NAPHN's 'Passive House 2020: Choose Your Future' Asks Us to Go Upstream

June 26, 2020

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The North American Passive House Network (NAPHN) put on the first installment of their Passive House 2020: Choose Your Futurevirtual conference Wednesday, June 24, and demonstrated the importance of the Passive House standard as we approach a major crossroads as a species. What personal changes can we make to reduce our individual carbon footprint? How can we bring about changes in our community?

To answer these questions requires a variety of perspectives, and the first day of the conference certainly delivered. This included the “big picture” view about the need to think about how high-performance building can be employed as a tool to both prevent climate change and promote environmental justice, as well as the more specialized, granular picture about the need to understand the specifics of building science, underwriting policy, and the physics of air flow.

The plenary session set the tone. Following some introductory remarks from NAPHN Chair Bronwyn Barry and Professor Wolfgang Feist, the Founder of the Passive House Institute, author Dan Heath delivered a keynote address. Heath, whose books include the best-selling Made to Stick, Switch, and the recently published Upstream: How to Solve Problems Before They Happen, made the case that resolving clear and present problems, while ethical, does nothing to prevent these problems from arising in the first place. It places agents in a reactive position, rather than a proactive position.

He describes the proactive approach as moving upstream—a phrase that comes from a familiar parable about the two friends who rescue a child from drowning in a fast-moving river. By the time they rescue the child and get back to the riverbank, they see yet another child struggling in the river. They rescue that child, too. When they see a third child drowning, the one friend begins to walk away. “Where are you going,” the other says as they once again begin rushing into the river. The friend replies: “I’m going upstream to have a word with whoever keeps throwing kids in the river.”

This kind of upstream thinking, Heath has found, has been responsible for making corporations like Expedia far more efficient and improving graduation rates in the Chicago Public School system. Unlike reactive thinking, which seems heroic and necessary, it is oftentimes thankless because no one notices the systematic changes—just the effects of those effects. As Barry and Feist observed in the discussion following the keynote, this type of thinking reflects the importance of the Passive House building standard in some of the seemingly unconnected policy debates regarding not only building emissions, but the role that it can play in making indoor air better for occupants and how this can impact a host of issues ranging from respiratory health to the cognitive development of kids.

This theme of taking the proactive approach continued in the following two sessions: Passive Assets: Using the Data to Underwrite Passive House Financing and A Toxic Investment? Your Building’s Health Begins with Healthy Materials.

The Passive Assets presentation was based on a comprehensive study led by the Community Preservation Corporation, the City of New York, Steven Winter Associates, and Bright Power. Speakers included:

No surprise, there is loads of hard data clearly showing how buildings that achieve Passive House certification (or even strive to achieve certification but fall short) produce less emissions than code-built buildings and use far less energy. In addition, the team found that Passive House structures in New York City will comply with Local Law 97 by surpassing efficiency targets set for 2030 and 2050.

The team found that, should carbon trading be introduced (something that is most certainly within the realm of possibility), this kind of futureproofing could end up becoming a source of revenue for owners. The team’s modeling showed that larger multifamily Passive House buildings could potentially trade their carbon “savings” for over $100,000 per year.

The team is still hoping to procure more data to improve modeling accuracy and to better understand the difference between the modeled use as opposed to the actual performance of the building. Passive House owners can help them do so by taking part in a survey, which only takes about ten minutes to complete. Just follow the link here.

It’s About the Outside Air: Why Passive House Ventilation Is the Invisible Hand of High Performance, looked at the importance of proper ventilation in building science. Presented by ASHRAE member Barry Stephens (Ventacity Systems) and Berthold Kaufman, PhD, of the Passive House Institute, the session took a deep dive into the science of ventilation and how it impacts the health and comfort of building occupants.

As Stephens showed, proper ventilation, especially when combined with other Passive House design principles, keeps humidity and temperature levels in an optimal range and reduces the spread of contagions and allergens. For buildings like schools and offices, this means less absenteeism and higher productivity/performance.

With some sessions running concurrently we weren’t able to attend all sessions, but look forward to viewing videos (available to all conference registrants) of the sessions we missed:

• The Toxic Investment session, which focused on how building materials can impact the health of a building and its occupants. Panelists included Lauren Hildebrand(Steven Winter Associates), Bill Walsh (Healthy Building Network), and Lauren Zullo (Jonathan Rose Companies).

Deciding How to Do It: How Owners Choose Passive House, the first of three scheduled Owners’ Roundtables over the course of the coming weeks. It was moderated by Beth Eckenrode, RESET AP (Auros Group), and included the following panelists:

We’re looking forward to the remaining five days of the NAPHN conference. They are scheduled to take place every Wednesday from 1–4 ET through July 29. It’s not too late to register, and registrants gain access to videos of any sessions they may have missed. NAPHN is offering the discount code ph2020refer for 15% off registration (note: codes not operative on Wednesdays).

We hope to see you at the session next week!

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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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