Embracing the Passive House

Stan Gatland

Stan Gatland

If there is any reliable source to confirm that the building community in the United States is beginning to embrace the passive house concept, it was the 4th Annual North American Passive House Conference held in October at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  In 2008, there were only 15 certified passive house consultants in the United States but by the end of this year there will be over 200.  More than 300 architects and building professionals attended the conference this year.

 The passive house concept has been incorporated into building design practice for over 10 years throughout the world.  While many countries, including the U.S, have increased energy efficiency requirements for building through regulation, a relatively small percentage of industry partners have embraced the passive house concept on a large scale. 

The primary goal of passive house technology is to reduce your heating and cooling load so that very little energy is needed to maintain comfort.  It is critical that we control energy consumption and identify ways to improve our structures to improve their efficiency. It is understood that it will take time but programs like passive house build the awareness necessary to drive lasting change in energy conservation.

The ways to achieve passive house energy levels include increasing insulation in the walls and roof, providing pre-heated and pre-cooled air by coupling it with the ground through ducts buried into the earth (more practical on new construction), orientation of the building for maximum use of sunlight along with passive shading techniques, and installing high performance windows. But with the heightened focus on air tightness in passive house construction, more attention needs to be paid to indoor air quality and ventilation.

The other critical need to achieve any of these goals is the education of building occupants.  People need to maintain the systems in order to attain the maximum benefit.

Saint-Gobain, the parent company of CertainTeed, collaborated with the Passive House Institute in Germany and developed an educational marketing program called the ISOVER Multi-Comfort House.  

At the conference, I introduced CertainTeed’s Multi-Comfort House Educational Program which is a program CertainTeed will launch in 2010 to help train architects, building professionals and design students in passive house technologies.  The key components of the CertainTeed program are comfort (thermal, indoor air quality, acoustical and visual), safety and environmental protection benefits with design recommendations for all climate zones.

Understanding how products work together in the building envelope, especially in different climate zones, is critical to achieving passive house efficiencies.  Some valuable resources regarding passive house and net-zero building include the US Passive House Institute, the US Department of Energy – Net-Zero Building Technologies Program, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the US Department of Energy Building America Program.

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technologies for CertainTeed Corporation.