Passive House: Keeping it Simple

The North American Passive House Networks’ 2014 Conference and Expo was in Portland, Maine on September 22nd and 23rd. Brian Curley, Bob Curtis, Marilyn Leivian and Chelsea Lipham attended from PDT Architects. To say the least, this was a cool conference to have in Portland, Maine. A few highlights from the conference can be found below. Ideas related to building science and the irrational complexity of some of our building systems were distilled into a lot of the passive house ideas – if you superinsulate the exterior envelope in a cold climate, do a proper job of sealing and eliminate thermal bridging, accommodate ventilation and corresponding heat recovery you need a much smaller (if any) heating system. I am a multifamily housing guy so I loved seeing the retrofits of the existing housing stock in the UK, Germany, Austria, Belgium, etc. be transformed into passive house standard housing for regular people - and the best part, truly using our resources properly for the greatest good by creating both comfortable and affordable housing.  --- Brian Curley, PDT Principal

Keeping it Simple

The primary objectives in creating a passive house, repeated throughout the conference, are user comfort and keeping it simple. A few strategies to achieve that are:

  • Design and construct a high performance envelope by minimizing (and eliminating) thermal bridging, super-insulating walls and ceilings, and sealing every hole!
  • Optimize indoor air quality by using HRV’s and ERV’s for ventilation, fresh air supply, and humidity control, and use low and no-VOC interior finishes and products.
  • Primary Boiler = Triple glazed windows + insulated “heat sink floors” + supplemental heat gain from occupants. (Shading devices and overhangs are critical to manage warmer weather month heat gains.)

LifeCycle Tower

Perhaps one of the most interesting presentations was given by Nabih Tahan of Cree Buildings. His presentation outlined a prefabrication process for an eight story office building in Austria that meets the passive house standards. The concrete core was built first onsite. The wall and floor assemblies (wood structure with thin concrete floor slabs) were built offsite and then assembled onsite in only 8 days.

A video of the process can be seen here:

Additional Resources

The conference was full of many other interesting presentations and ideas including panelized construction, real time temperature and humidity sensors in walls, the introduction of the PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) modelling software, and a Portland area PassivHaus tour. For more information, see the links below.


North American Passive House Network

North American Passive House Networks’ 2014 Conference and Expo

International Passive House Conference 2015