Second Week of International Passive House Conference Talks Retrofits, "Renovation Wave," and More

October 06, 2020


The 24th International Passive House Conference reconvened last Wednesday and Thursday for its second week of sessions. Held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, the three-week event has largely been defined by its focus on deep dives into the details of specific projects, design tools, and policies. Even the halftime plenary—which included presentations from Andrew McAllister of the California Energy Commission, Ni Haiqiong of Orient Sundar Group, Gordon Sutherland of the European Commission’s Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Julia Verlinden of the Green Party in Germany, and Jan Steiger and Laszlo Lepp of the Passive House Institute—described specific policies that are being implemented in California, China, Germany, and throughout the European Union.

Technologies and expertise are available. Now all we need is a political framework conducive to preparing our buildings for a climate-friendly future.
Dr. Julia Verlinden, MdB

Instead of proselytizing about the benefits of the Passive House standard or issuing calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the session have taken it as a given that everyone in attendance is on board with the idea of using the former to accomplish the latter. This means we now have to answer the far more difficult questions that come as a consequence. Two of the most pressing that seemed to loom larger than others over this week of sessions were, “How do we encourage the beginning of a ‘renovation wave’?” (to quote Gordon Sutherland) and, “What are the specific ways we actually go about retrofitting the millions of existing and inefficient buildings around the world within the next few decades?”

The first question is one of policy initiatives and pilot programs, which were explored during the second half of Session 7 with discussions on how to finance the retrofitting of condominiums (Carl-Peter Goossen and Clarence Rose) and the details of the Dutch Energiesprong program (Ron van Erck). The latter program has received a great deal of attention, as it was the recipient of last year’s Energy Innovation of the Year from the European Commission. It has been so successful that other governments are now considering programs modeled on the Energiesprong approach, such as Germany, as Uwe Bigalke of Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH and Stefan Oehler of ecoworks noted. Energiesprong’s basic tenets have also attracted significant attention in North America, particularly in New York.

As its most basic level, the program retrofits buildings to net-zero energy by relying on offsite manufacturing for roofing, facades, and building energy systems, and then installs them on the house quickly. As van Erck said, it is particularly well-suited for terrace houses and even some apartment buildings.

Bega Clavero describes the rigors of building to the Passive House or EnerPhit standard.

Bega Clavero describes the rigors of building to the Passive House or EnerPhit standard.

Session 7 also examined the nuances of retrofitting specific types of buildings to Passive House, but on different scales and in different regions. This is key to answering the second question. Within the former, the focus was on smaller residential buildings, including masonry buildings in New York City (Michael Ingui), a Spanish house from 1915 (Claudia González Garcia), and another Spanish house from 1954 (Bega Clavero).

The degree of focus was similar in Session 11, though the subject matter was multifamily Passive House towers, which, as moderator Monte Paulsen noted, are seeing the largest growth of any sector. Projects in this session included a 20-story residential building in Windsor, Ontario (Melissa Furukawa); the 16-story, Austrian Social Insurance office building (Helmut Schöberl, Markus Göschl, and Klemens Schlögl); the Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton, Ontario (Graeme Stewart, Ya’el Santopinto, and Joshua Vanwyck); a high-rise in New York City (Stas Zakrzewski); multiple buildings throughout China (Bai Yu); and the Building for Technology and Design at Australia’s Monash University (Dragos-Ionut Arnautu and Walter van der Linde). The latter is the largest certified Passive House project in the Southern Hemisphere.

Stas Zakrzewski describes how he set up his team.

Stas Zakrzewski describes how he set up his team.

Session 8 was a bit less cohesive than other sessions, as it discussed highly specific solutions to issues that arise with Passive House construction. This includes building in warmer climates (Piero Russo, Pablo Carranza Navarro, and Aggeliki Stathopoulou); finding ways to bring Passive House construction and trades training to rural and indigenous communities (Marcel Studer and Monte Paulsen); improving efficiencies in domestic hot water systems (Oliver Style); and incorporating large, commercial kitchens into Passive House projects (Marine Sanchez).

Refurbishing so many buildings is truly an immense endeavor, and it does require addressing several other structural issues. This includes finding novel ways of preserving and reusing parts of the existing structure of the retrofit and using new building materials that can limit the project’s embodied carbon. It also requires policies that go beyond buildings, such as transforming our energy grids to make them both 100% renewable energy sources and more decentralized and reconceptualizing key elements of infrastructure and civic planning to make urban centers more sustainable, walkable, and resilient to the effects of climate change.

