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Report from the 2019 North American Passive House Network Conference (NAPHN19)

Of particular value during the two-day conference were presentations by Passive House practitioners, developers, and city agencies who have advanced PH implementation in their own practices and businesses - and in public policy.

By Miguel Angel Baltierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED BD+C, PMP, CAHP
September 5, 2019

During the North American Passive House Network Conference and Expo (NAPHN19) in June, daily news headlines announced: ÒNew York City Declares a Climate Emergency!Ó; ÒParis has 117F Weather!Ó; ÒArctic Circle has an 86F Day!Ó; ÒMore Than 250,000 People May Die Each Year Due to Climate Change!Ó; ÒThe Rich Will Buy Their Way Out of Climate Change!Ó and many more. As the headlines kept delivering scenarios of probable doom resulting from deteriorating climate balance, while creating a sense of helplessness, Andreas M. Benzing, CPHD, LEED AP, president of New York Passive House (NYPH), and Principal of a.m.Benzing Architects, welcomed 700 attendees to the largest event to date for the NAPHN Conference, a collaboration between NYPH and NAPHN. He thanked them for coming together to declare their commitment to pursuing the possibility of exceeding baselines set by prior protocols for climate change. Attendees from as far away as Australia gathered to explore how professionals and strategic partnerships with policymakers are making Passive House implementation work in New York, the nationÕs largest Passive House Market, across the U.S. and Canada, and around the world!


Bronwyn Barry, chair of NAPHN, announced that the NAPHN 19 Policy Resource Guide, the conferenceÕs manifesto, got stuck in customs! Hard copies have since become available. A PDF, as well as videos of the policy roundtable, conference highlights, and VIP Dinner speaker Diana Urge Vortsatz, can be accessed online here for free! Also coming soon on the NYPH website will be information about the integration of Passive House methodology as it applies to NYCÕs Climate Mobilization Act, Local Law 97 of 2019. The law sets greenhouse gas emission caps for buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, beginning in 2024, which the goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 Ð 50,000 buildings will be impacted.


Passive House planning tools get an upgrade


Jessica Grove-Smith, a scientist at the Passive House Institute (PHI), announced several recent software upgrades, such as DesignPH 2.0_IP, and new features that include a new shading analysis tool and result tracking. Another new tool is the Energy Balance modeling at a district level for retrofitting scenarios, which can occur at two levels: Deep Retrofit or Shallow Retrofit. She announced that the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) version 9.6 was evaluated in accordance with ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 140-2017, a comparative testing method for building energy programs. The release of other new guidelines and tools for swimming pools, kitchen extraction ventilation, fenestration performance, and air tightness testing for high rises were enthusiastically announced. A new thermal bridge catalog is also available. Component certifications are now accessible on an updated interactive database. Likewise, Passive House Institute members can anticipate an expansion of professional training through online training and webinars for different designations of Passive House certification as a way to reduce travel carbon emissions.


New collaborations with LEED and International Living Futures Institute


As higher urban density is desired Ð and inevitable, the design and construction community must work with the best planning studies and policies to ensure the highest quality of life. And with a collective of systems and collaborations across certification programs, the overall quality of the urban environment can actually improve. For example, PHI has collaborated with the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED v4 program. If Passive House certification is achieved, LEED V4 equivalency points for EA Credit Annual Energy Use are awarded.


Molly Freed, senior specialist, Technical Services at the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), announced a new partnership with the Passive House Institute. The new certification collaboration, called Crosswalk, seeks to use Passive House criteria as a pathway to measure energy balance with the intent to achieve ILFI's Zero Energy certification, which requires buildings to generate 100% of their energy on-site (or off-site in limited exceptions). As we are in a climate crisis, these collaborations, where standards complement and support each other, are critical to bring more Passive House and Zero Energy certified projects on line.


