CEE offers passive building certification to MN builders
In 2009, local media outlets were ablaze with stories of the first passive house to be certified anywhere near the Twin Cities — specifically in Hudson, Wisconsin. According to a 2015 article in the Pioneer Press, Gary Konkol’s “House in the Woods” is so efficient that it is too hot in the winter months to run a wood stove — but building it cost him a hefty $1.1 million. So what does passive building mean for the rest of us?
Passive building essentially aims to operate a residence with as little energy as possible. The term comprises a set of rigorous voluntary standards that can yield a home up to 80 percent more efficient than one built to typical energy code. A passive home has an unmatched level of indoor air quality and durability — with the potential for energy bills that are next to nothing. Beyond those benefits, passive house owners report a much higher degree of comfort compared to traditional homes.
A passive home is airtight, protecting against air pollution and excessive heat loss or gain. It is durable, because insulation and ventilation allow for consistent internal temperature without excessive use of heating or cooling systems. And if the builders or owners also add renewable energy sources, a passive home has the potential to be both zero energy ready and carbon neutral.
In the years since the Konkol house’s media blitz, more builders have taken on passive home projects — and with the increase in popularity came a decrease in the cost of associated materials and technologies. In fact, thanks to Minnesota’s already-robust code requirements, you can build a passive home for only 5–10 percent more than the initial cost for a home built to typical standards (www.phius.org).
CEE’s new homes staff are now offering verification services for homes and multifamily buildings built to the Passive House Institute U.S.’s (PHIUS’s) standards. As a PHIUS+ rater and PHIUS+ verifier, CEE verifies design plans and energy models to help ensure compliance with the certification requirements. Staff perform on-site testing and inspections during construction to ensure that the house is built as designed. The PHIUS certification is ideal for builders who are already ENERGY STAR® or DOE Zero Energy Ready certified.
For those looking into buying or building a new home — which is one of the largest purchases most people make in their lives — our staff recommend that you consider PHIUS or other above-code certifications. They refer to this as “future-proofing,” meaning that you are ensuring that the construction and technologies in your home aren’t obsolete in a few years’ time.
It is true that passive building standards mean the upfront cost is higher, and that up until now passive house has been more popular with richer companies and individuals. CEE staff are seeking to change this narrative by encouraging smaller builders to pursue high-performance goals in modest homes as well. Our PHIUS-verifier staff are currently working with the first multifamily passive building project in Minnesota, and we hope that there are many more such projects on the horizon for the Twin Cities.
Note: There is a distinction worth noting between the traditional “passivhaus” standard that was conceived in Germany in the 1980s (and are carried on today through the Passive House Institute and Passive House Minnesota) and the PHIUS certification. While both concepts are aiming at the same thing — homes that use as little energy as possible — the PHIUS standard adjusts for climate. This means that a house built for the frigid winters and humid summers of Minnesota (Uff da!) is judged against slightly more forgiving standards than a house built somewhere more consistently temperate.
This post was written in collaboration with CEE's Residential Department New Homes staff members Phil Anderson, Tony Beres, and Jake Selstad.
CEE Ratings & Certifications
Home Energy Hub: Building a Passive Home
Passive House Institute U.S.
Image credit: National Renewable Energy Lab via cc