We’re ready to submit Edgewaterhaus for Passive House Certification.
Which begs the question: should we even bother with certification, particularly after the fracturing of the Passive House movement last August? That’s when the Passive House Institute (PHI), the international organization headquartered in Germany, and it’s Passive House Institute United States (PHIUS) affiliate started lobbing invective laced verbal grenades across the pond to each other. That culminated in PHI “divorcing” PHIUS, i.e., revoked it’s ability to certify buildings under the PHI banner. (See my August 27 2010 blog entitled “PHI vs. PHIUS…..And the Winner is…”).
As an aside to the leadership of PHI and PHIUS, I offer the insight of Rodney King seeking to quell the 1992 Los Angeles riots: ”People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”
I read that many building owners try to save a few bucks by forgoing certification. However, I think there’s value in “officially” meeting a recognized standard. You can run a 26.4 mile course in record time, but it’s much more credible when you cross the finish line at a sanctioned marathon event. I think certification also adds focus during construction, and future resale value to the building.
So we will seek certification, but with whom: the internationally recognized PHI that developed the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) energy performance software and passive house standards, or PHIUS’ fledgling “PHIUS+” certification?
We’d really like to stay with the “hometown” PHIUS team. So what’s PHIUS been up to since the August split?
- Green Building Advisor Richard Defendorf reported that PHIUS announced a ban in December on the use of spray foam insulation that uses hydrofluorocarbon blowing agents with high global warming potential. With certain exceptions, that means closed cell spray foams cannot be used for PHIUS+ certification, but open cell spray foams (which use water as the blowing agent) are allowed. PHIUS wants to promote insulation materials that have a low embodied energy. What’s that mean? Steel is a good example of a high embodied energy material; mining the iron ore is very energy intrusive, as is smelting the ore and transporting the steel to it’s destination. Another is granite slabs mined in Europe and shipped to the U.S. for use as countertops. Examples of low embodied energy material are natural stone taken from a nearby quarry, or timber harvested and reused on the site. We’ve just done that with the pine trees on Edgewaterhaus that we cut down, logged, and locally milled into timbers and boards for interior finishes on the three season room. I think the ban is a good move by PHIUS. An open cell formulation will be fine for the minimum spray foam insulation Edgewaterhaus requires for the band board where the floor joists meet the foundation.
- Prolific GBA writer Martin Holladay reported that PHIUS filed a trademark application in January with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office of the Department of Commerce for exclusive use of the term “Certified Passive House Consultant, or phrase CPHC.” When PHIUS was a subsidiary of PHI, both used the “CPHC” moniker. Now PHIUS wants exclusive use of the term “CPHC” in the U.S., even though “CPHC” is reportedly used around the world by other PHI national affiliates. In a legal flanking maneuver, PHIUS also sent notice to the Passive House Academy (PHA) to stop its use of CPHC. PHA, with offices in Ireland and New York, is one of the few remaining organizations in North America that can still certify a building under the PHI standard. PHIUS is a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit organization whose mission is “….to promote implementation of Passive House Building Energy standard…..”. I cringe at the thought of a charitable organization like PHIUS calling out the lawyers to defend turf. ’Cause that’s just what this is: a continuation of PHI vs PHIUS infighting. How do lawyers help the PHIUS stated goal of advancing the Passive Housing Building Energy standard?
- PHIUS also announced in January a new strategic partnership with RESNET, the non-profit organization that developed the HERS index. This index rates the energy performance of homes based on a zero to 100 scale, with 100 being a new home built to current US building standards, and zero representing a home that requires zero energy on an annual basis. RESNET has the impressive support of the U.S. government as well as the mortgage and financial industry. There are many RESNET energy auditors, but there are no RESNET contractors and builders in the northeast. PHIUS had to come up with some new approach to replace PHI certification, so on the surface, the lash-up with RESNET would seem to make sense. The joint press release states that the RESNET/PHIUS agreement “synchronizes standards, modeling, and quality assurance and quality control for low energy homes and buildings.”
That all sounds good. But for me, the wheels started coming off the wagon when I looked closer. According to the press release, PHIUS would: become an affiliate of RESNET; adopt the HERS index; “adopt standards and procedures that harmonize with RESNET….”; and work with RESNET to adopt a uniform calculation of carbon savings. In return, RESNET would……….ah, apparently do nothing. There is no mention of what if anything RESNET will do differently. That does not come across to me like a partnership of equals.
So I looked more closely at the new PHIUS+ procedures, which now adds a quality assurance/quality control component to the passive house certification. In short, you (1) upload the architectural plans to PHIUS, who (2) analyzes the energy performance using the PHPP software. If the project meets the (3) PHPP modeling standards, you submit the project to a (4) RESNET approved rater, who similarly reviews the plans and conducts some unspecified number of onsite visits during construction, to include performing the final blower door test to affirm whether the building achieves the maximum allowed 0.6 air changes per hour at 50 pascal. With a favorable RESNET report, PHIUS will (5) issue the PHUIS+ certificate along with a RESNET approved HERS score.
I found it interesting that PHIUS can still use the PHI developed PHPP software. I wondered if PHIUS had modified any of the PHPP data fields, acceptable values, or interpretations since the rift with PHI. In an email exchange with PHIUS, I was assured that the PHIUS results “should match very closely” with that of PHI. Hmmmn, so six months after the internecine warfare, there are no acknowledged changes!
What struck me most was the apparent absence of consolidation, synchronization, or process melding between PHIUS and RESNET. Other than the need to have a reputable 3rd party perform the final blower door test, the RESNET portion appears to be simply a duplicate effort. Instead of paying for and following a Passive House certification process, you must now also pay and follow a RESNET certification process, whether or not the latter provides any additional benefit. And since Passive House is touted as being 90 percent more energy efficient than a home built to current U.S. code, that should confer a defacto HERS Score of 10. I wonder about the additional time and process RESNET will add to the construction timeline. And I wonder what non-sequiter devils lie in the process details between these two organizations. Perhaps that will all be worked out over time. We still plan to seek LEED Platinum certification, but RESNET certification was not on our scope. For us, the “+” aspect of PHIUS certification does not seem to offer any obvious benefits, and certainly adds time, duplication of effort, and cost.
Most recently, PHIUS announced an initiative to relax the passive house standard for cold climates. As reported in Environmental Building News, the proposal being developed would better balance cost vs benefit for the additional depth of insulation needed to attain the passive house standard in cold climates. I have mixed views on this. Perhaps this might address my pet rock that PHI now credits use of solar thermal systems but not solar voltaic systems. On the other hand, that means that homes would be graded on a climate curve. Do you want your school children graded on a local curve, only to face the reality of international competition for talent, jobs, and pay in a global economy? I’ve always accepted the reality that meeting the passive house in Maine will be more challenging and expensive than doing so in California.
After considering all this, we decided to submit for PHI certification using the Passive House Academy. Certification cost is a not inexpensive $2,200. Surprisingly, PHA must independently reenter all the PHPP data, rather than simply double check our PHPP entries. It’s not like this is the design for a nuclear reactor, where 100 percent corroboration of data entries makes sense!