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Treat heat like a butterfly, take the sting out of energy use

Just as air-conditioning and heating systems help maintain comfortable temperatures in buildings despite temperature swings outside, some living organisms can change their form to keep their body temperatures within a certain range. Someday, our buildings may act more like these living beings, automatically changing their own structure in response to the conditions outside—using less energy for heating or cooling in the process.

Julian (Jialiang) Wang hopes to bring that future a little closer, using a $2,000 BSA Research in Architecture grant.

As a PhD student in architecture at Texas A&M University and an adjunct research fellow at Tsinghua University’s Center for Building Environment Testing in Beijing, Wang already has spent a year investigating how using analogies drawn from a small part of the natural world could create a better building exterior.

“Butterfly wings are interesting structures in that they can change forms and motions in response to outside temperatures. I am using this as inspiration for building-envelope design,” Wang explains.

The honeycombed microstructures on the surface of a butterfly’s wings serve as effective collectors or blockers of heat, noted Wang in his research proposal. Sunlight enters the concave combs and, although light can be partially absorbed or reflected, nearly all the heat is trapped within the honeycomb instead of being lost through the outside of the wings. Conversely, when outdoor temperatures climb, the butterfly wings fold in a way that minimizes their surface area to keep the insect’s body cool.

Wang has used this concept to design environmentally sensitive, kinetic building panels. The panels consist of hexagons that automatically change in shape from flat to concave to convex—depending on solar radiation and the air’s temperature—which, in turn, either retain or repel heat.

For the next year, Wang will be using the parametric design method in building information modeling technology not only to digitally render his designs but also to explore possible shapes and compositions of the panels, to perform statistical analysis of how these variations affect energy use and to optimize a design for a particular climate. He plans to submit a final technical report to a publication geared toward the sustainable-design or computer-aided-design community.

The final phase of the project—building a prototype—will likely send him abroad.

“The natural model I chose lives in areas with hot summer and cold winter weather conditions,” says Wang. “Houston—where I primarily live, practice and do research—is not a good choice for the prototype because the climate is mostly hot with high humidity. It might make sense to build in Beijing, as Tsinghua University also has been involved in some of the project modeling. The long-term goal of this research is to explore more natural models—which possibly contribute to building energy efficiency—and, in turn, to integrate biomimicry, sustainable design and kinetic aesthetics.”

Genevieve Rajewski is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers science, nature, animal issues, travel, food and passionate people for acclaimed publications such as Smithsonian, Washington Post Magazine, and the Boston Globe. Her website is

Top image by Julian Wang.

RDC 2011: Leading the way to prosperity

As Massachusetts and the country at-large work to find their place in a post-recession world, we can’t forget what precipitated the Great Recession—housing and the uneven residential landscape. The recession’s origins are well known: predatory lending, veiled sub-prime debt bundles, inflated home values and lax regulatory oversight. But what about A/E/C professionals? What roles do we play? RDC 2011 addresses the responsibilities of our industry, emphasizing the problems and opportunities revealed during these often painful past few years.

For the first time, workshops are packaged into three tracks: Energy, Housing and Renovation. They were chosen for their role in leading us back to prosperity, representing vital needs that both public and private clients are fulfilling. After the economic shake-out, these still stand.

A/E/C professionals take great ownership in Energy—its sources, delivery and efficiency in the places we live, work and play. The path to net-zero energy has been blazed for architects and engineers (workshop A3), who know how to accommodate a field of solar panels as well as they know how to design a super tight exterior envelope (A4). We must become better advocates. Regulations increasingly aid this effort, if not flatly requiring that the steps be taken (A1; A6). Technology allows energy tracking in all stages of design, development and occupancy, and offers a clear and tangible communication line with clients and other decision-makers (A8).

