Interview with Prudence Ferreira, OG Passive House Shero
For a decade, Prudence Ferreira has been setting the bar for Passive House building science praxis and education in North America, playing roles as an early board President of Passive House California, managing partner with PassivScience, leader of the PHIUS board, founding member of the PHIUS Technical Committee, PHIUS Certified Trainer (600 Passive House Consultants trained to-date), and now the Passive House lead at building engineering powerhouse Morrison Hershfield responsible for overseeing major PHI- and PHIUS-certified projects in the US and Canada. In this wide-ranging interview, Prudence describes her approach to lean project management, leading from the heart, high rise Passive House experiences, and her effort to organize an open source Passive House details library.
Zack Semke: You have been a leader in the Passive House movement and Passive House practice that I’ve admired since we first met in Innsbruck back in 2011. I know you’ve had a lot of different roles since then. Can you start by describing your new role at Morrison Hershfield and what your work entails?
Prudence: My title is Passive House Practice Lead. Prior to my arriving at Morrison Hershfield the company already had a history of innovating and pushing the envelope—literally—with high-performance buildings. They are excellent building envelope consultants, and work with a lot of complex, large-scale buildings. Because they’re so respected and skilled, they also end up doing a lot of policy work. They were instrumental in helping develop the BC [British Columbia] Step Code. So, although Passive House is a discreet, sort of branded approach to sound building science, Morrison Hershfield is not at all new to the high-performance building world.
As the Passive House Practice Lead, my role is to develop our team’s understanding of the specifics of Passive House, not only the criteria and the approach, but all of the ins and outs of what it takes to get a project from conceptual design all the way through certification. My work consists equally of training my team internally and working with project teams around North America. Morrison Hershfield has 22 offices. About half of them are in Canada and half are in the United States. We span a lot of different climate zones, a lot of different markets and building practices. Developing centralized resources, training modules, process documents…all of that kind of stuff has been a large part of what I’m doing in startup mode.
I’m also helping folks like the City of Vancouver. I’m working on a couple of studies with them—one on Passive House, one on embodied carbon reduction. I’m starting to finally get into the policy work that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I’m really happy to be here because I feel like it really allows me to expand my impact.
Zack: That’s exciting. You mentioned that you have 19 projects going on earlier?
Prudence: I’m probably juggling about 20 between old Passive science projects and projects that are happening within Morrison Hershfield.
Zack: How are you managing that? Are there any secrets to making that possible?
Prudence: Yes. Wake up at four in the morning. I’m serious.
Zack: Man, that’s a good start.
Prudence: Before I do any work, meditating, and starting the day with open mind, good intentions, positivity, clarity. From there, it’s all about being lean. Yup. It really is. When I was working with the PassivScience team, a large part of our product delivery approach was being lean. That means creating what’s called “standard work”—things that you do again and again—and actually purposely taking extra time when you develop standard documents and process flows to really think it through. You know you’re not just going to use this document once and then on the next project reinvent it again. Instead, you’re creating a resource for yourself so you can work smarter and have a process of continual improvement on every single project. So, really, that’s the backbone of everything that I do with my team and with my own projects. It’s having as much standardization as possible so it’s always there to go to as a resource. Those documents are living so that they can be continually approved.
Ultimately, it’s about teaching people to fish, right? Because there’s no way I could manage all of this on my own. I think this is about the maximum. But it’s at the point now that I have team members in the East that are taking projects and running with them, and I’m doing quality assurance and being a resource for the tricky stuff. There are enough standardized startup meeting agendas, checklists, and quality assurance documents that people can just follow through and know they’ve got it covered.
Right now, between PHI and PHIUS, there are so many different documents. I mean, PHIUS consolidated their Passive House certification guide and their quality assurance protocols into one big document in this version 2 update, which is great, but it’s all text. It’s all in narrative format with external links. It took a long time, but I was able to condense everything down for both PHI and for PHIUS. It’s short, it’s sweet; there are checklists, there are links to where you need to go. All of the extra putzing around has been eliminated, and that really helps things flow more smoothly.
That’s part of that critical path approach that I was describing to you, where’s it’s like, “Okay, what is the most efficient, direct method to get through projects where there’s a million things happening at once.” On every project, it’s always the same. There’s always a million things happening at once. So, really, the key for Passive House folks is to understand, number one, that we’re all here for a reason. We’ve all been drawn to Passive House for often a very passionate reason. It may not all be intellectual. I think a lot of us are in it with heart, right? You’re in it with heart.
Zack: Yeah. Absolutely.
Prudence: And a lot of us, you know, we care about our communities; we care about the planet; we care about our families. And so, when I talk about a critical path and a through line for dealing with complexity, that’s almost the very first thing, and the critical path is, “Okay. Are you coming from your heart?” And if you’re coming from your heart, how do you want to create an environment working with people? And being drawn to Passive House because we care, if we can keep a focus on that caring and use that to create collaborative practices where we’re leading, but we’re not leading with ego, we don’t need to; we have the laws of nature behind us, right? I mean, that’s what Passive House is; it’s like, “Hey, here’s physics. Here’s how it works. It’s the laws of nature. That’s how energy flows.”
So, we don’t have to lead with ego—but we can, if we Passive House people accept, that we’re here for a reason; we’re here to lead; we’re going to lead with heart, we’re going to lead without ego; we’re going to share—then that critical path, becomes, “Okay, how can we eliminate waste? How can we create a positive, collaborative environment where everyone gets to take part, everyone feels good, we’re all learning, we’re all having continual improvement, and it’s fun, then that’s it! That’s the critical path. And then everyone gets excited about it, innovation comes, creativity comes, and then we really start transforming the industry.