101 Series: Continuous Insulation (10/4, 12pm ET / 9am PT)
February 10, 2019

NAPHC2019 Interview with Katrin Klingenberg: Passive House Building is Now Mainstream Pathway to Zero

NAPHC2019 Interview with Katrin Klingenberg: Passive House Building is Now Mainstream Pathway to Zero

On the Wednesday before PHIUS’ 14th North American Passive House Conference in Washington, DC last week I sat down with Katrin Klingenberg for a brief chat amongst pre-conference workshops and trainings. The first half of our conversation was about the conference and its theme, “The Profitable Blueprint for ZERO,” which I shared here. The second half delved into Katrin’s recent trips to the Getting to Zero Forum and NYSERDA Buildings of Excellence awards ceremony, as well as background about the REALIZE project on which Rocky Mountain Institute and PHIUS are collaborating. Read on!

Zack Semke: So, Kat, I hear you’ve been on the road a bunch lately. How’s that been? What have you been up to?

Katrin Klingenberg: It has been a whirlwind, really. Maybe the most memorable was the Getting to Zero Forum in Oakland that was put on by The New Buildings Institute and Rocky Mountain Institute. That was absolutely fantastic. It was the first conference that I’ve ever been to where it wasn’t even a question that passive building is the baseline for getting to zero. And it was talked about in a way that it was not only the U.S.; it was the global view. All the plenaries were globally focused. The giant green building and energy efficiency people were there—there was US Green Building Council, ILFI (International Living Future Institute), ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers). They all presented their zero-energy designs of how they’re going to tackle the problem and the global climate change challenge. And I was sitting there, and the ASHRAE president-elect gets up, and the first slide he puts on is ASHRAE 227P, the Passive Building Design Standard. And he is proud, like, “What is ASHRAE doing? We’re working on a passive building design standard! And a zero-energy definition and a net-zero standard.” And I just couldn’t help myself. I was like, “Yes!” If these people only knew. That’s a big step for ASHRAE.

And then NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) put up Mary Rogero’s students because they won the school category of the Solar Decathlon. Their entry was a PHIUS+ zero-energy school, and they did a phenomenal job presenting. There were a couple other of these moments, where I was like, “Wow…I really can’t believe this,” where passive building was just mentioned in passing.

Zack: It was just sort of assumed.

Katrin: Yeah. Amazing. And then, of course, there were some weird coincidences, too. When I arrived [in Oakland], the friends I was staying with told me, “They shut down the school. My kid is home tomorrow” because of the way that PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) is using grid shut downs to try to avoid fires.

Zack: I remember that was happening the same time as that conference.

Katrin: It was crazy. The entire Berkeley campus was shut down. So the closing keynote speaker was Andrew McAllister, the California Energy Commissioner, and he just stands up there, he smiles, and says, “I live in Berkeley; I have energy; you know, I just moved into my new Passive House.”


And it was just perfect. Mike Steffen [Walsh Construction] was there. Tim McDonald [Onion Flats] was there. Lisa White [PHIUS] was presenting. It was just a steady dribble of really great presentations that drove the point home of Passive House being at the core of getting to zero. Lots of other policy advancements were discussed, like revamping the banking industry. Excellent event. Really enjoyed it.

And then, of course, the REALIZE project that we’re working on with Rocky Mountain Institute. The conference was sort of a pregame for that one, too.

Zack: Can you say a little bit about what REALIZE is?

Katrin: Yes. The REALIZE project is essentially the retrofit standard for passive building. The theory here is that retrofit projects are more challenging, and that there should be a different standard to give the developer/builder a little more leeway to dial in the cost because, as always, that has been the biggest hurdle. We have no technological challenges. We have no component challenges. We have everything we need to know. We have long-term experience in the building science that it takes. We have very educated construction people since the 70s. So that knowledge is here. The challenge is the cost.

So, the DOE (Department of Energy) grant for REALIZE that the Rocky Mountain Institute received, and PHIUS is a partner in this, is the grant under which Graham Wright developed the PHIUS 2018+ standards. They were basically the baseline for the REALIZE retrofit standards. We’ll modify them slightly, but it will be very similar, and it will be branded as the retrofit version of passive building.

Zack: Right. So I imagine there are key parts of the certification that need to be relaxed a bit for retrofit application. Where is it being relaxed?

Katrin: We’re not relaxing it. We very strongly believe in the optimization, the sweet spot, methodology that we have developed for PHIUS+, and the same principles apply to REALIZE: cost, climate, and building typology; and we’ve got those envelope targets. Now, there are two ways to enforce those envelope targets. One is the way we do it in PHIUS+ 2018: annual heating demandannual cooling demand, peak heating load, and peak cooling load. So you have a four-prong approach to ensure comfort is there. For retrofit, we scrap the annual demands and we just stick to the peaks. Meet the peaks. That gives you more flexibility to see where you can dial in your choices and cost optimize a bit more. So, essentially, it’s like Chris Benedict’s and Henry Gifford’s “perfect energy code.” You just get the peak loads for heating and cooling.

Zack: Right, right.

Katrin: There’s a bit more to it, obviously. We still have all the prescriptive things because if you don’t have them things can go off the rails. So it’s not as easy as giving people two numbers. You need all the other stuff, but it’s a similar philosophy with the backup requirements that we’ve developed for PHIUS+, but we just dropped the annuals. That’s it.

Zack: Cool. Is there more travel stuff you want to share?

Katrin: Yes, the latest exciting one was the announcement of the Buildings of Excellence award in New York City at Building Energy Exchange. The Deputy Governor was there, and it was the seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy that day. She used that as an opportunity to announce that New York State is jumping into action and wants to lead globally, and with these Buildings of Excellence awards they’ve firmly put themselves on this path of global leadership and the fight against climate change. Lovely speech. Phenomenal. And we cleaned house. PHIUS projects represented I think 12 projects out of 25 or so awards. They were not all passive; some skipped passive and went straight to zero.

Zack: Congratulations.

Katrin: And they’re all over New York: New York City, Upstate…planned, completed…the whole spectrum. It was awesome.

Zachary Semke

Zachary Semke

Zack Semke is Director of Passive House Accelerator and a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps. He works to accelerate the t...

Weekly Newsletter

Get the latest passive house news, trends, & insights delivered straight to your email inbox.