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Texas Builder’s Passion for Passive House Comes to Life

Most people would assume it makes zero sense to build a passive house in a hot, humid climate. The indoor/outdoor temperate differences aren’t as extreme as they tend to be in other climate zones.

But a passive house still offers a huge performance increase from traditional building methods, and a great improvement in the indoor air quality – a major attraction to homeowners. Not to mention the reduction in energy bills. In a cold climate, a passive house is projected to reduce energy expenses by 90%. In a hot climate, more like 70%*.  Still a signifiant savings, and worth the investment in additional time and materials up front.

 

Choosing Investment vs. Expense

From the financial side, the theory is that you’re spending more money on performance, then that money gets divided over the life of your mortgage. If you can spend $30 more a month on a mortgage, while achieving $100 savings a month in utilities – you’re at a major advantage.

Not only does it make a lot of sense, it’s something energy efficient builder Mark Larson, CPHC, Built Green Texas, can readily convey to his clients as a professional builder and consultant. 

“When you allocate your money this way, you’re choosing to invest in the value of your home, not the expense of living in it.

-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner

 

Performance Metrics Make the Difference

Mark Larson started his career in corporate real estate. He decided to make the leap into building because he loved that side of the business. If he was going to completely change careers and build houses, he wanted them to be the best ones on the market.

That’s how he discovered passive house design. It’s the most stringent building metric in the world, but also the only one that is performance based. It’s not prescriptive like LEED, meaning certified to operate a certain way in theory. Passive houses MUST perform as they are designed, or they don’t achieve passive house certification. They have to hit certain metrics for air tightness, measured with a “blower door test”.  The fact that the performance is completely measurable was much of the appeal.

“I’m a huge fan of performance based metrics – which is exactly what passive house offers. I knew my family would live and breathe in the highest indoor air quality. It really matters.”

-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner

 

Blower Door Testing

IAQ Texas conducted the initial blower door testing. But Mark didn’t get the results he was hoping

for, so he employed his own blower door contraption to help find leaks. Mark used a 2500 cfm construction ventilation fan and taped roof underlayment around the door opening.

He found some opportunities for better air sealing between the top plates, and at plate boards butted together. The attic hatch was also a source of leaks. Zip tape was sealed into a 90 degree corner, but air leaked out the ends of the length of tape. Some random nail holes and a few casements windows needed slight adjustments to better seal when closed.

Once those changes were made, Mark’s passive house rater from ATS Engineering did another blower door test before adding interior insulation. These results surpassed Mark’s expectations, and made it below the Passive House metric of .6ACH, and hit .57ACH. (via instagram, Feb 1, 2019). This figure is expected to drop even lower once interior insulation and drywall are added.

The Building Envelope

Mark spent a significant amount of time researching the materials he wanted to use for his home. For the building envelope, he used 2″ x 6″ studs, 16″ on center, Zip sheathing, Rockwool ComfortBoard exterior insulation, and Alpen windows. He had discovered ThermalBuck years prior, and was excited about finally having the chance to use it on his own home.

“ThermalBuck simplifies the water, air, and thermal control layers of window and door installation. It solves a specific problem of how and were to flash windows within continuous insulation. ThermalBuck will always be a tool in my design toolbox to solve the complexities of “outies” in CI,” said Larson. 

“It solves a specific problem of how and were to flash windows within continuous insulation.”

-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner

 

Passive House Austin

Mark is part of a dedicated group of building industry professionals working to make passive design well-known in the Texas market. Passive House Austin promotes the principles of passive design through events, podcasts, workshops, and most notably, the Humid Climate Conference. Held annually in Austin, the Humid Climate Conference recently featured Joe Lstiburek, widely recognized as the leading building science expert in the industry. It draws building professionals from all over the South, to focus on issues specifically related to their climate – offering a huge benefit over national or international events.

To learn more about Passive House Austin, and view more photos from the recent Huber sponsored happy-hour event at Mark Larson’s passive house build with IAQ Texas and Positive Energy, click here.


