycle where by builders have been able to raise value, raise the amount that can be borrowed, and raise prices and profits primarily by increasing the size of houses, and not any of the qualities that truly drive value. The system is broken precisely because it is disconnected from true value. Not because consumers are behind the ball in valuing the important things. In fact this whole relationship to value was a tremendous player in the run up to the housing bubble - the step up mentality, and the ease with which one could continually flip to a larger house to build more value and equity.

    That did not happen because people prefer size over energy efficiency. It happened because appraisals reward size with more value, and do not recognize energy costs as affecting the value of a house. This is not something that is waiting for popular opinion to catch up to - this is something that is hard-coded into the current system.

    Look: Consumers have little choice here. All that is offered to the vast majority of consumers are big poor performing houses. Pricing, appraisals, and the loans they can get are all based on this model. The only way they can go around it, and begin to influence the market as you suggest, is to build a custom house that fits the profile of smaller and more energy efficient. And if they do that, they have to be super committed to it, because they will face opposition in the appraisers valuation of their proposed house, and will face opposition from the bank they seek to borrow from. There are no "comps" to smaller energy efficient houses.

    No, what you suggest, education and the long wait for the system to catch up will probably never work because there is so much invested in the status quo and the easy profit that can be made by simply making a house bigger to raise the value of a project and its profit. We need systemic change - We need REFORM. Its not like this is not justified by the recent performance of the industry. We need to establish a new and widely used method to value homes based on quality and performance - not comps based on square footage and bedroom count. There needs to be a parallel process by which you can value a house based primarily on energy use and efficiency with a reduced emphasis on size. This kind of valuation can take into consideration the long term economic profile of the higher performing house. This can justify and pay for the added value of insulation and better construction, it can establish how the lower operation cost justifies higher loan to income ratios, and can put the kind of houses we should be building now on level ground with the dysfunctional appraising system now in use. This new valuation method can be backed by the Federal Government to off-set any additional risk that lenders perceive with higher valued smaller homes that gain value through the new appraisal system's crediting the energy performance.

    It has to be profitable to build energy efficient houses. With the current appraising and lending model it is not. If it were, big builders would be doing it. Clearly they are not.

  10. Doug McEvers | | #10

    Well said, Albert
    As someone who got interested and built superinsulated homes over 25 years ago I was very excited and still am to learn about Passive House. I like to think of PH as superinsulation refined, a proven and great building system with modern enhancements.

    The casual reader might think current business as usual built housing is quite efficient and just slightly down the scale from Passive House, it is not even close. According to my calculations, PH uses about .6 Btu's per square foot per heating degree day. Catagory 1 houses built in MN use about 3.5 Btu/sf/hdd and MN is way ahead of most states in average energy efficiency for new homes. Here in MN we are less than 20% of Passive House, some states are probably closer to 10%. Until Passive House came along we had no standard in which to measure the pitiful performance of today's business as usual built homes.

  11. User avater
    Albert Rooks | | #11

    The key is in Diversity
    Gregory,

    I enjoy reading your comments but I can't agree with the "one answer" scenario.

    "PH will never be adopted by the greater housing industry. Custom homes for singular clients designed by architects - great. But a housing industry that largely refuses to even hire an architect is not going to adopt practices that require layers of consultants and certifications."

    I agree that PH will not be the widespread industry practice anytime soon. So what are you saying??? That we should not give it any attention if it can't be forecasted to be the "game changer"? Who knows what the Game changer will be? I don't and I don't think that you know at this point either.

    I resist the idea that we just focus on one solution at the expense of other activities. Passive House has, in a short time, drawn many new supporters to it. That is change. It has also created many new discussions as to if PH is going too far in it's quest for load reduction. I see it as just one segment in an increasing awareness that high quality envelops are the future of the industry.

    The key will be a high level of diversity in activity: having the PH & ZEH segment of the industry establishing the top level of performance goals and expectations is a requirement. There has to be a "top" in order to have a "middle" and a "bottom". The top will hopefully continue to create a vacuum that is eventually filled by your 75%, or, Half-Assiv-Haus builders (the middle).

