Day 4 of PH2020: Choose Your Future RoundUp


The North American Passive House Network’s virtual conference, PH2020: Choose Your Future, once again brought together some of the brightest minds in the Passive House community for a day of brilliant content this past Wednesday, July 15. The unique virtual conference has now run for four consecutive Wednesdays and will continue for two more, July 22 and 29.

Previous days have been unified largely around inspirational themes, but this past Wednesday was more of a diverse event with sessions focusing on heat pumps, air quality, and the extreme nuances of retrofitting—either with respect to crafting statewide policy or the extreme nuances of bringing a mid-century high-rise into compliance with EnerPHit. As with previous days, the program ran from 1–4 ET and the sessions were divided up to include two pairs of 1‑hour presentations held simultaneously and a plenary presentation to close out the day:

Retrofit Everything: Scaling Action in New York and Ontario

  • Anna Kazmierska, P.Eng., LEED – Design Manager, Multi-Disciplinary Projects for the Toronto Community Housing Corporation
  • Christopher Mahase – Senior Project Manager, Multifamily Residential for the New York State Energy Research & Development Agency
  • Noah Slater – Director of Capital Planning, Design and Engineering for the Toronto Community Housing Corporation

Heat Pumps Are Everywhere! Critical Data & Applications in the Passive House Context

Towering EnerPHit: Step-by-Step

  • Andrew Peel, Accredited PH Certifier and Trainer – Principal, Peel Passive House Consulting
  • Jennifer Hogan – Sr. Project Manager, Operations Manager for Pretium
  • Hans Kogel, Eng., CICHM – Chief Development & Regeneration Officer, Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation

Virtual Building Tours

Why Does COVID-19 Hate Passive House? Strategies to Mitigate the Spread of Viruses

All five of these sessions, as well as the five sessions from the previous three days, are available if you register for the event. There’s also three more sessions still to go, so register now!

Retrofit Everything: Scaling Action in New York and Ontario

Though they are part of different countries, New York and Ontario are pursuing similar goals when it comes to decarbonization. New York State hopes to be carbon free by 2040 and to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels. Ontario is pursuing its Made-in-Ontario Environmental Plan to cut emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, among other policies. Toronto, meanwhile, hopes to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Both Ontario and New York acknowledge that buildings are a key component of any large, green initiative, and both recognize that retrofitting existing buildings will be necessary to accomplish these objectives. Unfortunately, private sector interest in deep energy retrofits that would bring existing buildings close to either Passive House or EnerPHit standards is lagging in both areas, so Ontario and New York are now implementing programs to create market demand.

As Christopher Mahase of NYSERDA explained, New York’s RetrofitNY program is placing particular emphasis on prefabricated components that can quickly be installed. This Fordist model, they believe, will encourage scalability and cut costs. To date, the state has awarded contracts to six pilot projects to accomplish this goal and they hope to eventually create something known as an energy pod that would provide heating, cooling, dehumidification, energy recover, and domestic hot water in a single module. “We’re looking for a few mad scientists,” Mahase added.

A prototype of an energy pod.

A prototype of an energy pod.

Mahase acknowledged that this model is not new. It is largely based on Energiesprong, a program that was initially developed in the Netherlands that has slashed the average cost of retrofitting a housing unit from $145,000 in 2010 to $65,000 by 2013. The program is now aiming to provide net-zero energy retrofits for $40,000 per housing unit. It is no wonder why it is being emulated throughout parts of Europe and now New York and why NYSERDA hopes to utilize this model as they partner with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to retrofit some of the city’s roughly 175,000 units of public housing.

NYCHA’s Torontonian counterpart, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (THCH), appears to be significantly further ahead in its goals to retrofit its 2,100-building portfolio, but also face significant challenges. As Anna Kazmierska and Noah Slater of the THCH noted, most of these buildings were constructed during the housing boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s and now, in the words of Slater, face a “tsunami of capital needs.” The patchwork approach to repairing these buildings, which has defined THCH’s approach to maintaining its portfolio, is no longer a viable option.