Helpful Links & More Info:

Mark Larson Instagram
Built Green Custom Homes, Austin Texas
Passive House Alliance – US

* homebuilder estimates from personal research

Performance Haus Inc. to Distribute ThermalBuck Across Canada

Spruce Grove, Alberta, CA — BRINC Building Products, Inc. has recently expanded ThermalBuck distribution into Canada, to meet the growing demand of high performance architects and builders constructing walls with continuous insulation.

 

“The industry is recognizing exterior insulation as a more effective way to insulate a building. ThermalBuck couldn’t have come at a better time.”

– Jamie Van Gelderen, Performance Haus, Inc.


Canada has long outpaced the US in the adoption of energy efficient building standards. The market for exterior insulation and higher R-value wall assemblies is significant, and builders have been grappling with the challenges of installing windows with exterior insulation.

 

ThermalBuck installation in Canada via Marchand Construction, Edmonton. Josh Marchand is a featured builder presenter at the annual Edmonton Remodeling Show.

ThermalBuck – The Continuous Insulation Solution

“Builders have been so receptive to ThermalBuck because it’s such a simple, effective solution to the challenges of installing windows with insulation,” said BRINC President, John Brooks. “From the moment we launched in 2016, ThermalBuck received a great deal of interest from the Canadian market. But we kept putting those inquires on hold, because we just couldn’t keep up with the requests while building the US market.”

Performance Haus – The Right Partner

Meeting James (Jamie) Van Gelderen of Performance Haus, Inc. changed everything.

Jamie impressed us with the personal approach he takes in developing his building material supply company, Performance Haus. His business model is driven by the principles of building science, and outstanding customer service. The commitment to training and installation assistance for Performance Haus customers was exactly what we were looking for in a partnership. A self-described “boots on the ground” entrepreneur, Jamie aims to teach builders to build above building code standards.

 

“The passion Jamie’s team shares for building science is inspiring. Performance Haus is a driving force in the evolution of energy-efficient building standards across Canada.”

 – John Brooks, President, BRINC Building Products, Inc.

 

Performance Haus offers a carefully curated product line of high performance building envelope materials, with the best reputations in the business. ThermalBuck is the ideal compliment to their existing high performance building envelope product offerings, which feature:

  • DELTA by Dörken high-performance air & moisture barriers, flashings and tape.
  • Havelock natural wool insulation
  • Innotech Windows and Doors
  • SIGA building envelope barriers & tapes
  • Terrafoam graphite enhanced EPS exterior insulation
  • ThermalBuck high performance window buck

 


For information regarding ThermalBuck distribution rights and purchasing in Canada, contact the high-performance team at performancehaus.ca.

 

ThermalBuck to Exhibit at Better Buildings by Design

When we think of leaders in energy-efficiency and sustainability, we think of Vermont. It’s no surprise Vermont ranks among the top 5 states in the nation for the advancement and support of energy efficiency, and has long maintained a pioneering role among the states in this arena.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) credits Vermont’s three energy efficiency utility companies as the driving force for Vermont’s ranking: Vermont Gas Systems, Burlington Electric, and Efficiency Vermont.

“Our statewide and coordinated efforts provide equity, fairness and transparency—ensuring that every Vermonter has access to affordable products and services to lower their energy use.”

– Karen Glitman, Director of Efficiency Vermont, as quoted on vermontbiz.com 

Efficiency Vermont was established in 1999, with the purpose of reducing energy costs and protecting the natural beauty of Vermont’s environment. It offers a number of opportunities for Vermont contractors, distributors, design professionals and homeowners to connect, and work together to save energy – and money.

One of their key initiatives is also the region’s leading design and construction conference, Better Buildings by Design.

 

Better Buildings by Design – February 7th & 8th

ThermalBuck extends, insulates, and flashes the rough opening. Integrated with Henry Blueskin WRB.
We sure get this whole “integrated design” concept. Recent ThermalBuck installation in Manchester Center, VT.

The Better Buildings by Design conference brings together over 1,000 attendees from all over the Northeast, and more than 50 exhibitors to Burlington, Vermont, February 7th & 8th, 2018.

