San Francisco’s Dan Johnson sums up the state of Passive House in North America when he says, “It’s a testament to how powerful these ideas are that people would be so passionate about them to disagree.” Yes, the growth of the Passive House movement in the United States has become inseparable from the politicized debate over whether or not Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) should deviate from the European energy-performance metric of 4.75 kBTU per square foot per year and tailor standards to the country’s varied climate. But Johnson is right—no one debates a topic of little significance. That Passive House is in the midst of this tug-of-war is, in the end, a good sign for our built environment.
Like presidential candidates—who may one day be debating Passive House standards themselves—when it comes to this country’s still nascent Passive House movement, any press is good press, especially if it highlights the ability of passive design to reduce energy use without pricey photovoltaic arrays and other expensive add-ons.
Welcome to gb&d’s 2014 Passive House Special Edition. It is a publication devoted to this growing movement, to the men and women who continue to shape it, and to the incredible success it has already seen. I’m especially excited about our virtual tour of Passive House construction in San Francisco, the host city of this year’s North American Passive House Conference. “The designers, builders, and consultants behind [these] projects have reimagined the way homes and other buildings can be constructed,” Brandon Smith writes of the passive homes currently completed in San Francisco and the surrounding area. From eclectic urban workshops to wine-country estates, it’s increasingly clear that Passive Houses come in many forms.
Up the coast, Seattle’s first home to meet the stringent standard is a model of both energy efficiency and style. Designed by NK Architects to maximize indoor and outdoor space, one of Park Passive’s most unique features is its open stairwell, accented on the exterior and daylit through a series of windows and skylights. Further north, Austrian expat Guido Wimmers is an avid proponent of passive design—he designed the Passive House-certified home base for the Austrian team during the 2010 Winter Olympics—and is the chair of the University of Northern British Columbia’s new Integrated Wood Design program.
Of course, everyone wants to know what the future of Passive House holds, specifically with regards to PHIUS and climate-specific energy metrics. PHIUS executive director Katrin Klingenberg goes on the record to explain the reasons—and research—behind the organization’s proposal. The motive, in part, is the relative ease with which builders in certain climates, like California’s, can attain the Passive House standard. “That’s not what we want,” Klingenberg says. “We want to optimize energy savings in each zone.”
Another Bay Area Passive House consultant optimistically summarizes this moment in Passive House history: “No matter what certification you use, you’re still going to have a super-high-performance structure,” says Prudence Ferreira, whose Zero Cottage is one of San Francisco’s highest-performing structures. In the end, builders may debate the finer points, but Passive House is ready for the big time, and I am proud to help push it forward.
Navigate the content of our Passive House Special Edition below.