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.

Taking a Bite Out of the Whale

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change recently presented The Copenhagen Communiqué to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  This document, signed by more than 500 businesses across the globe, states that “economic development will not be sustained in the longer term unless the climate is stabilized.”  It also calls for an agreement to be drafted and accepted that “establishes a global emission cap and long-term reduction pathway for all greenhouse gas emissions and sources, for the period 2013 to 2050 (with interim targets).”

CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain is among the signers of the document and all of the businesses of Saint-Gobain have corporate mandates to reduce our carbon footprint in our buildings and manufacturing facilities.

If the UN adopts this proposal, it presents an interesting challenge for the United States and addresses what I discussed in a previous blog about the need for energy auditors.  In the US, our energy standards have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, but 90 percent of our homes and about 4 million commercial buildings were built before 1990.  While we have seen many programs able to achieve energy efficiency and sustainability in new design and construction, those advances are like taking a bite out of a whale – because they represent less than 2% of our reality.  We have to address the 98% of buildings that remain because that’s where our energy is being consumed. With a global goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50%, we would never reach that goal just by greening our new construction. We have to go back and green our existing construction if we are ever going to meet even 15, 20 or 30% goals. There is a growing need for programs that can retroactively improve building performance.

At the 2009 GreenBuild Convention in November in Phoenix, Arizona, CertainTeed will be hosting a luncheon with guest speakers from Gerding Edlen Development on this very issue.  Gerding Edlen has a Sustainable Solutions program which is successfully retrofitting existing buildings and significantly reducing the carbon emissions. I can’t wait to learn about how they are doing this.  This is an incredibly important time to talk about this issue because although they are not easy to do, we have achieved passive houses and zero energy buildings. Its one thing to achieve zero energy when you start with a clean piece of paper and design in the building efficiency, but it’s another thing when you inherit someone else’s mess. While it’s a more difficult target, it’s the most important target. There are limited slots available for this luncheon.  If you are planning to attend GreenBuild and would like to attend, email Kristen Harter, Kristen.M.Harter@saint-gobain.com.

If the UN adopts the Copenhagen Communiqué, it will certainly accelerate our efforts to retrofit the existing building inventory globally. Each existing building we improve will have an impact on controlling greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

While the task may seem insurmountable, we do know how to eat a whale right? One bite at a time.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.

Harnessing the Power of Sun for the Future

Hello, my name is Shawn Beears and I am a Marketing Manager in the Insulation Group for CertainTeed Corporation

shawnbeearsWith all the current attention on identifying alternative sources of energy, it is no wonder that the Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy continues to be a great international event. This exciting competition brings together educators, students, manufacturers, and the general public to push the limits of design and construction of solar powered, energy efficient homes as well as to raise awareness about renewable energy and energy efficiency. As discussed in a previous blog entitled “Stars Align for Energy Efficiency”, this is another example of how the time is right for us to not only embrace, but retain the momentum to focus on efficiency and find alternative energy sources.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon is the fourth contest to be held since its inception in 2002 and will take place in Washington, D.C. in October.  Twenty teams from colleges and universities around the world were selected from submitted proposals to compete.  The purpose of the Decathlon is “to design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun.”  The homes are designed and built where the team members live and are then dismantled and reconstructed in “the solar village” on the National Mall.

The careful selection of products and how they work together is critical to achieving zero energy. The University of Kentucky team approached CertainTeed Insulation to use our CertaSpray™ closed cell spray foam for their project.  Closed cell spray foam offers superior air sealing and thermal performance which makes it a perfect choice for energy efficiency and moisture control.  We are excited to be a part of this project as a manufacturer that is committed to sustainable product development.

The goal of the Solar Decathlon is to create homes that are attractive and easy to live in; maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions; feature appealing and adequate lighting; supply energy to household appliance for cooking and cleaning; power home electronics; provide hot water; and balance energy production and consumption.

The 20 houses are open to the public from October 9 – 13 and October 15-18 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and the event is an exciting way to learn about solar energy technologies, energy efficient products available in the marketplace, and to take a peek at what the future may hold.

Of course, I will be rooting for the University of Kentucky in the Solar Decathlon.

Stars Align for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

During the last presidential election, the candidates talked a lot about “energy independence.”  Behind the rhetoric and campaign promises, there is truth.  Like never before, the United States is in the position to fully embrace sustainability and energy efficiency.  Energy is a national security issue. We are sending money to parts of the world for oil when those countries have no long term interest in us. Less dependence on them will be a driver in identifying domestic sustainable energy resources. Truth is, we have “skimmed the cream off the milk” so now is the time to stand on our own whether we like it or not. There are four key influences that point to this alignment:

Social influences:  Consumers are more educated about energy efficiency; in part due to added focus by the media.  Television has Planet Green, news broadcasts focus on “Going Green” looking at what individuals and businesses are doing in this area. Baby boomers, who were children in the 1970’s, remember the gas lines and early public campaigns for energy efficiency and recycling. When energy became cheap and plentiful again, most of those efforts were cast aside and forgotten. Well here we are again.  Since those Boomers are now making the economic decisions, they have greater influence. After all, who’s buying hybrid cars? Baby boomers!

Economic influences: There is a great amount of venture capital and government grant money available for the development of alternative energy and energy efficient products.  Solar and wind have never totally caught on before because they were cost prohibitive.  Now, as demand grows, they will be more affordable and, therefore, embraced. Programs like Cash for Clunkers was successful partially because it motivated the consumer to move into a more energy-efficient car, keeping car manufacturers and dealers in business by creating demand and reducing the carbon footprint of poor performing vehicles.

Technology influences: This is fueled by the economic influences.  Research and development around wind, solar and ethanol as alternative energies are being funded.  Ethanol is not viable as a resource alone because of a variety of issues including water. It could, however, be a part of the solution. For manufacturers, like us, continuing to improve the energy efficiency of insulation or solar roofing products as well as finding new ways to improve other building materials, is critical.  When the housing industry is producing 2.2 million homes per year changes can’t be implemented easily.  But now, in a slower market, changes can be made to the building envelope to improve energy efficiency while keeping the home affordable.  Organizations like Oregon BEST and Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge, both of which we spoke about before, encourage the building community to take energy efficiency and net-zero building to the next level.

Educational influences: In the past, we didn’t have degreed programs around building science and sustainability. Now, this information is being incorporated into the curriculums for architects, engineers and other professionals who deal with construction. The professionals coming behind us will be prepared to take energy efficiency and sustainability to greater heights.

So, yes, the stars are aligned for lasting change with regard to lowering our carbon footprint both as individuals and corporations, embracing alternative sources of energy and leaving a legacy of innovation and sustainability for future generations. 

Your thoughts are welcome!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Stan Gatland photo_1Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation contributed to this blog.