    Lots of diverse activities focused on one goal will bring about changes in expectations and products. It's offering the product to the market, having the product be economically viable in both operation (capital & energy costs) and as an asset (long term valuation) are all equally important and will require people supporting it from all sides.

    True PH (be it Darmstadt of Urbana) is extremely important to your 75% scheme. It defines the "middle" for you. It also provides the destination for the "middle" product upgrade from an energy performance view point. As we know, competition forces product improvement. Improvement for the "Half-assiv-haus" (50%) is to become a "Big-assiv-haus" (75%). And then eventually a "full Passivhaus". By then, the PH builders (because they just can't stop toying with the cool stuff...) are on to the more exotic +energy homes of tomorrow.

    Edit note: 6:02 PM PST: Fixed my bad spelling and changed "Large-assiv-house" to "Big-assiv-haus" with full knowledge of the connotations implied... It really just sounded better. :)

  12. Gregory La Vardera | | #12

    Dear Albert
    I do think there is great value in pushing the boundaries, and if PH is your boundary, well good for you. But no such upper limit existed in Sweden when they moved to improve their construction practices 40 years ago. Your assertion that PH is needed to provide a target for the market to go halfway is just ridiculous.

  13. User avater
    Albert Rooks | | #13

    Reply to Gregory
    Gregory,

    I get what your saying. That when it developed in Sweden there was no upper level. That my "center vacuum" scenario dis't exist and was therefore not a contributor.

    While neither of us can predict the future, we can look to past behavior to help estimate the future.

    I don't see the situations as similar: 40 years ago in Sweden vs Today in America. That was the point I was tying to make: We are in a much more complex world. Americans are really defined by marketing and "gaps". Much more so than Sweden in the 70's. I realize that it's a stretch to lump homes in with other consumer items. But I do think that they will begin to run along similar lines. It seems to me like it's starting to be that way today.

    As you put it: When the home "as an asset" was ever increasing, then the consumer was supported to leverage to the max in asset acquisition: Buy a big house for a big price and your "margin" will grow with it. It paid to be extravagant and wasteful (to those who assumed the never ending increase).

    Buyers today who build a half-assiv, or above, home will go underwater before the asset will climb out eventually. It's all "cost" with no profit in sight. From that vantage point, it does make sense for the consumer to be presented with varying levels of "performance". It fits with the psyche, because thats the way we look at other products.

    You may disagree, but I think the forces at play will gain significant strength. Just from an operational cost standpoint, where today American energy is still cheap, as the effects of Global Climate Change are felt and realized, energy costs will sadly climb significantly. Combine that with an aging population that is not earning and has it's Social Security safety net challenged, and I think that the operational costs of running a home will become a big issue. So big that it will support "performance stratification".

    And yeah... I have to admit that when viewed in todays eyes, the above does look like a lot of hogwash. But things are changing quickly...

  14. 5C8rvfuWev | | #14

    another reply to Gregory
    you said:

    "...an effort to build a smaller home of higher quality, be it more insulation or "expensive finishes" as you put it is always trumped by more square footage."

    I'm not sure why you think you are correcting me as that is exactly the same point I made.

    Given that we agree on that point, your insistence that appraisers can somehow act to change the value basis of a house is terribly simplistic. Appraisers, as I'm sure you know, work for banks and lenders usually ... not for contractors or GBA or BSC. Lenders are not interested in anything more than securing the value of the mortgage. And lenders know exactly what you said: the consumer sets the absolute value and, for consumers, square footage and high-end finishes trump energy efficiency.

    If you want to change the value, you need to change the paradigm and ultimately that is set by the values of the home buyer. As I said above: if you want home buyers to value energy efficiency you'll have to show them that it will make them feel every bit as good as a two story foyer and granite ... and that there is a direct payback in operating costs.

