Guest Blogs

PHIUS PHlogging

Posted on February 8, 2012 by mike eliason

“The Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. is not a brand, it is a building concept which is open to all.” – Anton Kraler

I have to say, I completely agree with Kraler. I don’t view Passive House as a brand, but a concept that belongs to the greater built environment (Passivhaus is a greater good!). And as a concept, I find it very sound and worthwhile. So it was interesting to be forwarded the (I’m not making that up!).

The Pretty Good House

Posted on February 6, 2012 by Michael Maines

Energy Star. LEED. Passivhaus. There are many programs with different metrics for determining how green your home is. But what elements of green building are important to you when designing and building a home?

Cape Cod Style Homes Are Difficult to Heat

Posted on February 1, 2012 by Erik North

One of the great ironies in construction (I bet you didn’t even know that construction could be ironic) is that Cape Cod style houses perform pretty poorly on Cape Cod. The year-round sea breezes wash right through a Cape building frame, making them chilly and uncomfortable in the winter months.

How did Cape Cod style houses (which perform not-so-great in the winter) become popular in New England? Maybe the name was a marketing scheme? And how can we address the air leakage and heat loss issues to make Capes more comfortable?

The First National Green Code — or Communism?

Posted on January 10, 2012 by Vera Novak

After a few false starts, the International Code Council (the code writing body for the U.S.) finally prevailed with the new , to be available in Spring 2012. Already there is media spin about the wonderful leadership shown by the U.S. in setting the example by providing such a code. Hoorah for the U.S.! I think…

Passivhaus and Spray Foam

Posted on January 4, 2012 by mike eliason

The Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Institute U.S. (PHIUS) has banned the use of spray polyurethane foam (SPF) with high global warming potential (GWP). The discussion on high GWP insulation was elevated in an excellent piece, “Avoiding the Global Warming Impact of Insulation,” written by Alex Wilson, the executive editor of Environmental Building News.

During Passivhaus training last year, it was stated that this could potentially be coming down the pipeline – so we weren’t surprised to see this pending regulation.

What’s Wrong With This Crawl Space?

Posted on December 26, 2011 by Garrett Mosiman

The photo shows an unvented crawl space in a cold climate. The home was built in 1885. This crawl space is attached to an adjacent concrete-floored basement. The foundation walls are made of mortared limestone.

Even in the small area captured in the photo, there are a number of problems that compromise energy efficiency, building durability, and life safety.

Next week, we will post the answers that a Building America team, NorthernStar, came up with.

Advice from a Homeowner

Posted on November 3, 2011 by Alana Shindler

Working at magazine would seem to have prepared me for having an energy-efficiency retrofit done on my own home, or at least to ask all the right questions. But Murphy’s Law intruded nevertheless, and you may learn from my experience.

An Energy-Auditing Class in Montana

Posted on November 1, 2011 by Kathy Price-Robinson

When I arrive for the five-day energy-auditing course at the Pure Energy Center in eastern Montana, I see instructor A. Tamasin Sterner outside the main house, clapping her hands and doing a little dance.

If you know Tamasin, a veteran energy auditor who famously counseled President Obama on the need for weatherization programs, you expect this show of exuberance.

Video: Installing Rigid Foam Under Footings

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Skylar Swinford

This construction site video of the Karuna House in Yamhill County, Oregon, demonstrates installation of a geofoam foundation that will superinsulate the bottom of the building envelopeExterior components of a house that provide protection from colder (and warmer) outdoor temperatures and precipitation; includes the house foundation, framed exterior walls, roof or ceiling, and insulation, and air sealing materials. and help the project achieve Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. and Minergie-P-ECO certifications.

Lead Carpenter Scott Gunter narrates the process of:

  • screeding out gravel,
  • back dragging with rake as needed,
  • compacting gravel,
  • marking outside foundation wall line on foam,
  • setting and aligning geofoam, and
  • drilling and pinning geofoam into place.

PV Systems Have Gotten Dirt Cheap

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Jesse Thompson

Something strange has happened to the price of photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) systems in the last year. PV has gotten dirt cheap.

Honestly, it's gotten cheaper faster than our office has realized, and we try to stay up on these things. Worse, we've realized we haven't been making proper recommendations to our clients because of it.

It's also shifting some of the underpinnings of our typical design analysis in strange ways, and it looks like there are some unexpected consequences we haven't yet figured out.

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