2016 marks the 25th birthday of the Passive House standard, as well as the 20th installment of the International Passive House Conference that took place April 22-23. How appropriate that the birthplace of Passivhaus – Darmstadt – and the self-proclaimed German “Stadt der Wissenschaft” (“City of Science”) – be the site chosen to celebrate these big milestones.
This year it was my turn to represent 475 at this annual gathering of Passive House leaders from around the world, along with 475 co-founder Floris Keverling Buisman (who was also a presenter – more below). For me it was a thrill to witness all this collective knowledge under one roof – gathered for the sole purpose of showing the world how we will solve the climate crisis with low energy buildings. I came away from Darmstadt with a renewed determination to help spread this knowledge to my corner of the planet, New England, where I work as 475’s product consultant (I am also a CPHC).
“We’re Gonna Have to Science the S**t Out of this!”
Dr. Wolfgang Feist, Director of the Passive House Institute (PHI), opened the plenary session with a look back at 25 years of Passive House. To show how impressively Passive Houses perform, Feist chose to look at just one project – the iconic Kranichstein Passive House just down the road. To cut to the chase, this building didn’t disappoint. From effectiveness and longevity of insulation in its walls and roof, to avoidance of thermal bridges, to airtightness, to energy positive Passive House windows, to balanced ventilation with heat recovery – Feist and his team of researchers dissected the building. They found that the Passive House components installed 25 years ago are going strong, and predict many years of service ahead. From Dr. Feist: “These (Passivhaus) principles were consistently applied in the prototype building in Darmstadt – and still today, everything functions exactly as it did the first day.”
Imagine how buildings will perform when we design and install Passivhaus components – as we do today – with 25 years of experience! Now’s a good time to offer a quote from Elrond Burrell, founder of the UK’s Passivhaus Trust and one member of the large UK contingent at this year’s conference (after Germany and China). “There is a real hunger for good news, and Passivhaus is good news. We have a standard based now on 25 years of experience and research which we know works. This is what the world needs. We have the skills, we have the proof. What is needed now is to wake up our politicians and policy makers.” Feist of course said it best (with some help from Hollywood): “We’re Gonna Have to Science the S**t Out of this!“. (You can follow Elrond on Twitter. He also put together a great compendium of tweets from the 2016 conference – see here).
Presentations, trade show and more
The biggest challenge was choosing which presentations to attend, out of more than 200 offered over two days. Twitter makes up for this in part these days, but the quality of the presentations was so high, you didn’t want to miss any. EnerPHit (Passive House retrofit standard) dominated once again, but there were busy sessions on ventilation solutions, components, renewables, districts and major projects – and ending with one of the bigger themes of the conference, “China goes Passive!”
Since most of the buildings our children and grandchildren will inherit are already built, the biggest challenge we face is retrofits. So it was no surprise that a large share of the presentations focused on this subject. While the technical and cost hurdles to EnerPHit projects are formidable, the conference brought together many different solutions, from small to large scale projects, and topics ranging from technology to cost effectiveness. A few highlights:
- 475’s own Floris Keveling Buisman went big with his small EnerPHit project in Saugerties, NY (photo above & video interview at Pro Clima booth)
- Reimar von Meding offered his Reimarkt “supermarket” for retrofits as finished product, not just components
- Belgian EnerPHit architect Sebastian Moreno-Vaccadoing of A2M, on EnerPHit: “The biggest projects are too easy”
The conference was a great chance to network with Passive House practitioners from around the world, including many from the US. The trade show floor around the sprawling Darmstadtium featured dozens of vendors peddling Passive House components, including 475 partners Pro Clima and Lamilux. Both are very active with Passive House projects across Germany and internationally. Jens Lüder Herms also hosted a pre-conference group visit to Pro Clima’s headquarters in Schwetzingen. After showing us a low energy project in nearby Mannheim and sampling some fresh white asparagus near the famous Schwetzingen castle, the group also toured Pro Clima’s training spaces and got to make “welded” joints using the new SOLITEX Weldano vapor open underlayment system for watertight low slope roofs.
One of the best parts of the trip for me was to see how Passive House buildings are changing the German landscape and auguring in a low energy future. The culmination was a self-tour of Bahnstadt in Heidelberg, the world’s largest Passivhaus development. The quality and variety of the designs is a testament to how far the Passive House standard has come in 25 short years, and should be an inspiration to architects around the globe designing the most efficient, durable, healthy and comfortable buildings for the next 200 years.