    While no one is buying anything at all is an opportunity to get the ducks in a row. And as Doug and Albert argue, the steps are incremental.

  15. User avater
    Albert Rooks | | #15

    Thanks JoeW
    "As I said above: if you want home buyers to value energy efficiency you'll have to show them that it will make them feel every bit as good as a two story foyer and granite ... and that there is a direct payback in operating costs."

    Wow. Nicely summarized. Thanks for putting it so simply.

    To those who are really concerned about energy and sustainability... That is the next generation challenge: Make efficiency attractive to the consumer.

  16. Gregory La Vardera | | #16

    it is simple(istic)
    Joe I was correcting you, because you said:

    "appraisals are rooted in the consumer and consumers (in spite of the terrible present economy and the increasingly pricey and self-destructive future for energy consumption) value big houses and expensive finishes first of all."

    To this I disagree. My experience is that expensive finishes gains little ground in an appraisal, certainly not the rate of gain if square feet is thrown at a project.

    You go on to say now:

    "And lenders know exactly what you said: the consumer sets the absolute value and, for consumers, square footage and high-end finishes trump energy efficiency."

    Sorry. I look at the same situation, and I don't see value be set by what consumers are willing to spend. Consumers have no alternatives to choose from. Sure they negotiate the best price they can get on a transaction, but existing houses, new houses, amounts that are loaned are all determined off of the valuation model used in the industry.

    I'm saying that model is flawed, and that it does not reflect true value of a property. I'm saying its a valuation model that benefits all of the other players in the market but the consumer who is left with little choice. And now that we've finally reached a place where we realize that we need to be building a different type of house, we are stuck behind this outmoded valuation model that makes it very undesirable for builders to do anything but throw more square feet at their projects. It may sound simplistic to make the value of houses reflect their long term costs, but that is essentially the problem. Valuation does not take into consideration the relationship between size, performance, and ongoing operating costs. Hence we have a model where bigger + higher bedroom count = more value. Its not true, we all know its not true. and it stands in the way of building better houses.

    You are right - I don't have the solution. I am not a policy maker. But I'll take a stab at it. Say a bank will only finance 100,000 for a small energy efficient home. But the additional insulation and control systems are going to cost 150,000. The bank won't lend it because the comps say a house this size with this many bedrooms can only sell for 100k. But there is no consideration in the comps of energy performance or on going cost of operation. So its not really a comp. But that is the faulty model its based on.

    So the federal government in order to promote better building has an overlay valuation, which takes into account energy costs in the region, the performance of the house, and its ongoing operation cost relative to the debt service. If the house meets the criteria established then the fed will back the additional amount of the loan beyond what the bank will lend. Now the bank can lend that additional amount without taking on what they perceive as additional risk. The fed takes the additional profit that the higher loan amount generates so the bank is only doing the business they were willing to do, but they do sell a loan where otherwise they would not at all. And in time they realize these energy efficient loans and new valuation model is good business, and hey, why are we giving all that profit to the fed, lets just write the loan ourselves.

    So tell me, just what the F-ck is PH doing about any of this? Nothing.

  17. Amy Greenfield | | #17

    Build efficiently.
    A letter from the International Passive House Institute to the US consultants recently stated:

    "It is important to remember through all this that it’s about building actual buildings and about sustainability and about advancing energy efficiency, not about designations and exams. All of you competent professionals who have worked hard have important contributions to make to the Passive House movement - please do not divert any momentum from the real work that you are doing and that still needs to be done! Know that we appreciate all your efforts and will be here to support you as you go forward."

    I agree. Let's stop arguing over who owns the rights to which certification and start designing and building structures which reflect higher efficiency standards. This industry needs to move forward. The population is exploding, and the only way to meet the demands of the future is to begin creating a built environment that is more efficient TODAY.