Housing is a universally discussed subject in the A/E/C industry. Multifamily and affordable projects have rarely been the path toward critical acclaim, but they are desperately needed. How do we bring good design to projects with tight budgets and a lack of community support (B4)? Government is a critical player, acting as both the state’s largest landlord (B1) and design client (B2), as well as administering the zoning regulations that make projects possible (B3; B7). NIMBY opposition has always been a significant obstacle. RDC 2011shows that architects can create healthy communities meeting and exceeding budgetary and community expectations through good design (B5; B8).

Renovation and alterations to existing building stock is a classic New England challenge. The historic colonials, Victorians and brick warehouses which trademark our landscapes create a distinct sense of place, and A/E/C professionals are their stewards (C7). Designers ply their renovation trade through historic preservation (C3) and rehabilitation, modern retrofits (C1; C8) and residential additions. By blending 21st-century insulation techniques with old brick facades (C2), energy-efficient windows with hand-carved architectural moldings (C5), architects let history live. Design challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and the aging of our buildings is one to be embraced with pride and two hands.

As we in New England emerge from our recessionary slumber, we need to know and embrace the unique challenges we face. Massachusetts didn’t create the speculative, ghostly developments we see in states like Arizona, Florida and Idaho. In fact, Massachusetts has the opposite problem. Housing supply has been lagging demand for decades, if not centuries. Neighborhood and government bottlenecks, aging and dated towns and buildings, and keeping pace with ever-changing technologies are among our challenges. RDC serves up some of the best and brightest our industry has to offer, delivering content to lead the way to prosperity.

Residential Design and Construction is April 28–29 at the Seaport World Trade Center, Boston.

Maine’s building and energy code: So goes the nation. But which way?

As architects, we rarely see ourselves on the front line of foreign policy. Well, we are now, and to deploy our responsibility, as for any conflict worth engaging, requires long and complicated logistics.

The situation in Maine

Over recent weeks, the Maine Legislature and the state’s governor, Paul LePage (who has achieved national notoriety arising from several controversial statements and actions), have been reacting to grass-roots efforts to repeal or severely constrain the newly promulgated Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC), the state’s first comprehensive regulation that became mandatory statewide as of December 1, 2010.

MUBEC consists of regulations that are in broad use nationally: the International Residential Code (IRC) 2009, the International Building Code (IBC) 2009 and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2009, as developed by the International Code Council (ICC).

Although the code was voted by a previous legislature and strongly supported by the previous governor, creating an infrastructure needed to implement the new standards has been problematic and has taken a dedicated group of public servants and volunteers several years to roll it out. Despite their hard work, and partly because of a shortage of funds, the education, training and local preparation required for smooth implementation has been insufficient, and the resulting fears, unknowns and unbudgeted expense have arisen, expressed in the form of bills currently before the legislature and by cries of outrage.

This push-back, though considerable, is by no means universal. Many interests have expressed strong support for maintaining MUBEC’s requirements unchanged, though perhaps to be modified in administration and timing to allow adequate preparation. Voices I have heard favoring the retention of MUBEC, along with architects and engineers (whose lives have long been complicated by the absence of uniform and uniformly interpreted standards), include many builders and their associations, mortgage banks, code-enforcement officers, insurance interests, advocates for social and economic justice, environmentalists, community activists—in short, those you might expect, not just those who could be accused of being pro-government liberals favoring more regulation.

This rich coalition of diverse interests and philosophies reflects the issues society faces more generally, and as in our larger theater of irresolution, decision—or even its direction—remains far from clear, which brings us back to foreign policy.

National issues

Historically in the United States, building codes have been developed largely through a political consensus of means to protect health, safety and property. Construction regulations have not generally been developed to foster long-term economic interests, much less to express national policy related to the exploitation of resources, capital and labor. The efficiency of the market has been given control of these values, largely by default. Even the relatively recent promulgation of energy codes has arisen from an economic desire to reduce operating expense. And though extensive markets and practices in green construction have been developed from enormously successful and largely private initiatives intended to promote and reward environmental values, they have not been driven by national interest or have been related to foreign policy.