Instead, the THCH has received over $1 billion and plans to put this money to work making holistic repairs and efficiency upgrades to its portfolio that are in line with EnerPHit principles. They also hope to use this additional funding as leverage to push down the price point of high-performance materials. This includes new cladding, insulation, lighting, and plumbing systems. In addition, they hope to make repairs to building balconies, roofs, and envelopes; improve accessibility in interior and common areas; and reduce thermal bridging, which is a major problem with the balconies of THCH high-rises. They also plan to replace upwards of 100,000 windows in the next 5–7 years.

This holistic approach, they note, will not only make the buildings more efficient; it will also improve quality of life in for THCH residents.

Towering EnerPHit: Step-by-Step

Towering EnerPHit took a deep dive into the specifics of renovating a social housing tower in Canada to the EnerPHit standard. For Hans Kogel, Chief Development & Regeneration Officer with the Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation, the retrofit of the building, located at 255 Riverside Drive East in downtown Windsor, was “major surgery.” He described the process as essentially inserting a heart and a circulatory system into a building that didn’t have one.

On top of being Kogel’s first experience with EnerPHit, it was also the first building within Windsor’s portfolio to undergo such a dramatic retrofit. The 303-unit, 20-story building was picked for several reasons. It had “good bones,” it was situated in a strategic location, and it scored high on assessment modeling. EnerPHit, meanwhile, was chosen because it is a proven standard, the retrofit had to exceed a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to get funding, and the modeling showed $300,000 in operational savings per year (this number is so high because many residents do not pay their own utility bills). Additionally, the retrofit was far less expensive than a new build—$69 per square foot compared to $273 per square foot.

Following these preliminary remarks, the team then described the challenges they faced in retrofitting the building. For those who are curious about the sequence, science, and specifics of making these kinds of upgrades to a large building, this presentation is highly recommended.

Why Does COVID-19 Hate Passive House? Strategies to Mitigate the Spread of Viruses

The day’s plenary session was more of a panel discussion moderated by Beth Eckenrode rather than a presentation. It focused on the concept of hygiene ventilation in Passive House.

Ventilation has become a hot topic recently because of the coronavirus pandemic and the emerging evidence indicating that the virus is airborne. Many people believe hygiene ventilation—which is a building ventilation approach that utilizes 100% fresh air to flush out any pathogens that may spread to building inhabitants if the air is recycled—should become far more common, if not standard, to effectively fight against the coronavirus and future pathogens.

Bronwyn Barry noted in her preliminary remarks that hygiene ventilation has always been integral to Passive House design. Viewed through this lens, the two attributes most commonly associated with Passive House design, airtightness and energy efficiency, are merely the consequents of seeking cost effective ways of designing buildings that have a constant supply of 100% fresh air. Berthold Kaufmann, a building scientist with the Passive House Institute, added that hygiene ventilation in a Passive House building is far more cost effective because the ventilation, heating, and cooling systems are combined.

Bronwyn Barry during the day's plenary session.

Bronwyn Barry during the day's plenary session.

As Anjanette Green noted, however, air from outside is not always “fresh” and recycled air is not necessarily swarming with pathogens. Properly filtered air can be free of viruses and particulate matter, while outdoor air quality can be of extremely poor quality in industrial areas or extremely dense cities with serious amounts of traffic congestion. The RESET Standard, of which Green is the Director of Standards Development, not only relies on fresh air, but also sophisticated monitoring and filtration systems to ensure a constant supply of healthy air. In this way, RESET can serve as a complement to Passive House.

Both Barry and Kaufmann agreed about the importance of monitoring systems. “If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you have no hope of getting where you need to go,” Barry said.

Eckenrode offered this final piece of wisdom from W. Edwards Deming: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”


Jay Fox
Jay Fox
Jay Fox is a writer and musician based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Crain's New York, Salon, Stay Thirsty Magazine, Aethlon, and…

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    Our coverage of PH2020 was made possible in part by generous support from Zola Windows.

    Our coverage of PH2020 was made possible in part by generous support from Zola Windows.

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