Interactive learning is a focus of the 2018 Better Buildings by Design event, presenting practical information and the latest trends and technologies in the building industry.

Over 40 workshops are available for attendees, featuring five learning tracks: commercial, building systems, lighting, envelope, and healthy homes.

BRINC Building Products is proud to announce that we will be exhibiting ThermalBuck at this sold-out event, joining a select group of exhibitors that range from retailers like Curtis Lumber Co. and 475 Building Performance Supply, to manufactures of energy-efficient products like Roxul, Inc., Siga, and Smart Vent.

 

 

Putting It All Together – Integrated Design

This year’s theme “Putting It All Together – Integrated Design,” emphasizes the focus of the workshop content, and a key strategy of the presenters. Attendees can choose from a wide range of topics that include Integrated Teams, Integrated Project Delivery, and Integrated Design in a variety of scenarios.

Take a look at the full schedule of events, speakers, and listing of exhibitors here.

The opening session kicks off with awards honoring “Efficiency Vermont’s 2018 Best of the Best in Building Performance and Home Performance.” Attendees can view the plans, drawings, and photos of these award-winning homes and commercial buildings throughout the conference.

Wednesday evening, February 7th from 4:45 – 7:00 pm, attendees and exhibitors invite colleagues, clients and subcontractors to a reception in the exhibit hall that is open to the public. The reception features complimentary beverages and hors d’ oeuvres, as well as a cash bar. The exhibit hall will also be open to the public Thursday, February 8th from 1:30 – 3:30 pm.

While the exhibitor opportunities have sold out, you can still make plans to register and attend the conference. Or join us for the public reception Wednesday evening, and get a taste of what Better Buildings by Design is all about. Visit efficiencyvermont.com for more information.

 


The ACEEE published the most recent State Energy Efficiency Scorecard in September, 2017. This report ranks every state in the U.S. for their efforts in energy-efficiency, providing an extremely valuable tool for understanding how states handle and recover from severe weather related events such as hurricanes and flooding. The results guide state-level policymakers in their efforts to build more resilient local communities. To review key findings of this report, visit aceee.org

PHIUS Verified Installation with Alpen

Alpen 925 Zenith Nail Fin Window + 2.5″ ThermalBuck

Energy efficient windows are an essential component of any high-performance building. But the installation was always a challenge for nail flange windows, which have to be mounted on the same plane as the exterior insulation.

ThermalBuck teamed up with North-American passive house window manufacturer Alpen High Performance Products to introduce their PHIUS Verified Window Installation Detail featuring the Alpen 925 Series Fiberglass window with 2.5″ ThermalBuck.

PHIUS Verified Window Installation Data:

Alpen 925 Zenith Nail Fin Window + 2.5″ ThermalBuck 

ThermalBuck effectively limits thermal bridging at the rough opening, provides a superior air & water barrier than a wood buck, and also a strong support for the weight of the window.

Passive house designers and builders now have the data they need to confidently include ThermalBuck into their specifications.


The Alpen HPP Zenith Series ZR-9/ 925 window features up to R-9.1 insulation, 99.5% UV protection, insulated frames, and Alpen Glass, Alpen’s renowned Suspended Film Technology. Every Alpen window has 9 key design features that make these highly engineered windows some of the best in the industry. Read more about the technology and craftsmanship of Alpen windows here.

Alpen High Performance Products is a national distributor for ThermalBuck. thinkalpen.com

Building Energy-Efficient Bridges in Pittsburgh

As one terribly clever energy professional pointed out – a city with 446 bridges couldn’t possibly be intimidated by hundreds of pages of building codes.

“Bridges to the Future” was the theme of the 2017 National Energy Code Conference, which took place July 18th – 20th in Pittsburgh, PA.  The third city to become part of the 2030 District, and commonly known as “The City of Bridges,” Pittsburgh proved a fitting venue in which to focus on the future of energy-efficiency through the impact of codes and initiatives across the U.S.

The conference kicked off with “Energy Codes Bootcamp,” a great session for professionals new to the industry. It covered code basics, compliance software training for REScheck and COMcheck, and a brief overview of what’s coming in the 2018 IECC and ASHRAE 90.1-2016. Overall there is a focus on improved efforts to understand the different performance paths, and proving performance measures for buildings.

Next on the agenda, “Tours of the Tower” at PNC Plaza, which was designed to exceed LEED Platinum certification, and is known as the “greenest office building in the world.” The Tower is truly the crown jewel in Pittsburgh’s green building community, and no one could be more appreciate of it than the group of energy professionals in attendance.

The final tour of the day showcased The Energy Innovation Center, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose includes community engagement, workforce education and training, and support for businesses in the clean energy market.


Educational Sessions 

“If you work in building codes, it is essential to consider the future”
– Ian Finlayson, Massachusetts Dept. of Energy Resources 

One of the best educational sessions of day two was presented by Ian Finlayson of the Massachusetts Dept. of Energy Resources, “Developing and Promoting a Stretch Energy Code.” Massachusetts has mandatory requirements to adopt the latest ASHRAE and IECC codes every 3 years. But rapid gains in energy-efficient building are also being achieved across the state through educating and encouraging stretch codes. The keys to success include seeking expert input, keeping the message simple, and tracking adoption across municipalities.

“It’s all about ROI – how you consume and how you build must align.”
– Timothy McDonald, Onion Flats, LLC

Timothy McDonald, President of Onion Flats, LLC, kicked off the final day with the impressive gains his development company is achieving in the affordable housing market in Pennsylvania. Building on that knowledge, he has focused extensive efforts on including passive house building standards in the point system used by state housing finance agencies in awarding contracts. Once again education is a key component, emphasizing the fact that net-zero and passive house standards can be met cost-effectively. He added competition to the strategy, as the motivation tool for getting more builders to utilize energy-efficient building standards.

Some of the unique features of his own multi-family developments include facades that communicate energy use of the building, and making inexpensive design strategies essential, not traditionally key considerations in affordable housing.

 

Awards 

A final highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Jeffrey A. Johnson Award to the 2017 winner, Shaunna Mozingo, of Colorado Code Consulting. Jeffrey was remembered by his colleagues for his passionate work in energy-efficiency building. It was evident throughout the conference, and through the recognition of her colleagues, that Shaunna has embodied that same spirit throughout her career.

The conference was a great place to connect with a wide range of professionals focused on advancing the energy-efficiency initiatives at all levels – not just regulation. The architects, consultants, builders, manufacturers, and code officials in attendance all shared the same common goal: planning for the future by improving how we build today.


Considering attending an energy code conference in the future? Next up on the calendar is the 2017 International Code Council Conference, to be held September 10-13th in Columbus, OH. Take a look at the complete lineup of exhibitors and the education agenda here. Year-round, one of the best resources for both the residential and commercial building industries is the US Department of Energy website energy.gov. If you haven’t visited the site yet, take the time to look around – it has an absolute wealth of information for most any topic relating to energy-efficiency. 


 

Planning is Key to Net Zero Deep Energy Retrofit

You’d have to live under a rock (completely sustainable housing) if you didn’t realize that climate change, and rapidly increasing energy prices are a hot topic in today’s world. But why is the focus on the building industry?

Buildings consume nearly half of all the energy produced in the United States.

Globally, the percentages are even higher. Which explains why much of Europe is paving the way in both commercial and residential energy-efficient building.

It’s important to understand that energy-efficient building is about more than energy-efficient materials. A great deal of planning is needed to ensure the proper integration of materials and design, to achieve the best possible outcome.


Energy-Efficient Building

Passive Design, and Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) are the two primary concepts for energy-efficient building. Passive Design uses a combination of climate-based passive and active design strategies to minimize the usage of energy, materials, and water.

Passive homes focus on the absolute minimal amount of energy use possible to heat and cool the building.