John Lee, deputy director for Green Buildings & Energy Efficiency in the NYC MayorÕs Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, told the audience that the challenges of climate change are no longer the future: they are now. He explained that the recently announced Climate Mobilization Act Òwill create caps that will increase incrementally with the objective to eventually result in zero greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in NYC.Ó What to do about it? ÒEvery building is custom built and in varying condition. The typical design is energy intensive and we are no longer able to afford to build that way. What we offer with Passive House needs to become the norm, and everything built today needs to be changed. This requires an army of professionals and the Passive House conference is training day.Ó


California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister shared CaliforniaÕs policy perspectives for a carbon-free economy by 2045. Although de-carbonization is essential, how do you get property owners to retrofit? The state seeks to double energy efficiency by 2030 and get to 100% by 2045 while achieving equitable low-carbon solutions for low-income and disadvantaged communities. He encouraged advocates to get out of their collective silos and share policy innovations so that a unified baseline for 2050 targets can be achieved.


Keynote speaker Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and The Earth Institute at Columbia University, presented five pathways to urban transformation developed by an international network of 1,000 climate change researchers and cities working through the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN). They include:

1.         Integrate mitigation and adaptation actions, such as those that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing resilience.

2.         Coordinate risk reduction and climate adaptation: Understand that climate change is a long-term problem. There is a need to look at future and present climate extremes, such as Hurricane Sandy.

3.         Cogenerate risk information: Passive House is a great example of sharing knowledge between researchers of other institutes, and implementers.

4.         Focus on disadvantaged populations: Must be inclusive of communities. May have tendency to identify with the higher socio-economic groups, yet also must understand the full spectrum of needs including, disadvantaged populations.

5.         Improve governance and knowledge networks in order for cities to transform Ð a similar concept to what Commissioner Andrew McAllister stated about getting out of our silos and share information.

[Ed.: useful link: ÒHurricane Sandy and adaptation pathways in New York: Lessons from a first-responder cityÓ by Cynthia Rosenzweig and William Solecki (2014)]


Where can all the research on the five pathways that address climate risk, adaptation, and other mitigation efforts affecting 50% of the worldÕs population living and working in cities be accessed? Rosenzweig recommended obtaining Climate Change and Cities: First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network (ARC3), and Climate Change and Cities: Second Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network(ARC3.2), Cambridge University Press, 2011 and 2018 respectively, both edited by Cynthia Rosenzweig with a group of other researchers.


New York City's NetZero strategies


In considering New York City, there would need to be a concentration of green roofs, per neighborhood, to have any impact on climate modification. While anticipating impacts of the cityÕs sustainability plan, OneNYC 2050, the goal is net-zero emissions for the long term, while short-term targets seek 30-40% additional reductions in greenhouse gases. ÒOne major reaction to the plan would be the potential banning of inefficient curtain walls,Ó Rosenzweig said. ÒIt presents a huge opportunity to consider how we still achieve iconic architecture while meeting these goals. New York is leading through the Climate Resilience Guidelines. Every project must deal with greenhouse gas, but must also be prepared to mitigate major climate events. Even though we get to NetZero, there will still be climate change and weÕll have to be constantly adapting. Regulations are required for consistent methodology to meet the same goals.Ó


Rosenzweig pointed out ongoing challenges influencing risk management and mitigation strategies, which includes ongoing sea level rise: ÒSince Hurricane Sandy, we continue to see an increase in heat waves and heavy downpours. From now on, we must make new buildings and retrofits ready to withstand extreme weather events.Ó It becomes essential to establish new, transformative knowledge partnerships at local and global scales.Ó She proposed Òthe Urban Climate Change network create workshops with the Passive House Institute in cities to transform the urban world.Ó


The Exeter Low Energy Development Program: Passive House implementation in the U.K.