  18. Shane Claflin | | #18

    Benchmark Goals
    I watched a Bill Gates presentation recently where he explains that our world needs to reach a Zero CO2 production limit. Only at Zerp CO2 will global warming cease to increase. Producing Zero CO2 is a daunting proposition, considering we produce over a billion tons annually, presently. Both PH and NetZero methodology help builders work towards a desired goal. It gives them a proven performance level to work towards.
    Absolutely, value should be on performance of a building. But the way I understand it, currently the appraisal is based upon materials of the structure and square footage, against comparable buildings in the area. This encourages quantity over quality by builders as can be exemplified in most of the houses built within the past decade.
    " just slap some R-30 up there, we're good to go"
    Another problem is that these production builders need to be efficient in order to increase their profit margin. In that respect, high performance is labor intensive, with much attention paid to details. 'Details' isn't in the production builder's vocabulary. They need incentive.
    A paradigm shift needs to occur in which families don't feel the need to have 5000+ sq ft housing. The value is in the energy savings. People don't think about energy usage. They care about amount of livable space.

  19. Gregory La Vardera | | #19

    shane gets it
    Thank you Shane for putting all the ideas in a neat circle. PH could have a role in establishing a graduated rating that encourages the building industry to improve. A binary PH / non-PH standard does not help. If PH is only going to be a binary yes/no standard then other standards of measure will emerge. Period.

    The paradigm needs to shift, but one big thing that will help move consumers is if there is an alternate offering in the marketplace. Builders and developers won't offer it if it is not profitable, and the current system of valuation makes not profitable. We have to acknowledge that this is a flaw, and it is standing in the way of offering product that responds to current market conditions.

    But don't for a minute get yourself caught up in the belief that big poor performing houses are what people want. People did not want an ipad or an iphone or an ipod for that matter before Apple made them. Its entirely possible to lead consumer demand with innovative products. People can't buy what does not exist.

  20. User avater
    Albert Rooks | | #20

    The buyer is the key
    Gregory,

    I share your desire for a paradigm shift in envelope quality (which I think is what we are really taking about.)

    The basics of market functions dictate that buyers set pricing. Financiers and their verifiers do not. In the end, the buyer is either making an offer to buy the home, or not. The purchase decision starts with wether they actually want the product or not. The rest of what your talking about is downstream of that.

    If you want to change the "quality of product" on the market, entice the buyer into buying the "new product" instead of the old product. If the buyer will buy, the market will shift to supply... And it will do it in great numbers. The financing and verifiers only exist in order to supply the initial activity of the buyer "buying"

    I think your Apple example is a good illustration. The entire line of Apple products sell at the highest market prices simply because the buying public agrees that the Apple products do what the buyer wants them to do, and "do it" better than the competitors products, and are willing to pay the associated premium for that higher performance or quality.

    Bringing this back to Passive House. I really don't understand your complaint. If your saying that Passive House is too true to it's own standards: Too binary, as you say. How does that stand in your way??? Are you saying that if PH attracts attention, that the attention detracts from other less demanding programs moving forward?

    Personally, I think it's better to work on educating the buyer rather than "dumbing down" the product. That said, the US is still a huge country. I think it's certainly big enough to support various "quality levels". Make no mistake, that is simply all that we are talking about here: The quality of the building envelope and it's relation to it's surroundings. The higher the quality of envelope, the more that the passive systems can maintain equilibrium vs. the active systems.

    I think that we should work all of the angles: Educate the buyers & lenders. Educate as much of the market as can be reached. Introduce the simple idea of "envelope quality" and how it relates to comfort, health and cost of operation.

    I think that Passive House adds to that conversation in the same way that iphones + Androids + Samsung + others drive the cell phone market to smart phones from the old phones (what do we even call the old phones anymore??). The shear diversity of products create a center of gravity that draws all of the buyers to the next level up.

    Now if we could only do that with houses...

  21. Gregory La Vardera | | #21

    buyer can't buy what buyer can't finance
    albert rooks said:

    The basics of market functions dictate that buyers set pricing. Financiers and their verifiers do not. In the end, the buyer is either making an offer to buy the home, or not. The purchase decision starts with wether they actually want the product or not. The rest of what your talking about is downstream of that.