Indeed, as in Maine, so many of the regulations that our society has developed are currently being questioned as counterproductive. And few in the construction industry would deny that the complexity of our work expands even more rapidly than information technology can simplify. We experts, and I would argue, the market generally, are losing the ability to develop process and wisdom equal to discharging our responsibility to the public and society we serve.

What to do?

We have examples of how to approach our duty. I am told that in France, one cannot get a building permit for a roof that would last less than a century. The conservation of national resources, as expressed in durability, is a priority. Stripped of its colonies more than a half century ago, the French economy had to make national and foreign policy to integrate its supplies internationally. In the United States, we find ourselves forced to the same end through globalization. But we should decide the result, not simply accept its outcome.

As architects, we are trained to see and privileged in and responsible for seeing beyond immediate need to meet the larger goals of the client, the community and society. Let us consider and aim for what we want to accomplish as a nation and in our world. Though our goals are complex and contradictory, we must not neglect their importance because it is larger than our means.

George Terrien AIA practices from Rockland, Maine. In addition to having served as the president of the (then) Boston Architectural Center, he has been president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and the National Architectural Accrediting Board, and has been a member of the registration boards for architects in Maine and Massachusetts.

Photograph by Andrew Lachance. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Small Practices Network: George Hu on Geothermal Heating

President of Air Water Energy Engineers, Inc., George Hu, PE, LEED AP, presents on geothermal heating to the Boston Society of Architects Small Practices Network.

For more information, visit Small Practices Network.

Ten questions for Lonnie Laffen AIA of North Dakota

In November, Republican Lonnie Laffen AIA of North Dakota won the 43rd District (Grand Forks) seat on the North Dakota State Senate. As one of three AIA members nationwide to win election to their state legislature for the first time, Laffen recently sat down for a BSA Q&A on his campaign experiences and vision for his public service.

Why did you decide to run for office?

I grew up in a small town where you really had to be involved in everything, so I always knew I’d be involved in public service in some way. But it’s difficult to be involved in our community. My town is small—only 50,000 people—and I’d have conflicts constantly if I chose to be politically active within the community where I am working.

I love our state, and when I looked around, I thought it could use an architect’s help. The state is by far the biggest owner of building space in North Dakota, with 11 higher-education institutions in addition to all the government buildings. Becoming a state legislator seemed a way to get back to some public service.

Was this your first time running for election?

Yes. My name had never been on a ballot before this election. Because of the work we do, I am fairly well known in our community—which was a campaigning advantage. I think people also respect the professionalism of being an architect.

Will you continue to practice as an architect while serving?

Yes, I will. I’m only 52 and have an architecture firm with about 45 staff in five offices, three of which are in North Dakota. It is much less conflicting to be a practicing architect and work at the state level, as the legislators are really acting on behalf of the state.

How does an architecture background help in public service?

It can be a huge advantage for campaigning. An architect’s background helps you plan and organize large projects, which is useful in a campaign. I used my graphic tools and knowledge for designing billboards and postcards, so an architect’s marketing expertise is also perfect for that aspect of campaigning. Going forward as legislators, architects bring a unique ability to see the big picture as well as the skill to organize large projects that can take a number of years. We are also good at understanding and working with large budgets.

What are the top issues facing your constituents?

In North Dakota, the issues are a little different from most of the rest of the country. We have a $1 billion surplus. We have a very good economy, but our surplus is really based on a very frugal populace who don’t live beyond their means. That has been the success for North Dakota: We don’t have foreclosures or banking issues because the work ethic and common sense of the North Dakotans means they don’t take out mortgages worth more than their homes. As strange as it may sound, during our last legislative session, we cut our property and income taxes by one-third.

Meanwhile, all our sectors of commerce are hot right now, and we aren’t a very big state. Agricultural prices are very high. The oil industry in the western part of the state is really exploding.

However, we have infrastructure and natural challenges: The roads in the western part of state are very battle-worn from the oil industry that is just taking off, and we have two huge water problems. Thirteen years ago, the eastern part of the state made the national news when the Red River overran its banks, a fire broke out and 13 buildings burned down. We built a huge dike system and got that under control, but now Fargo is facing similar issues. So flooding is a huge concern in the eastern part of the state. We also have a natural lake that rises and drops almost 50 feet at a time—swallowing up whole counties of land. We are trying to manage that through a pumping outlet system.