Of particular value during the two days of programming were the presentations from developers and city agencies that have advanced Passive House implementation in public policy and in practices themselves. U.K.-based Emma Osmundsen, managing director of Exeter City Living Ltd (an Exeter City Council-owned development company), shared that the city had the foresight to work with an integrated multi-disciplinary team to deliver affordable and market-rate homes across the city, as well as a public leisure center, that were low-energy (Certified Passivhaus), Healthy (Building Biology), and Climate Ready (to 2080). To date, the Exeter City Council has delivered more than 100 Passive House homes, with a further 600 in the pipeline to deliver over the next four years. In the 10 years Exeter has been developing to these performance standards, the city has been able to measure and quantify the energy savings for residents, with more than 60% of residents not needing to switch on their heating for the last eight years! In addition to considerable energy savings, residents have reported health benefits and enhanced thermal comfort throughout the year, regardless of the season. As the Passive House standard is rigorous with the quality assurance associated with it being so robust, the Council has seen tangible financial benefits in the lifecycle costs of its property portfolio and its long-term robustness Ð particularly in light of changing climatic conditions. The Exeter Low Energy Development Program is available here.


Increasing diversity through speed mentoring


One of the most encouraging sessions was ÒDiversity in Passive House,Ó a speed-mentoring session that inspired optimism as seasoned practitioners sat across from hopeful new practitioners and students. As the pros stayed put, the newbies switched seats every few minutes to ask questions. I had the pleasure of meeting an enthusiastic group of students from Texas, who were excited about courses they recently took, and were brainstorming with the group about how to implement Passive House in the hot and humid climate back home.


Natural Systems: The next step in Passive House


The closing plenary was led by Jacob Deva Racusin, co-owner of New Frameworks Natural Building, with presentations by Alison Hirsh, Sadie McKeown, and Scott Foster. Racusin encouraged the audience to look to biophilic models where natural ecosystems capture and store carbon. Examples included mass timber construction and using bale, straw, and other such materials for insulation that will mitigate the effects of off-gassing Ð a relevant consideration, as I personally question the health impacts of artificial materials used to achieve Passive House standards. Foams, tapes, and glues are off-gassing, and may diminish the intended health benefits if there is inadequate means to monitor and mitigate any potential risks.


It is up to the community of Passive House advocates to share information with the general public beyond the immediate design and construction industry, as they play an essential role in influencing legislation.


If you missed the conference, a selection of presentations will become available soon on the NYPH and NAPHN websites. Presentations from the prior six conferences are also available on both websitesÕ resources pages. There, visitors will find a trove of digital publications, tools, videos, and a directory of Passive House professionals. And if that is still not enough to keep you busy forever, there are even more resources available at


There will be Passive House Certification Training in New York City September 9-13 and November 4-8. A special Archtober event, in collaboration with the Building Energy Exchange (BEEx), will be the presentation of Ò80 Flatbush: Passive School, Active TowerÓ on October 2. Plan on heading to Gaobeidian, China, October 9-11 for the 23rd International Passive House Conference. Get certified and prepare to participate in North American Passive House Network Conference and Expo (NAPHN 20), June 2020, hosted by NYPH in New York City.



Miguel Angel Baltierra, Associate AIA, LEED BD+C, PMP, CAHP, has been writing about architecture, planning, and related professions since 1985. He hosted the AIA New York Oculus Podcast series on emerging sustainable design and resiliency strategies for cities, communities, and architecture from 2011-2018,during which time he also served on the Oculus Committee/Advisory Board, helping to guide AIANYÕs quarterly journal. His writing has appeared in Architectural Record, I.D./International Design Magazine, and The Taiwan Review. He began as the arts editor for L.A. Architect Magazine for the AIA Los Angeles Chapter. He was an editor and contributor to several books, monographs, and catalogs, including Westforth Architecture: Bucharest Calls New York, Espirtu Digital / Digital Spirit: Fernando Salicrup,Homage Alma Boricua, XXX Aniversario, and Towards a Sustainable Urban Environment in South East Asia, among others. He has contributed an essay on Universal Design in the Airport Environment for an upcoming book regarding Airport Planning Studio at Pratt Institute, with Professor Enrique Limon. Miguel attended the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, and he George Washington University School of Business.


(click on pictures to enlarge)

Courtesy New York Passive House