How Do you Get a Passive House Certification?
How Do You Get a Passive House Certification?
So you want to build a certified Passive House? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t want that?: healthy air, comfortable spaces, resilience against climate change and lower utility bills. What’s not to like? But the next steps after committing to pursue a certified Passive House can be hard to understand, even for practitioners who have been building sustainable homes for years. Below I’ll try and outline the main steps to follow on your road to a successful certified Passive House project.
First, it’s helpful to remember that the term ‘Passive House’ means a couple different things right now in North America. First, ‘Passive House’ is often used to describe an idea or set of techniques. As an idea, ‘Passive House’ has grown rapidly over the past decades as builders, designers and homeowners have sought to design healthier spaces while reducing energy consumption.
But in addition to being an idea and set of methods for creating better buildings, ‘Passive House’ is also a specific green building certification, similar to LEED, EnergyStar and many other programs that seek to help practitioners design and construct better buildings. As a certification, the Passive House method has gained adherents around the globe but is still a relatively small part of the North American construction sector — though growing quickly. In this article I’ll be mostly talking about the latter notion of Passive House: how do you actually take your building all the way to true certification level, what are the steps along the way and the professionals that are involved, and what are the most common hiccups that might derail your certification process as you proceed from design to construction to finished building?
The Road to a Certified Passive House
Step 1: Find your Certified Passive House Designer or Consultant
The first steps to a successful certified Passive House project are largely the same whether you are working on a single family home, a multifamily high rise, a grocery-store, a warehouse or anything in between. The first and most important step is to find a good Certified Passive House Designer or Consultant and fold them into your process as early in the design sequence as possible. These highly trained and knowledgable practitioners have a huge amount of knowledge about the physics of building performance, the particulars of project certification, best practice for your building type or region as well as access to the tools of the trade such as the energy modeling softwares used for certification verification. You will want to rely on this team member early and often to gain an understanding of how your building is performing and whether you are on target for certification.
Important to keep in mind, however, is that just like architects and builders — most Certified Passive House Designers or Consultants will be specialized in one or another building type, region, climate, construction type, or other subset. It’s good practice to ask for proposals from a couple different teams as you decide who to work with and try to find one which will be a good fit for your particular project needs. When thinking about bringing a Passive House professional into your design process, keep in mind a couple of things:
Is the Certified Passive House Designer/Consultant experienced in your project’s type of construction and region?
How local is the Certified Passive House Designer/Consultant? Will they be able to visit your site regularly? Do you need/want them to or will you be relying on a third-party verifier or rater for site inspections?
How well does the Certified Passive House Designer/Consultant interface with the rest of the team? Do they spend time and care on delivering clear communication documents, drawings, instructions to the team? Will they work well with the contractor and design team?
In our experience, this last point is the most critical. You are going to be folding a new professional into the design and construction process and they must be able to work effectively with the rest of your team. Your Certified Passive House Designer or Consultant should be able to communicate their ideas through drawings and diagrams, review project submittals and documents carefully, be able to interact meaningfully with the on-site construction team, and provide consistent notes and follow up throughout construction—all in addition to being able to craft a careful and accurate energy modeling of the proposed building.
A brief note a Certifications and Qualifications.…
There are two bodies in North American which currently certify Passive House buildings as well as provide training and administer qualifications for professionals — the Passive House Institute (PHI) and the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). These groups have different standards, targets, software and trainings and issue their own distinct certifications. In the US, PHI certifies professionals as ‘Designers’, though in Canada and Internationally they also have a ‘Consultant’ designation. In the US and Canada, PHIUS certifies Certified Passive House ‘Consultants’ with the acronym ‘CPHC’. In addition to these design-side qualifications, both groups have an expanded set of qualifications available for tradespeople, raters and verifiers who may also be involved in the project depending on the scale or type of building.
Ultimately, it’s up to the owner which of these certifications to pursue and it’s highly recommended to rely on your Certified Passive House Designer or Consultant to help you make that decision. You may also want to discuss it with the other team members (designer, builder) as many of them will have pervious experience in, or a preference for, one or the other certification systems and processes. Both certifications will ultimately yield a very good building though, and owners should rely heavily on the team members to help them make this decision.
What if you want to be your own Passive House Designer? It’s important to point out that it’s not required to hire a third party to do the Passive House modeling and certification — if you are a designer or builder who has gone through the Passive House training and you are comfortable working in the energy model (more on that below) as well as the overall certification process, then there is no need to hire another professional to get involved. That said, it is highly recommended to work closely with an experienced practitioner if it’s your first time, or if the building has levels of complexity beyond what you are normally used to seeing.