What are the top initiatives on your agenda?

The state is a huge owner of building space. In North Dakota, we have an extremely cold climate, so our energy costs are enormous. Yet there’s no statewide program for energy management or sustainability. I think we need to address this, and I know I can help there.

How will you measure the success of your first term?

I would feel successful if I could say that I had helped the state start thinking about the space we own as a whole and that we’d put some management pieces in place to control our energy use. The state of Oklahoma is doing some interesting things with how it manages energy in its higher-education institutions that center on policies, really, not new systems. That would be my starting place. If we could have something like that in place by the end of my first four years, that would be a good first step.

What role can government play in getting the building industry working again?

North Dakota’s building industry has never slowed down.

Was the AIA helpful to your campaigning efforts?

The AIA was not helpful at all. I called them because there is [ArchiPAC, the] AIA political action committee (PAC) that I have contributed to, but the AIA said its PAC won’t offer support at the state level. That was fine. I understood why our PAC money has to stay at the federal level; there just isn’t enough of a voice there, so that’s where we need to spend the dollars.

However, I thought the AIA would offer some sort of campaigning advice from architects who had run for election before. When I called the national office about that, they took my name and said they would have some people call me, but no one ever did. I probably should have called to follow up, but practice and campaigning do take a lot of time.

What could the AIA and its local chapters do to better help citizen architects?

We could do a better job of information sharing. I looked for some kind of guide for citizen architects and never found anything helpful. The AIA could develop policy statements on why architects make good leaders at the city, state and national levels, as well as some speaking points for architects to campaign on. I would be willing to help with that effort, if there’s a way. I think architects could be very successful legislators—we just need to collaboratively help them get elected.

Genevieve Rajewski is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers science, nature, animal issues, travel, food and passionate people for acclaimed publications such as Smithsonian, Washington Post Magazine, and The Boston Globe. Her website is

A Passive (aggressive!) approach to energy use

In November 2010, Build Boston featured a comprehensive exploration of the Passive House standard by those who have helped it succeed in Europe and those on the forefront of its emergence in North America.

To whet the industry’s appetite for learning more about this cutting-edge approach to design and construction, the BSA recently sat down with Dr. Harald Rohracher, who was visiting from Austria’s Alpen-Adria-University, and Paul Eldrenkamp, of Byggmeister and the DEAP Energy Group, to discuss Austria’s great success in adopting the Passive House standard and how Massachusetts can emulate it.

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What is Passive House?

Eldrenkamp: Passive House is a very simple, clear building standard, which has just three criteria: the amount of total energy a house or a building uses; the amount of total energy that can go to heating and cooling; and an air-tightness standard that’s tested with a blower door. It doesn’t include any criteria for what’s traditionally been viewed as green building in the United States—for example, there’s no water-usage or material-sourcing category.

How does Passive House compare with LEED?

Eldrenkamp: The biggest difference is that LEED covers eight different categories, whereas Passive House covers just one directly. (Indirectly, it covers a range.) If you compare Passive House to the energy-usage component of LEED, you’ll find that LEED doesn’t really set a specific target: It gives a maximum that is really a pretty modest baseline. One of the backlashes against LEED has been that LEED buildings really have not demonstrated significantly less energy usage than buildings built to code. For example, with LEED residential construction, you only need to hit the Energy Star standard, which is only 15 percent better than code.

With Passive House, it’s all about the energy use. It dictates a very specific energy budget that you cannot exceed. By mainly focusing on energy efficiency, at the residential level, Passive Houses use only about one-fifth of the energy that a building constructed to code would use—for an 80 percent reduction in energy consumption.

How does Passive Haus achieve that level of efficiency?

Eldrenkamp: Passive House calls for super-insulation (which means triple-pane windows and thick walls), a ventilation system with very efficient heat recovery and, at least in heating climates, passive solar gains.

