"Passive House Popular in Portland"
The Passive House concept is being actively implemented in Portland. The method’s popularity among builders and architects is rising as the industry seeks to accomplish ambitious goals to cut energy use.
Project owner Ben Gates and contractor Stephen Aiguier of Green Hammer Building Contractors stand at the site of Gates' future home, which will be built using the Passive House design-build method. (Photo by Dan Carter/DJC)
The Passive House concept is being actively implemented in Portland.
The method’s popularity among builders and architects is rising as the industry seeks to accomplish ambitious goals to cut energy use.
Passive House, a German-born design-build method, uses an airtight building envelope and advanced energy calculation software to create a building that uses 90 percent less energy than a standard home.
Current wind and solar technologies cannot meet the energy demands of buildings on their own, said Stephen Aiguier of Green Hammer Building Contractors. But Passive House, he added, could figure into pursuit of the 2030 Challenge, which seeks a 50 percent reduction in buildings’ energy consumption by 2030.
“Passive House allows you to get to that reduced energy consumption today rather than struggling to generate all of your power by on-site solar and wind,” Aiguier said. “When you look at emerging energy economies, Germany tops the list. We are massively behind the curve, and this is a well-vetted and engineered system.”
The Passive House concept has been around since the 1970s, Aiguier said, when the Carter Administration offered federal incentives to build homes with highly efficient envelopes. But some of those structures were constructed poorly and suffered mold issues. As a result, builders became nervous about highly efficient envelopes.
Today, however, with years of data confirming the success of the Passive House method in Germany, and building modeling software to ensure proper construction techniques, the movement is gaining ground in the U.S.
According to Katrin Klingenberg, executive director of the Passive House Institute U.S., her office receives at least one request each week from a developer seeking Passive House precertification. And the projects aren’t only single-family homes; affordable housing, commercial and school projects also are in the works.
“The growth since we began certifying Passive Houses in the U.S. has been exponential,” Klingenberg said. “The beauty of the Passive House method is the simplicity of the system. As you eliminate the mechanical systems, the cost is only 10 to 15 percent more than building to current codes.”
Passive House construction is thriving in Portland too, according to Tad Everhart, a certified consultant. Everhart is nearly finished with a Passive House remodel of his Southeast Portland home. In his neighborhood alone, multiple Passive House projects are in various stages of completion. None of Portland’s Passive House projects have been certified yet, but Everhart said it’s only a matter of time.
“I made a wager with the Passive House Institute last August that if we had more Passive Houses completed or under construction than anywhere else by next year, they would agree to have their national conference here in Portland,” Everhart said. “They agreed to it.”
Aiguier and architects Ben Gates and Margo Rettig this month will break ground on a new Passive House project at 2320 S.E. Morrison St. Rettig, an architect with SERA Architects, became interested in Passive House after she saw a presentation at the American Institute of Architects-Portland office. She is now a certified Passive House consultant.
“(Ben and I) were designing our new house and we were looking at these complex heating systems,” Rettig said. “The Passive House presentation was a eureka moment. You don’t need a heating system. The process ensures you get a durable envelope that’s vetted. It just made sense.”
In Salem, builder Larry Bilyeu was skeptical when his clients asked him to build a Passive House. But after his son and building partner Blake Bilyeu educated him on the method, he was hooked. Now Larry Bilyeu is nearly finished with his first Passive House, the Rue/Evans House, and is planning a second one.
“There were a lot of unknowns for me,” Bilyeu said. “But at the end, the challenges I thought we’d have with cost and the envelope weren’t bad. It raised the up-front cost by about $18,000, but it takes no energy to heat the house. It pays off for the customer.”
Gates said consultant training will perhaps be the biggest driving force in Passive House construction because it will shield the method from the building defects of the past. Oregon has 16 certified Passive House consultants, including nine in Portland.
“It’s still early,” Gates said. “But there’s aggressive training being undertaken by the Passive House Institute. That will help owners and designers contemplating a Passive House to go for it.”