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Musings of an Energy Nerd

The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America

Slides from a PowerPoint presentation

This illustration appeared in The Superinsulated Retrofit Book by Brian Marshall and Robert Argue, published in 1981. It was the first published mention of the “chainsaw retrofit” method.
Image Credit: The Superinsulated Retrofit Book

Several GBA readers have requested a copy of a presentation on “The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America.” I have made this presentation at three conferences:

  • at the Fourth Annual North American Passive House Conference in Urbana, Illinois (October 16, 2009);
  • at the 14th Annual Westford Symposium on Building Science (August 3, 2010); and
  • at the annual meeting of the British Columbia Building Envelope Council in Vancouver (September 22, 2010).

Here it is:

The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America

For more on the topic, check out three articles with overlapping content:

“Forgotten Pioneers of Energy Efficiency”

“Solar Versus Superinsulation: A 30-Year-Old Debate”

A Superinsulated House from 1984

History of Superinsulation – BC.pdf

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  1. Daniel Ernst | | #1


    I thought you would get a kick out of this . . .

    I recently went to the main branch of my county library. Although they had over a dozen books on passive solar design, a lengthy catalog search for "superinsulation" resulted in ZERO entries.

    So I had to use the interlibrary loan process to order "The Superinsulated Home Book," by Nisson and Dutt. The lady at the help desk, although very competent, spent quite a bit of time trying to find the closest copy. It was in a university library, several hours away!

    The library trip left me questioning how passive solar triumphed in terms of exposure and press, while superinsulation withered? Was the debate resolved too late? Was it because it happened at the end of the economic recession, or at the beginning of Reaganomics? ;-)


    Anyway, thanks for dispelling some of the myths and misinformation out there!

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Daniel Ernst
    I'm glad you were able to find The Superinsulated House Book through inter-library loan. (I noticed that the price of used copies is rising -- Amazon is now advertising used copies for $48.)

    Among those following the solar versus superinsulation debate, I believe that the debate was resolved in favor of superinsulation by the early 1980s. But those interested in the topic were always a small minority of U.S. builders.

    Through the late 1980s and the 1990s, the torch of superinsulation was carried by members of EEBA (originally the Energy Efficient Builders Association, now the Energy and Environmental Building Association) and by subscribers to Energy Design Update. In Europe, the torch was picked up by Dr. Wolfgang Feist and his Passivhaus builders.

    Among those who cared, the necessary specifications for a superinsulated house were well known. The only problem was, few people cared.

  3. Sasanoa | | #3

    History of SuperInsulation
    It would seem your presentation should be Mandatory reading at the DOE

  4. Pat Murphy | | #4

    Do you have contact information for Brian Marshall and Robert Argue?

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Pat
    Sorry, I don't. You might check with some Canadian experts like Harold Orr or Rob Dumont -- perhaps they can help you.

  6. user-651098 | | #6

    Robert Argue Info
    Hi Martin,

    A couple of years ago, I met Robert Argue. At the time, he lived near Perth Ontario and was working for an environmental protection organization called ecoPerth.

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