20 August 2011

Views From the Front Lines

Recently, the Passivhaus community in the US has been stirred by a split between the PHI (Passivhaus Institute, Germany) and the PHIUS (Passive House Institute US). As a dedicated supporter of the standard and as one whom has discussed the intricacies of the standard as well as the politics with both sides I thought a chance to put my two cents in may help others dealing with this issue.

FIRST and foremost, for those of us determined to make a difference in the way we build in the US that have found logic and intelligence in the Passivhaus methodology, this split is irrelevant. Our goal is in creating buildings that perform as designed to a much higher level of both function and longevity then is standard in the US now. The appealing thing about the PH methodology is that it is a numbers and physics based system that is not prescriptive, but rather scientifically based. So the thing that attracted me and I am sure many others is the validated and repeatable performance of buildings that use this system.

I have been asked over the past few days by many of my colleagues, where does that leave us. It leaves us in the same place we were prior to this occurrence... US pioneers in creating high performance buildings. This movement was never about a certificate or a plaque. It is all about performing as designed, designing intelligently to create beautiful, affordable and low energy projects, and leading the way out of the morass that the US building industry has been stuck in since Reagan took the solar panels off the white house and had his Saudi friends flood the market with $1 gasoline!

So where does that leave us as Passivhaus Pioneers. Well truthfully the same place we were. PHIUS will still be pre-certifiying projects, as I assume PHI will. I have found that one of the most useful items offered by PHIUS is the per-certification of projects. Having a knowledgeable and competent colleague verify and challenge your calculations prior to construction is an invaluable service. As a lone pracitioner in an isolated part of the Blue Ridge of Virginia, having access to the folks at PHIUS has been invaluable to me.

Now here i must level an honest critique that both PHIUS and PHI share. Both organisations are victims of there own success and we all have shared the frustration of trying to get timely answers out of them. I have been in contact with both organisations over the past few years and both are equally guilty of terrible customer relations, with inquiries going unacknowledged and support when it does come being abbreviated. After getting to know both organisations, i realize that both are swamped and can't keep up with the requests, also i know both are supposed to be working on this, but in my opinion, it is the one that solves this support problem most effectively that will gain the most momentum in the US.

BACK to the item at hand - the split. There are many reasons for the split, but first and foremost in my opinion it is a conflict of misunderstanding and strong personalities. The Germans think in a way that is different from the US and the ability to both hear and act on each others differences seems to be lacking. I could see this schism coming over a year ago and i advised both the US and German players that splitting publicly when the movement was just gaining it's footing would only hurt the goals that all of us share. The truth is that both sides agreed, but each also had strong opinions, built up over years, of the other that was very difficult to overcome.

There is nothing in my heart but admiration and warmth for Dr. Feist and Kat Klingenberg. Without both of their unyielding efforts the Passivhaus standard would not be achieving the success it is today. I am confident that both of them, as well as others involved, truly and completely have the same goal in focus... unfortunately there is strong disagreement as to the best method of reaching this goal in the US market, and that has left us where we are today.

It is my fervent hope that as time goes, these wounds will heal. The way will open as the US Passivhaus market matures, that both parties will find the way forward and honor the respect for each other that I know they hold.

In the mean time, Passivhausers (Hausi) keep the nose down and the feet forward. This movement is up to us to make or break! It is not about titles, organisations, certificates or plaques, IT IS ABOUT PERFORMANCE. The physics are there to understand and as a community if we support each other and try our best to vet projects and create high quality work the success will happen.

This will seem like a minor issue in the years to come.

CHEERS to all -- Adam


  1. Another awesome post in the PH drama. I was really happy to see PHIUS' retort. I'm proud and honored to call them my friends. This isn't about a brand. It's about scientific performance and we are all actors on the stage of new economic possibilities when we model and build towards PH specifications all the while moving further away from fossil fuels, but steeply reducing emissions.

    The Passive House community at-large is comprised of the smartest people I've ever met. People with global considerations and concerns. And more important one of sharing the results and building relationships.

    I hope this brings more success and somehow the family closer ie. more PH buildings, better and more available materials, craftsman, and energy conscious culture.

  2. Adam,

    Thanks for taking the time to collect your thoughts and write this post. Your comments mirror my thoughts to a large degree - let's keep building Passive House projects, and they will speak for themselves.

    I was at an open house today where the owner of a PH was telling a visitor all of the things that he found to be wonderful about his home: 'remarkable comfort, with air quality that make me feel good, etc.'. The issues of licensing, and the politics of large organizations; these don't really define our success. Our success is rooted in the performance of our buildings.

    I hope we can be patient with ourselves and others in the community as the Passive House approach continues to gain recognition. Good things are happening!


  3. Thank you Adam,

    I agree with your assessment of the situation, share your respect for all parties, and concur that the only way forward is to do what we all would have done anyway, which is to sustain our commitment to the goals of low energy design and construction, using the best tool we have available to us.


    Michael Hindle
    Chesapeake Passive House
    INDRAlogic Architecture

  4. Adam,

    Thanks for taking the time to collect your thoughts and write this post. Your comments mirror my thoughts to a large degree.

    Passive House structures speak for themselves. I was at an open house today where the owner of a Passive House was sharing with a visitor the things that make his home so remarkable. Exceptional personal comfort, indoor air quality that makes him feel good - these were on his list. International organization and licensing agreements did not enter into the conversation.

    I hope that we can be patient with ourselves and others in the community as Passive House approach continues to gain recognition. I have huge respect for both PHI and PHIUS. I show that respect by promoting, designing, and constructing buildings that perform to the Passive House / PassivHaus energy standard.

    I say, let's keep building Passive House structures, and good things will happen.


  5. Well said Adam....I told Kat that the problem with good intentions is that they often involve humans....and hell. So lets keep going!

    -James Scott Brew

  6. I remember reading a speaker's comment from a early PHIUS conference "if a plaque is the goal they should build to LEEDS standards; if they want performnce, they should build to PH standards. I agree with Adam - PH performance standards are still the goal.
    Bob Irving

  7. Great post Adam! I am glad your post is so positive. I think there are going to be changes coming our way though and we need to prepare for it if we want the PH movement to be taken seriously. Perhaps the PH community on the ground need to have a closer relationship with each other. When PHI broke up with PHIUS, it felt like advocacy, training, etc. functions of the PH brand in the U.S. are no longer operational. Perhaps a stronger affiliation structure between the regional groups can allow us to build a more robust infrastructure.

  8. Roger, The PHI / PHIUS rift I feel is a temporary one that will heal. The US PH community needs to pull together as colleagues, support the US movement and be active in the international movement as well. That being said, as far as "official" PH stuff, I am going to be asking for support as I need it and whomever services my needs will get my support.

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