December 15, 2015

Learning from PHIUS

What draws many of us to Passive House is its simplicity, its clarity, its predictability, and it’s drastic impact on comfort and energy efficiency.  But  achieving simplicity requires great repetition, practice and lots of training.  So last week attending the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS)’s Certified Builder training course in Yonkers, NY, was another good opportunity for 475 staff member, Craig Toohey, to get more builder training.

The course was taught over four days with passion and insight by Dan Whitmore of Hammer & Hand and Adam Cohen of Passivscience, with assists from Mike Kernagis and Katrin Klingenberg of PHIUS.  The instruction, as one might imagine, dealt extensively with building science, and airtightness and thermal bridge detailing – and how material choices and placement all interrelate in determining the robustness of the construction.

And while Adam and Dan freely declared themselves “opinionated builders”, the course emphasized important universal competencies and strategies:

  1. Develop your own toolbox – Use local resources, what you’re good at, what’s available (not “unobtanium” as Adam calls it), use your colleagues, use your networks, and develop something that works for you.  Try new things, make mistakes, and share it with the community.
  2. Understand the building science, and get involved with the design as early as possible – Question what the architect and consultant has designed – if it’s a missing airtightness detail, it will be detailed in the field, which can be difficult, more expensive, and less effective; if it’s tricky intersection of building elements, ask them if they’ve done the analysis of the thermal bridge and whether there is a potential for condensation.  Does a builder need to know how to calculate a thermal bridge? No, but they need to know what it means.
  3. PH projects can be built for little to no cost premium, but the first project has a learning curve – Don’t charge your customer for your learning curve!  And don’t expect that you’ll get everything right the first time.  As Wolfgang Feist said, “Investing in value instead of energy consumption requires little financial efforts but rather creativity and intelligent solutions”.  
  4. Understand how to market your Passive House project – Don’t focus on payback, it’s a trap – know how to frame your point and control the conversation.  Do people ask for payback on countertop choices?  Do customers value quality of life, health, comfort, security, durability, and environmental sustainability?  Do you want to pay for electrons, or equity?

The class was left with the encouraging words of going out and connecting with the Passive House community.  In conversation at the Yonkers Brewery after the third day of class, Craig asked the builders why they like Passive House, and what it means to them.  The answer:  It’s all about the planet and our children.  Lessons we can all be inspired by.

BT-Yonkers 12.10.15 EDIT2

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2 Responses to Learning from PHIUS

  1. Elrond Burrell January 12, 2016 at 7:43 am #

    Some gems there. “Do people ask for payback on countertop choices?” Love it.

    • Craig January 13, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      Adam Cohen is full of gems. But my most recent favorite is from Corbett Lunsford – “Because water vapor is like a teenager – if you stop it from doing what it wants to do, it’s probably going to find a way to piss you off.” Now that’s a gem!

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