If you work in the Passive House space in the Southern US, you know how heavy a lift it can be to hold conversations with other industry professionals about basic building performance, much less the nuances of Passive House. Add to this challenging cultural zeitgeist the learning curve that the Passive House organizations have been up against (nailing down heating targets, energy allotments for dehumidification, etc.) and it’s not difficult to see why humid climates, particularly hot and humid climates, have not seen much uptake.
In the early 2010s, when Passive House was introduced to the Austin design and construction community, it was overwhelmingly rejected as “unnecessary” and “unrealistic.” Ideas before their time often encounter resistance, regardless of merit. It is the way of history (just ask Nikola Tesla). PHIUS took that feedback in stride and substantially revamped their certification program to better account for climate zone differences. But in many ways, the well had been poisoned in Austin. The irony was palpable; the very same design and construction community long praised for its role in the “green building” movement in previous decades suddenly found itself in nearly wholesale rejection of the most progressive building standard around.
To paraphrase the ever-quotable Kristof Irwin, “The AEC industry is filled with intelligent, hardworking people who are rowing their boats with skill, expertise, and exertion, but ultimately facing backward.”
In 2016, the PHIUS Alliance Austin group decided it was time to change the conversation. We needed a Trojan horse of sorts to illustrate to the local design and construction community that Passive House is really just about building performance. We needed to communicate that building performance is logical, important, and doable. We needed to show that, once we can figure out how to make sure buildings are air tight, well insulated, and have efficient mechanicals serving energy and indoor-air-quality needs, the next step to Passive House is well within striking range.
So we began organizing a conference to do exactly that. We called it The Humid Climate Conference, invited world class and inspiring building science speakers (thanks to the good Dr. Joe Lstiburek), introduced the PHIUS+ 2015 standard, and sold out the conference in our first year. It was a smashing success, planting the Passive House seed in previously doubtful minds. At that point, the momentum in the community was evident and the embodiment of our organization’s mission was clear. The Humid Climate Conference was to become a biennial conference focused on bringing the PHIUS standard to life in humid climates.
We did it again in 2018, with another sold out event. It was a powerful confluence of empowerment and education for architects, builders, engineers, and trades to bring Passive House projects to life in places where they’ve never existed before. And then, only two months before our fully planned 2020 conference was set to kick off, the entire world came to a standstill as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic created one of the biggest health challenges we’ve ever seen. As so many did at the time, we canceled the event, but found ourselves overwhelmed when we offered refunds to sponsors and ticket holders only for many to respond, “just keep it and I’ll see you when it happens again.”
Despite all the hurdles the last two years, we’re back and ready to host one of the most progressive and integrative, science-based architecture, construction, and building science conferences in the United States. Passive House Austin is thrilled to invite you back to Texas May 2-3, 2022 to listen, learn and network with industry thought leaders, boots-on-the-ground overachievers, and a fantastic mix of manufacturer sponsors.
This year’s conference theme is Barriers To Better Buildings. The rockstar list of speakers includes Dr. John Straube (RDH Labs), Zack Semke (Passive House Accelerator), Stacy Smedley (Skanska), Bruce King (author of New Carbon Architecture), Dan Cohan (author of Confronting Climate Gridlock), Nikki Krueger (Madison Ind.), Kimberly Llewellyn (Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US), Bryan Orr (HVAC School) and a special media event with Matt Risinger (The Build Show) and Passive House Accelerator. Dr. Jonathan Bean (The University of Arizona) will once again be our host and Master of Ceremonies. We’ll also have an Austin-style after-party that only this city could play host to.
The conference will be held at the incredible Austin Central Library this spring as we explore the issues and causes that prevent us from designing and creating better buildings, as well as solutions and next actions to bring a new high performance paradigm to life. While we’re anticipating attendees from Houston, Austin, Dallas, New Orleans, Florida, Atlanta, Japan, we hope you’ll also join us for the experience, whether in-person or via our streaming option.
In the age of COVID-19, the prospect of traveling can feel intimidating. Fortunately, we’re entering a moment when vaccines/boosters, combined with precipitously falling case counts as the Omicron wave subsides, have given us a great window of opportunity. Given the climate challenges we already face, we believe that it’s important to have science-focused professionals in the industry get together and cross-pollinate networks, ideas, and strategies. Of course, we are in close communication with the local public health authority and venue to ensure that our safety precautions are top-notch and timely (we’re even going to have a Comparetto Cube (or Corsi-Rosenthal Box, depending on your affiliation) building station at registration). If a new variant arises and the conference needs to adapt to a fully online format, we’re ready for that as well.
We look forward to seeing you in our beautiful city this May. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions.