What do you get when you combine passion, leadership, ambition, progressive ideas, concern for the environment and the scale of the climate crisis, a drive for collaboration, a focus on community-building, an insistence on better design, an incredibly welcoming city, and the Passive House standard? Why, it’s the 2015 North American Passive House Network Conference (NAPHN15), hosted this year in stunningly beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada by CanPHI West, a NAPHN regional affiliate!
Following the previous year’s conference held in Portland, ME, this conference was the second annual for NAPHN, led by Co-Presidents Bronwyn Barry and 475’s own Ken Levenson. The conference brought together roughly 300 leaders in the Passive House community – from architects, builders, and suppliers with many projects under their belt to policy professionals and others looking to learn more about how to incorporate Passive House into their work.
I flew in on Tuesday evening, welcomed by a stunning view of Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker) and dinner with some locals. The conference events started off on Wednesday evening with a happy hour bringing together early arrivals, mingling with friends and meeting new faces – attendees were coming from as far as Germany and Austria, but also from across the United States and Canada. On Thursday and Friday, exhibitors lined the floor with top quality products while Canadian, US, and European leaders in the field presented to captivated audiences. A dinner held on Thursday featured a presentation by Lloyd Alter on the promise of using less, designing better, designing for comfort, and the promise that Passive House brings to this mantra. Friday evening found a group of 40 sharing stories and reflecting on the energy of this very successful event. Thanks to Chris and Melissa Bruntlett of modacitylife for hooking up the space and being our hosts for the dinner. All around, there was great energy and great enthusiasm for all things Passive House and the future of building for comfort, health, energy efficiency, resliency, and longevity. Here are some of the things we took away from the conference:
5 Takeaways From NAPHN15
1. Vancouver is a bold, forward-thinking city with unmatched ambition, vision, and humility.
Sadhu Johnston, acting City Manager of the City of Vancouver helped open the event by acknowledging that while the challenge of incorporating Passive House and other drastic measures for carbon reduction is large, the City is learning and persistently driving forward the conversation. In fact, the City of Vancouver has an official plan to be completely powered by renewable energy alone by 2050, the first major city in the world to make this commitment. Vancouver is and will continue to be one of, if not the greenest city in the world. The Mayor even showed his commitment and leadership by leading a bicycle tour of Vancouver Passive House buildings on Saturday. And Scott Kennedy reminded us of the importance of respecting the people on whose lands the city now rests by paying tribute to The Okanagan, Tsawwassen, and other First Nations governments and peoples who have called this land their home for thousands of years.
2. Our climate situation is not improving, and we must take drastic measures to help curb emissions.
Dr. Diana Urge-Vorsatz was a contributor to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning 2007 IPCC report on climate change. Coming to Vancouver all the way from Hungary where she is the Director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at the Central European University, Dr. Urge-Vorsatz delivered an outstanding keynote address which educated us on the development of climate science: what we can monitor, what we know, what we don’t know, and what we’re pretty sure of but can’t necessarily provide direct proof of; on the opportunity of tackling the problem through buildings; and of the crucial nature of having a performance-based building standard to help us achieve our goals. Her talk was as acutely relevant to the audience as it was thoughtful, impassioned, and inspiring. Dr. Witta Ebel of the Passive House Institute graced us with her presence to give us some context for how far Passive House has come over the last 25 years, and drew attention to the importance of continuing to demand these standards for our buildings and our climate. She invited everyone back to Darmstadt – where it all started – for the 20th International Passive House Conference next year.
3. Doing a pretty good job isn’t enough.
Dr. Urge-Vorsatz wanted the audience to walk away with an important message – that doing a little bit is not only not doing enough – it’s a dangerous and disastrous path for the built environment in particular. When we take measures that don’t go as far as we’re capable of going, we lock in those less-than-ideal measures for years. How long will it be until someone goes back to retrofit a building that has just been retrofitted? 20 years? 30 years? If we go the extra mile, we can lock in this small additional effort for decades – this is extremely important as we continue to set expectations for carbon reductions.
4. Passive House is a team sport.
This point was driven home by a talk given by Red Door Energy Design’s Monte Paulsen. In his Bella Bella Passive House project, he showed how consultants, engineers, designers, architects, and building occupants must all come together to make a project a success. We can’t forget the promise of an integrated design process. The B.C. government just announced a $100,000 grant to CanPHI West to help with training professionals so that everyone can work on the same level, and work together better. How can we take this vision, and do better in our own cities to work together, educate ourselves, and foster success in creating better buildings?
But I know that Monte’s not the only one who realizes this. The Passive House community continues to portray and rightly be characterized by an incredible willingness to work together and find solutions to common problems. This was all-too evident at the conference, with colleagues demanding more out of each other, suppliers hearing the market’s demands loud and clear, and everyone craving more knowledge, more feedback, and stronger collaboration.
5. Pre-fab and modular is the way of the future.
Monte’s Bella Bella project was the first modular Passive House in Canada. Put together by Britco LP in one of their seven 100,000sq. ft. facilities (imagine the scale if we just started doing it!), these modules allowed the project to demonstrate several important conclusions:
a. Everything depends on great connection details, and this is far easier to execute and verify in an indoor environment sheltered from unpredictable changes in the weather.
b. Factory production lines move fast. We’ve been doing this with cars for over 100 years, and we should be doing this with buildings too, but this also requires more attention to detail to make sure that mistakes are found before it’s too late, that nobody’s cutting corners.
c. In-factory airtightness testing is essential. Test early, test often.
d. Precision saves money. Do it right, make it tight!
We of course can’t forget the leadership of builders like Chris Corson of Ecocor in Maine, who’s been building with a pre-fab wall system recently certified by PHI for several years, as well as Mateo of BC Passive House, who graciously opened up his pre-fab plant north of Whistler to a tour on Saturday, and Rane Wardwell, who is drawing attention with his company Collective Carpentry in Invermere BC, where they are building tight, building right, and publicizing beautiful photos and videos of their work on instagram and youtube.
And – speaking of pre-fab – stay tuned for a follow-up post on this, but Luke Faulk of Related Companies – the developer behind the Cornell tech campus’s 26-story Passive House dormitory – (somewhat to our surprise) announced that INTELLO would be an essential part of the wall system for this groundbreaking project. Exciting news for us and exciting news for high performance building. Much more to come.
I hope that stopping this list at 5 is neither doing a disservice to nor at all downplaying the importance of some of the other topics discussed at this conference: from the Yin and Yang of Enclosure Detailing to Passive House in China, the Brussels Example, PHPP9, Affordable Passive House Schools, policy panels, and Advanced Case Studies from the Central West Coast and South West.
Ken closed the conference with a wonderful discussion of what’s happening in New York, thanked everyone for their support in making it all happen, and gave the stage to Rob Bernhardt who announced the formation of a national Passive House organization in Canada (with much leadership from Andrew Peel to make it all come together). Passive House really is taking off, and we hope to see you at NAPHN16, held by NYPH and NAPHN in New York City next summer.