In 2015, the Passive House Institute of the US released the only passive building standard based upon climate-specific comfort and performance. The goal was to find the right balance between the up-front investment in a passive build, and the long-term payback, to achieve the most comfortable and cost effective building possible. Learn more at phius.org.

The basic premise of a Net Zero Energy Building is that they generate as much energy as they consume.

Designed to minimize the amount of energy they need to operate, and with renewable energy systems that meet their energy needs. Solar, wind, and geothermal are examples of renewable energy systems.  Design considerations to achieve net zero energy include passive solar design, triple pane or triple glazed windows, and high performance building envelopes. The US Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home program has been working to promote Net Zero building since 2008. Learn more at energy.gov.

Both Passive Home and Net Zero Energy Home certifications are generally based on the HERS Home Energy Rating Score, and certified by third parties, such as the Living Building Challenge.  To learn more about the certification process, click here.


The Deep Energy Retrofit

Most of the discussion about passive or net zero design centers around new construction.  It just makes good sense to plan ahead for the future. However, considering that the majority of the building inventory in the US was built prior to 1990, there is even more opportunity for energy savings in renovating and retrofitting existing buildings.

As the experts at Green Building Advisor explain, the process usually begins with a home energy audit and building analysis. Energy usage reductions are achieved through a whole-building approach, including insulation, heating and cooling systems, lighting, appliances, and water usage. A typical simple energy retrofit focuses only on individual upgrades, like heating and cooling.

Deep Energy Retrofits are a whole-building approach to maximizing energy efficiency.

The key to success in a deep energy retrofit, is utilizing skilled building science professionals who have the experience planning the integration of these systems into existing structures. Look to organizations such as the Building Performance Institute to direct you to certified professionals in the industry. That’s how we found Bill McKnight, CEO, Energy Conservation Specialists.

 

WATCH:  Net Zero Deep Energy Retrofit with ECS and ThermalBuck  

 

With over 20 years in the field of deep energy retrofits, Bill has achieved both BPI Accreditation and Energy Star Certification, teaches building science at Ulster University in NY, and has been featured in Home Energy Magazine. To learn more about the historic renovation project we worked on with Energy Conservation Specialists, and see how ThermalBuck was used to create a thermally efficient building envelope, read the full installation story here.


The Poplar Network features a clear-cut piece by Rob Freeman that explains the difference between Passive and Net Zero. For a more detailed reference, an excellent resource is Net Zero Energy Buildings, by Steven Winters Associates, Inc., a respected authority on building science and efficiency. It was featured in 2016 in the The Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences which focuses on the latest technology and “whole building” design techniques. Data was also sourced from architecture2030, whose mission is to address climate change problems with design solutions of the built environment.      

ALPEN High-Performance 725 series fiberglass window installation with ThermalBuck™

ALPEN Window Installation at NAPHC2016 to Feature ThermalBuck

Alpen High-Performance Products will feature a window installation with ThermalBuck at the 11th Annual North American Passive House Conference Sept 21-25th in Philadelphia, PA.

Known for manufacturing super-insulating, thermally efficient residential and commercial fiberglass windows & doors (as well as architectural glass), this Colorado-based window manufacturer has over 30 years of experience in glazing technology, and an excellent reputation for craftsmanship and performance.

In 2013, Alpen HPP was the very first manufacturer to receive certification under the Passive House Institute -US (PHIUS) Certified Product Performance Data Program.  This certification uniformly and independently verifies product performance for use in the passive building industry.

Alpen HPP has since been joined by 10 other major window manufacturers in receiving this certification, including Intus, Marvin, and Zola.

Continuous insulation throughout the building envelope without any thermal bridging is one of the key building-science principles of a passive building.  Testing an installation of their 725 Series window with ThermalBuck, is just one of the ways Alpen is committed to finding the best ways to solve their customer’s challenges, and continually provide exceptional service.


The PHIUS is a non-profit organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. It’s membership-based branch, the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) was formed in 2010, and now supports over 800 members across the US.  For more information on the key building-science principles of a passive building, please visit phius.org.  

ALPEN HPP