    I'm sorry - it simply does not play out that way. Your take on the situation is simplistic. A home buyer or a person wanting to build a custom home can decide that the value of a small efficient house is higher than the so called "comparable" houses from the appraiser. But it does not matter if they are willing to pay, if the bank will not make the loan. I am saying there are willing customers, not everyone, but certainly enough to move a segment of the market. But the current methods of appraising do not account for energy concerns. Appraisals are blind to an important component of value, and this is inhibiting the progress of the market. I'm saying the buyer is already enticed. They can't get financing. The developer looking to build a higher performance house can't get true comps to get financing. Its not as simple as demand leads product. Not when our system has built-in obstacles.

    again albert

    I really don't understand your complaint. If your saying that Passive House is too true to it's own standards: Too binary, as you say. How does that stand in your way?

    By Binary I mean that by the Standard a given project is either PH, or not PH. Its either certified or its not certified. Its on or its off. Its 1 or its 0. Binary. I'm not saying that gets in my way - I'm saying it gets in PH's way. If PH hopes to be a relevant standard that will participate in changing the way the larger housing industry builds, it has to be graduated to allow builders and developers a gradual buy-in.

    If you say or feel that PH is not about that, its not meant to be about that, well then great. Then it will only be relevant to individual custom built projects for singular clients done by PH designers and consultants. But that will likely never have any significant impact on the housing industry. Just look at the NAHB - they have already established their own "Green Building" standards. They will never talk about PH or LEED. They want to own their standard and make it work to their own profit. If PH can't or does not want to go there then it will never be anything more than a playground for green building zealots. Naval gazing as I called it.

    Is that really what all of you really want to do? Dick around on the fringes and maybe make a few really really good projects? Or do you want to change the way America builds houses? To cite Apple again, what was it Steve Jobs said to John Scully when he twisted his arm to become Apple CEO: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?"

  22. User avater
    Albert Rooks | | #22

    The Passive House Standard is complete.
    Gregory,

    The Passive House Standard is complete. It is already done. It rests entirely on the Holy Trinity: Airsealing, m2 heating & cooling load & primary energy demand. The minimum metrics for those three values are currently the most stringent in the world. I'm sure that you know what they are so I don't need to repeat them. So yes... It is binary.

    I get that you'd like a softer, and more incremental standard. Adjusting the above requirements to a different value would yield a different standard. It would not be the Passive House Standard.

    To you that may make the Passive House Standard irrelevant and that we are in your words "Dick(ing) around on the fringes and maybe make a few really really good projects?"

    With all due respect that is simply an American-centric viewpoint. We are not the world, no matter what the song says. The Passive House Standard is a global standard. That's what all the fuss is about.

    The Passive House Standard was not created to cure the problems of the American housing industry. There are literally people all over the world working extremely hard to implement the same standard - all the world over. Not a special one for America. Frankly, asking that the standard be lowered for America is another step down an unhealthy path. We Americans too often view things from exclusively our own viewpoint. Climate change, energy wars & resource depletion are significant problems for the worlds inhabitants. As you and I both know, these problems are largely the result of American consumption. Adjusting an existing, functioning world wide performance standard down to suit American resistance is not something i could support or agree with.

    If you want to create and work on implementing an incremental standard aimed at bringing up the lower ends of the performance scales. fine. Do it. I'd certainly support you in any way that I could because I would like to see progress made just like you would. it would make sense to me to adjust Energy Star up, or implementing a significant energy component to LEEDS than it does to bring Passive House standards down. I know that PHIUS is working on a new rating system aimed to make the case clearer to both the buyer and downstream banks and appraisers. Add your support to those efforts. It seems that it may be more in line with your direction.

    There are an awful lot of people in America at this point who have made significant personal investments by taking the existing Passive House Training from PHIUS. There are more that have just finished another round of training in Portland Oregon this week while you and I have been pushing this around. There are regional associations, independent from PHIUS, formed in the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, New York, Boston, New England and probably more than I know about as things have been growing pretty quickly...

