International Passive House Conference 2015

Conference Picture - photo PHI

The 19th Annual International Passive House conference (#iPHC19) was held in Leipzig, Germany on April 17th and 18th.  With large contingents attending from North America and China, as well as an emerging group of practitioners stretching across the Mediterranean from Turkey to Portugal, the global effort of Passive House was palpable. The project types continue to expand, from factories, to office complexes to day-care centers, as did the details, from optimizing thermal bridges with earthquake loads to incorporating wood fired furnaces and onsite renewables. As with the other conferences before, there was a dizzying array of information sharing and professional networking – I’m going to try to boil it down to a few themes.

It’s the Components

A key theme to delivering solutions in any particular place was the development and availability of the best possible components. Dr. Wolfgang Feist, Director of the Passive House Institute (PHI), opened the conference with a detailed analysis of developing component technologies of insulations, windows, and ventilation, heating, cooling and dehumidification systems. “Today the investment costs for improved efficiency of building components are exceptionally low; the cost difference is more than compensated through the saved energy costs,” said Dr. Feist. As we see certified windows get better while costs drop, it was clear that the large scale manufacture, and wide availability and application of critical components is essential to making their cost effectiveness a reality everywhere. Building on the success of window components, senior PHI scientist Dr. Benjamin Krick presented the 2016 Component Awards – focused on window components suitable for retrofit applications. With 41 qualifying entries the quality of the winners was exceptionally high, including First Prize solutions by Optiwin and Smartwin.   The focus on the innovative application of high-performance components was the subject of many sessions, including a session by Allen Gilliland of One Sky Homes, San Jose, California, on simplified approaches to ventilation and space conditioning. After windows it is clear that ventilation components and applications are very critical to ongoing developments. It was announced that 2016’s conference will feature competition winners for outstanding ventilation solutions in retrofit applications.

It’s the Retrofits

Tomas OLeary presenting on EuroPHit - photo - PHI

While the discussion of retrofitting existing building is not new to Passive House, each year the dominance of retrofiting grows. PHI’s retrofit standard is called EnerPHit and it is gaining in global application. Susanne Theumer and Maria del Carmen Rivero Arias, both of PHI, presented on a study of the successful application of EnerPHit standard across the 16 climate zones of Mexico. They concluded: “[EnerPHit] has once again proved to be the best option for achieving energy efficiency without compromising comfort or cost efficiency in the case of building modernizations, even for the analyzed examples within the warm and hot climate zones.”


Fixit 222 Aerogel

Many sessions were dedicated to examining retrofits – from a study of 20 residential units in the United Kingdom, to products innovations such as an insulating plaster mix product that incorporates aerogel insulation called “Fixit 222 Aerogel”, to an update on the EuroPHit Project by Passive House Academy Director, Tomas O’Leary. EuroPHit is a three year project funded by the European Union, of 20 projects located from Spain to Sweden to study step-by-step refurbishment and develop tools and materials for wide scale implementation. Tomas O’Leary stated “EuroPHit contends that it is better to develop a refurbishment plan for buildings which might span several years (or even decades) and to do a deep retrofit on a step-by-step basis to ensure that in the end the EnerPHit standard is reached.”

Other presentations featured retrofits of office complexes, high-rises and historic landmarks. If we needed reminding, it was made remarkably clear, that in many ways, the future is retrofits.

It’s the Data

Bahnstadt Satisfaction Data

If you are a data junky then this conference was the place for you. Numerous presentations provided extensive data collected from component and equipment performance to user satisfaction, including extensive data from residents and workers in the new Bahnstadt District in Heidelberg, Germany. Nick Grant of Elemental Solutions in the UK, showed how data collected over several school projects informed the teams evolving process of design and PHPP optimization to make ever better school buildings. His presentation is online here.


It’s the Energy Transformation

Krick explains paths to new Certification Levels

Ensuring that our buildings are rigorously efficient, and add renewables in a way that supports and optimizes society’s shift to renewable energy production, the Passive House Institute has introduced a new visionary primary energy calculation, Primary Energy Renewable (PER) and new Certification levels Plus and Premium which acknowledge the benefits of renewable production onsite. In PHI’s formulation, the fundamental resilience of the enclosure is not lessened by adding renewables – as the renewable production is not in the service of making a building a “survivalist island” (my term) but instead is distributed to the grid to contribute to the survival of society.

Listening to the various talks on the subject it made me think, that as post-WWII American leadership remade our global economy with such ubiquitous drivers as the personal computer and the internet, today, it just may be the German energiewende (or energy transformation) that is leading the global shift from a fossil fuels based world economy to one based on renewable production. And that a post-fossil fuel world will be based on the interconnectivity of renewable power production, storage and its efficient use – not unlike the power our personal computers provide, not in isolation, but through their internet connection.

But back to the specifics. PHI scientist Jessica Grove-Smith gave a detailed explanation of what’s under the hood of the new PER and the new certification levels. And Benjamin Krick walked through project examples showing challenges and opportunities in reaching the new Plus and Premium categories. (Stay-tuned for more information on another blog post dedicated to this subject.) Please come see Jessica Grove-Smith provide an in-person 60 minute presentation and Q & A on all this, June 11th in New York City at the NYPH Passive House Conference.

All the new calculations are made with the new updated Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), Version 9 – an English language as well as an IP version will be available to US practitioners in the Fall of this year.

It’s the Global Community

Kinshasa Embassy project by A2M - credit A2MMeeting and learning from practitioners located around the world is a unique experience of the conference: a whole series of talks on fast paced developments in China, the challenges of building in Russia, new buildings in Spain and Italy, an embassy in Kinshasa, Congo, and so on. It shifts our perspective from our limits we face every day, to the possibilities everywhere – it was liberating.   Of course North America was also well represented, with presentations, in addition to Allen Gilliland mentioned above, by Matthew O’Malia of G-O Logic, Sam Hagerman of Hammer and Hand, and Adam Cohen of Passiv Science.



IPHC19_NorthAmericans_with_HaroldOrr_WolfgangFiestA special treat was meeting living legend Harold Orr, who received the fourth Passive House Pioneer Award.   Accepting the award in the closing plenary, Harold Orr gave a moving talk on the development of the Saskatchewan Conservation House – noting the dramatic effects and importance given to airtightness and thermal insulation he said, “Lots of insulation and airtightness, that’s what works.”

Finally, what seems to now be an established tradition, Saturday evening was the North American Passive House Network (NAPHN) Dinner – this year organized by NAPHN board member Andre Harrmann, a Leipzig native. With 120 attending, we unwound while meeting still more great people – from North America, the UK, Latvia, Austria, Belgium, Slovenia, and so on – discussing, into the night, the conference proceedings and our ongoing work, in the pleasant amber glow of German beer.

Next Year

The 2016 International Conference will be held celebrating the 25 anniversary of the first Passive House, in Darmstadt, Germany, on April 22-23.   We hope to see you there.”

Ken Levenson is Co-President of the North American Passive House Network, President of New York Passive House, and partner at 475 High Performance Building Supply.  A version of this post was published on GreenBuildingAdvisor.