As daunting as this all may seem, the benefits of such a transformation include millions of jobs worldwide, cleaner air, healthier populations, and improvements in quality of life. As these sessions showed, Passive House is a tried and tested solution that can actually be implemented on a global scale to accomplish many of these feats. As Dr. Julia Verlinden, MdB, said during her plenary speech, “Technologies and expertise are available. Now all we need is a political framework conducive to preparing our buildings for a climate-friendly future.”

Tomorrow and Thursday are the last days of the International Passive House Conference. With sessions specifically focusing on Passive House policy, non-residential Passive House projects, and a final plenary featuring policy makers from Germany and Scotland, as well as Passive House Institute founder Dr. Wolfgang Feist, these are two of the most anticipated days of the entire event, so make sure to get your tickets if you don’t already have them.

Register here.

Stefan Oehler describes the ease of installing elements that have been manufactured off-site.

Stefan Oehler describes the ease of installing elements that have been manufactured off-site.

Halftime Plenary

Moderator: Jan Steiger (Pass­ive House In­sti­tu­te)

  • Andrew McAllister (Cali­for­nia En­ergy Com­mis­sion)
  • Ni Hai­qiong (Ori­ent Sun­dar Group)
  • Gor­don Suth­er­land (Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­si­on, Exe­cu­ti­ve Agen­cy for Small and Me­di­um-si­zed En­ter­pri­ses (EAS­ME))
  • Dr. Julia Verlinden MdB (German Green Party)
  • Jan Steiger and Laszlo Lepp (Pass­ive House In­sti­tu­te)

Session 7 – Passive House Retrofits

Moderator — Bjorn Kierulf

Group A

  • Michael Ingui (Baxt Ingui Architects)
  • Claudia González García (DUQUEYZAMORA ARQUITECTOS S.L.P)
  • Bega Clavero (Progetic)

Group B

  • Ron van Erck (Energiesprong Foundation) and Uwe Bigalke (Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH)
  • Carl-Peter Goossen and Clarence Rose (Bouwnext)
  • Stefan Oehler (ecoworks GmbH)

Session 8 – Passive House Solutions

Moderator – Mark Siddall

Group A

  • Piero Russo (Piero Russo — Ingegneria Architettura)
  • Marine Sanchez (RDH Building Science)
  • Pablo Carranza Navarro (BIONM estudio)

Group B

  • Marcel Studer (Passive House Canada, Econ Group Ltd) and Monte Paulsen (RDH Building Science)
  • Oliver Style (Progetic)
  • Aggeliki Stathopoulou (NetZero)

Session 9 – Passive House Training and Education

Moderator – Laszlo Lepp (Passive House Institute)

Group A

  • Franz Freundorfer (Passivhauskreis Rosenheim Traunstein e.V.)
  • Simone Kreutzer Wesslund (IG Passivhus)
  • Susanne Winkel (Passive House Institute)

Group B

  • Rainer Pfluger (University Innsbruck)
  • Philipp Krebs (Fachhochschule Erfurt)
  • Stefan Pallantzas (Hellenic Passive House Institute)

Session 10 – Summer Comfort and Resilience

Moderator – Stefan Pallantzas (Hellenic Passive House Institute)

Group A

  • Kaz Bremner (Perkins and Will Architects) and Chris Doel (Integral Group)
  • Cameron Munro (Passive Analytics)
  • Jessica Grove-Smith (Passive House Institute)

Group B

  • Dragos-Ionut Arnautu (Passive House Institute) and Ludwig Mathias Häußler (Ludwig International GmbH)
  • Søren Dietz (Bjerg arkitektur, Green Lab)
  • Adrian Muskatewitz (Passive House Institute)

Session 11 – Tall Passive House Buildings

Moderator – Monte Paulsen (RDH Building Science)

Group A

  • Melissa Furukawa (Peel Passive House Consulting)
  • Helmut Schöberl (Schöberl & Pöll GmbH), Markus Göschl (Austrian Social Insurance), and Klemens Schlögl (Schöberl & Poll GmbH)
  • Graeme Stewart (ERA Architects, Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal)

Group B

  • Stas Zakrzewski (ZH Architects)
  • Bai Yu (Beijing Institute of Residential Building Design & Research co.,LTD)
  • Dragos-Ionut Arnautu (Passive House Institute) and Walter van der Linde (Aurecon Group)


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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