The Insider's Guide on Getting Specified for Passive House Projects

Posted On: 
Jun 1, 2018
The Insider's Guide on Getting Specified for Passive House Projects

American architect and inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller, said, “The best way to predict the future is to design it.” The build and design industry is creative and innovative. There is always something new to invent, something new to learn. This creativity and innovation offers a vast amount of options for designing the future. It also creates opportunities for product manufacturers to become specified. One of these opportunities is a relatively new concept called “passive house”.

A New Idea with a Long History

According to the non-profit organization Architecture2030 Architecture 2030, buildings consume 47.6% of energy produced in the United States. Globally, this percentage is even higher. If the build and design industry is part of the problem, then we must be responsible for part of the solution as well. The passive house standard is one contribution to the solution.

Passive house, in a nutshell, is a standard of comfort and a method to meeting this standard. A passive house is designed to use very little power to heat or cool, sealing it from outside temperatures but maintaining a static inside temperature with high air quality. It has been compared to a thermos, but with excellent ventilation. This leads to 50-70% overall energy savings, although size of the project and climate can make that number vary.

The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) states that this concept dates back to 2003 and started in the United States. Its history, though, can be traced back even further to the energy crisis of 1973, when the U.S. Department of Energy promoted “passive” energy-conservation measures like better building insulation, blocking air leakage in the envelope, and installing energy-efficient glazing. As soon as the crises ended, though, builders began erecting energy suckers again. Fast forward about thirty years to 2003, when the first North American passive house, Smith House, was built in Urbana, IL by Katrin Klingenberg. In 2007, PHIUS was formed and developed the Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) Certification based on its PHIUS+ standards. There are now over 1500 CPHCs in the U.S. and Canada. While the certified project list is largely single-family, the amount of commercial and multi-family projects is starting to have a presence.

Note that PHIUS was connected to the Passive House Institute (PHI) in Europe up until 2011, when they split due to a difference in opinion over climate effect on buildings. While the standards of both institutes are similar, PHIUS created their own specific to the different climate regions in North America.

But it Sounds Really Difficult to Do…

The Passive House Principles go into detail on the standards, but there’s three main ideas to the passive house concept: limits on heating and cooling loads, limits on overall energy use, and a higher focus on air-tightness and air quality.

On paper, it sounds hard to do, but consider that:

  • Passive house projects use technologies and systems that are already known and easily available, nothing is imported or unusually expensive.
  • Passive house use methods and technologies that are already familiar to builders, and nothing is over the top exotic or unique.
  • Passive house projects typically only cost 5-10% more than a conventional building and require the same kind of team planning to stay on budget that obtaining LEED certification does.
  • Passive house projects rely on basic building science, taken to a higher level: orient correctly to the sun; make the envelope airtight; eliminate thermal bridging; super insulate the building; use high-performance windows; provide optimum ventilation; and use shading, daylighting, and internal heat gain appropriately to the climate.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, I’m convinced a passive house project is easier than it initially sounded, but I’m a manufacturer. How do I get specified for a passive house project? And what about LEED?”

How LEED and Passive House Work Together and How to Get Specified

Passive House is a perfect partner for LEED v4 BD+C. Passive house, builders are challenged to design for climate-specific comfort and performance, and LEED builders are challenged to reduce impacts in energy, water, waste, and transportation. According to the USGBC, “Project teams that are considering pursuing PHIUS certification may now use this third-party-verified home performance standard to earn credit toward LEED certification”. So Passive House and LEED are aligned to create a symbiotic relationship, making green building easier!

By earning the PHIUS certificate, projects can be awarded a minimum of 31.5 points in LEED v4 BD+C: Homes, as well as most prerequisites in the Energy and Atmosphere and Indoor Environmental Quality credit categories. Additional points can be earned by demonstrating achievement of a HERS Index score of 40 or better. The credit-specific details can be found on the GBCI website page, Use Passive House US to earn a credit toward LEED certification.

PHIUS currently has Certification for Buildings and Products and has two active programs, Verified Window Performance Data Program and Verified Building System/Panel System Program, with a Certified Ventilation Product Program in the works. These programs were created to make verified products readily available to passive building practitioners. Manufacturers who have their product performance data verified by PHIUS can better position their products in the marketplace to be specified. Having PHIUS data verification leads to a better chance at passive house specification much like HPD’s and EPDs offer a higher chance of specification for LEED projects. The benefits of HPDs and EPD’s are shared in the previous blogs, 3 Reasons Why a Health Product Declaration (HPD) Increases Specification Opportunities and 3 Ways LEED Product Documentation Leads to Product Specification. There’s even a database for the certified product performance values, so specifiers can access that info quickly. These databases are specific to the program and is easily accessed from the PHIUS website.

The application process for PHIUS verification is also easily accessed from each of the program’s pages at the PHIUS website. A full syllabus for the process is provided and requirements is provided, with an application and instructions. Once your product is PHIUS verified, you are then given a Data Label (the link shows the PHIUS Verified Window Performance Data Label, as an example).

The Bottom Line

It is well-known that getting specified is a process with many steps. It can seem like adding PHIUS verification to the mix makes this process harder, but it doesn’t have to be. Passive house and LEED work together toward the common goal of sustainability and lower energy consumption, so the effort is invaluable. Also, because passive house projects are basically in their infancy in North America, being PHIUS verified can bump your product to the front of the specification line! As passive house projects increase, more opportunities for involvement and specification will arise. If your product is already established as a PHIUS verified product, you’ll be ready for the specification opportunities.

While you’re thinking about passive house specification, don’t forget about your LEED specification opportunities. Product reps that are LEED Green Associates is a great step toward specification on any project, and we offer a free LEED Exam Prep course. We also have multiple offerings for free course on HPD’s continuing education and are able to help you get your product transparency documentation ready by referring you to Elixir Environmental. With all these LEED and PHIUS resources and tools ready and available, the specification opportunities will be smooth and maybe even fun!

Are you familiar with passive house projects? If so, what do you think of them concept? How do you think it works together with LEED?

Credit for passive house history and stats: Passive House by Robert Cassidy in Multifamily Design + Construction Magazine Spring 2018 issue

For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please contact Brad Blank