Reflections on the North American Passive House Conference

I recently attended the North American Passive House conference here in Pittsburgh at the William Penn Hotel.  It continues to be one of the most intellectually engaging and cutting-edge conferences in green building today.  The Passive House building method is all about the envelope, particularly downsizing equipment so that money can be transferred back into the envelope for air-tightness and insulation. The conference – which hosted about 350 attendess  – focused on Passive House experiences, case studies, and lessons learned.

Presentations from many Passive House “rock stars” were given and there was great local representation, too.  Some of my favorites included:

  • A presentation by Sebastian Moreno-Vacca (Plateforme Maison Passive) about the adoption of Passive House into Belgium’s building code.
  • Sean Penrith (The Climate Trust), who gave a sobering view of climate change.
  • Katrin Klingenberg (PHIUS) and Joe Lstiburek (The Building Science Corporation), who spoke at the closing sessions about indoor pollution.  The take-away from this was: dilution is not the solution to indoor pollution…you need to keep the contaminants out of the building to begin with (they made us chant this with them so we wouldn’t forget!).

Other big names there included Adam Cohen, Chris Benedict, Thorsten Chlupp, and Ludwig Rongen.  Pittsburgh’s local architects, contractors, engineers, and businesses were also present, including Lucy DeBarbaro, Alan Dunn, Dave Stecher, Jeff Davis, Jonathan Iams, myself (Laura Nettleton), and Michael Whartnaby.  There was also a strong contingent from local companies such as Bayer Corporation, James Construction, Ibacos, and Action Housing.  Pittsburgh made a great showing!

The 2030 Challenge was referenced in several of the discussions and Ed Mazria had just made his tour through Pittsburgh earlier this fall.  I have been a fan of Ed for years; he has been an inspirational leader in this movement for decades and it was exciting to see him roll out an exciting vision in his presentation at the conference.

I had a great time at the event and was pleased that so many enthusiastic people were all together in one place.  But I was left with the feeling that we need to catch up and really place a focus on reducing energy demand rather than just upgrading our systems.  For example, Passive House has been successfully implemented throughout Europe in commercial buildings and Belgium has just adopted Passive House as a building code requirement.

If we can place a priority on the building envelope and therefore ensure that our buildings don’t require as much energy in the first place, we’ll already be ahead of the game.


This post was written by GBA member Laura Nettleton, principal at Thoughtful Balance.


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