The Next Great Green Building Certification

• Tim Lewis
• Superintendent
• Rafn Company

Arguably, the modern green building movement began with the first Earth Day in April of 1970. And the popularization of the LEED Certification beginning in the late 1990’s brought sustainable building certification into the mainstream. Add in other certifications like Built Green, Green Globes, and the Living Building Challenge, just to name a few, and you might become overwhelmed trying to determine what is best for your project and to meet your goals. Some certifications emphasize aspects that might not make sense in your situation, and others might not give you the credit you deserve for your focus.

By the year 2030 – 900 Billion sq/ft will be built and re-built. In the current path energy inefficiencies will be locked in unless a change of thinking and action occur. So where do we go from here? What angle is next? What is the next great certification? We think it might be Passive house (1). Passive house is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. Passive design is not an attachment or supplement to architectural design, but a design process that is integrated with architectural design (2). This aligns with our philosophy that we must think of a building not as a sum of its components, but as an integrated system of systems that can only function optimally when each is considered together with the others, is operated as intended, and strives to reach the ultimate goal of net-zero emissions.

I recently attended the Passive House Conference in Olympia and learned that as your contractor, some of the things we can do include: blower door testing at pre-rough-in to establish a baseline early in the construction process; mark up an 8x10 plan at each transition location to ensure field crews understand how they come together; notify sub-trades early about penetrations through the air barrier and require permission to drill or penetrate; create mockups of every penetration of the air barrier; and utilize thermal imaging as a means of identifying weak areas and areas of leakage.

A common thread throughout the conference was that building user’s education and habits really affect energy use. If the efforts for Passive house are made in the design and construction phase, an equal or greater effort must be made to ensure end users know how to optimize energy consumption and savings. Educate end-users on how to properly co-exist with the building and ensure the operators of the building have a baseline understanding of the systems. On a simple scale, opening windows in the winter and raising thermostats in the summer will lead to reduced energy efficiency. And teach everyone to unplug their device chargers when not in use. On a more global scale, training end users provides exposure and inclusion to the strategies of energy efficiency.

Strategies for furthering the Passive house model:

  1. Getting more passive buildings on the ground.

    • Public procurement.
    • Rezoning.
    • Incentives.
    • More diversity of product.
  2. Ensure markets & decision makers have access to general information.

    • Reporting & monitoring performance.
    • Universal home energy labeling.
  3. Freeing up additional capital to cover incremental costs.

    • Repayment mechanisms.
    • Credit enhancements.
    • Infrastructure banks.
    • Costs – 6% on average – Where are the costs born?
  4. Creating informational starting hubs.

    • Offering training for industry, providing public education and outreach.
  5. Preparing the ground for regulation.
    • Code developing.
    • Stretch/Step code.
    • Getting the details right! Quality Assurance.

Already almost 30 years in the making, the Passive house concept is not new, but it does seem to be gaining some momentum in British Columbia and the United States in recent years.

(1) phius.org/home-page

(2) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house

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