    You may think that we are all high-end navel gazers. We think that we are working earnestly at implementing the best, and most stringent building standard in the world. I think that considering the economic climate, we are doing exceptionally well. I also think that the numbers who have elected to attend the training and learn how to build to the Passive House Standard demonstrates that Passive House has already had a significant effect on the US Building culture in just two short years.

    Further to the mid market point, I'm happy to work with one industrious pair who have worked mid-sized PH SF homes down to $150/ft2 in our region. Sure... It's not in the tract home pricing range, but they are getting pretty good at selling them. The projects are not done on cash. There is a bank and a loan. And... The completed projects have less load than what 4 or 5 code homes?

    So really, with all due respect, If you feel like the focus should be on the lower scales, then by all means... Take some action on it. If the low end performance levels were brought up while at the same time PH projects continued in America like so many mushrooms, together that would be significant change to the net energy load.

  23. Gregory La Vardera | | #23

    PH need not compromise the standard
    Albert, to address what I am talking about requires no compromise in what the PH standard is, and what a certified PH has to meet to be a PH. None at all. They just need to be a little creative about establishing incremental goals, and to be willing to certify them as well. Not certify them as a PH, but some other "title". You would not want to dilute the achievement of a full PH by using the same term.

    Now I described how that is relevant to the US market, but this is by no means a US only issue. Generally I think your responses only validate my position. Its too absolute.

    PH house does not have to do what I suggest. And I have no desire to pick up the slack - I'm not in the standards game. But just be aware, that if PH does not do it, then somebody else inevitably will, and the standard that the industry takes up will in the end be the relevant one no matter how good and fine intentioned PH was at the outset. We endured years of crappy VHS tapes because it was in a better position than BetaMax, even though BetaMax was a better product. If you think PH is so great, and you think it can do more for us than some other "lower scale" standard, then PH should strive to make itself relevant to the widest application.

    I'm not coming down on either side of this tiff between PHI and PHIUS. I don't really care which of them would take this up, whether PHIUS in the states, or PHI as a worldwide effort to encourage an incremental strategy.

  24. Gregory La Vardera | | #24

    Article hits on issue of valuation
    from the LA Times Business section: Energy-efficient homes seem to sell faster, fetch higher prices

    http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/28/business/la-fi-harney-20110828

    Last few paragraphs are all about what we have been discussing:

    Kevin Morrow, senior program manager for green building at the National Assn. of Home Builders, says that although many newly constructed homes come with energy and sustainability certifications, banks don't necessarily recognize their value when it comes to providing mortgage money.

  25. User avater
    Albert Rooks | | #25

    Good article.
    It is nice to see some effort and progress reach the media. The study that is the center of the article is a study by Earth Advantage. This is the new rating system i was suggesting that be supported when I wrote: "I know that PHIUS is working on a new rating system aimed to make the case clearer to both the buyer and downstream banks and appraisers." I neglected to say that it is a project from both PHIUS and Earth Advantage (I know it's a joint project but I don't know who the project leader is). You are seeing the first efforts at the projects PR (I'm guessing).

    The rating system is incremental as you suggested. from what I remember it's a 1 thru 5 scale with Passive House at 5. The focus of the scale is energy.

    The valuation issue is not being ignored by folks in the passive house arena. My point is that I think the buyers have more influence in the end. I'll let go of harping on that point and agree that working on all of the obstacles to increased envelope quality is time well spent.

  26. Gregory La Vardera | | #26

    PHIUS + Earth Advantage
    PHIUS + Earth Advantage sounds like a good step which I was not even aware of when I was crowing above. But at the same time, I have to wonder if efforts such as this is what PHI is adverse to. Its clearly needed here, or less effective standards will take center stage, or meaningful standards will be watered down by industry interests, much as has happened with "Organic" foods.

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