Rohracher: Thanks to this efficiency, the energy needs of Passive Houses are so low that internal heat production by their inhabitants—including people, computers and other systems—can meet a significant part of their energy-supply needs.

Is there a way to predict internal gains?

Eldrenkamp: The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) is an Excel spreadsheet that has about 35 different tabs. It’s a very precise German tool with detailed data input to calculate the internal gains.

How successful have Passive Houses been in Europe?

Rohracher: The first Passive Houses were built in Germany in the early 1990s by Wolfgang Feist from Germany in cooperation with Bo Adamson from Sweden. They developed both the concept for the Passive Houses standard and the framework for its dissemination: the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. The institute has developed an international network of professionals and coordinates the software package supporting the energy-efficient design of Passive Houses (the PHPP) and certifications for the different components, among other activities.

The Passive House concept spread to Austria a few years later, and now Austria has five times as many Passive Houses per capita than Germany. By the end of 2009, there were already close to 7,000 Passive Houses in Austria, and we are estimating that, by the end of this year, 25 percent of all new building construction in Austria will be to the Passive House standard. Around Europe, 22,500 Passive Houses have been built so far.

So the standard really has taken off, and it’s becoming more and more popular. Regulations are starting to adapt, and there are subsidies encouraging its more widespread adoption.

What is the state of Passive Houses in the United States?

Eldrenkamp: In 2002, the first Passive House was built in the United States by a German architect named Katrin Klingenberg. She had just moved here and was pretty discouraged with the energy-efficiency standards of the American housing market. She built a Passive House in Urbana, Illinois, and then another, before founding the Passive House Institute U.S. in 2005. The institute held its first round of Passive House consultant training in 2008, with about 20 people passing the exam and becoming certified Passive House consultants.

We’re not two years away from the completion of that first training session, and the Passive House standard has really taken on a life here. Many architects, builders and engineers are growing disillusioned by the green building movement and its overall lack of rigor, accountability and impact. It seems to a lot of us that the movement has been more about putting a greenish tint on business as usual than really moving the design and building industry toward making significant reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Passive House is an attractive standard because it’s rigorous and quantifiable.

Currently, there are maybe only 10 certified Passive House buildings in the U.S., but there are many more under construction, in design and in the pipeline.

Have any local projects met Passive House standards?

Eldrenkamp: There’s one on Martha’s Vineyard that I believe may have hit the final standard. I know it was getting very close. The project hadn’t achieved the air-tightness standard last I heard, and I don’t know if they’ve been able to make the necessary tweaks yet. But that’s been up and running for more than a year now.

There’s a project nearing completion in Shrewsbury. I’m involved in planning a Passive House project in Falmouth that should break ground in about six weeks. There is also an architecture firm in Maine that’s developing stock Passive House designs that could be adapted to local climates.

How does Austria’s climate compare with New England’s?

Rohracher: I believe it’s rather similar, though Austria’s mountains are sometimes a bit colder.

Eldrenkamp: I would agree. The Department of Energy has defined seven climate zones in the U.S. New England is climate zones 5 and 6, with our most- northern states being zone 6 and the rest zone 5. Austria is right around climate zones 4, 5 and 6, depending on the elevation.

However, Austria doesn’t have the same de-humidification and cooling needs as New England. We’re still trying to address those issues here and still fall within the Passive House energy-usage parameters.

What led to the speedy adoption of Passive Houses seen in Austria?

Rohracher: There were many different aspects, all of which were important. Austria focused strongly on architectural quality; in Germany, the movement was perhaps more engineering-driven. Passive Houses started off in a region in Austria where there was a strong emphasis on high-quality buildings, both in terms of energy efficiency and great design.

That region managed to set up a network for both architects interested in Passive Houses and the businesses that supplied and adapted components for them, such as window manufacturers and producers of ventilation systems. The area also was home to a strong intermediary organization, the Energy Institute, so there was a coordinated effort in setting up a structure for Passive Houses.

Nationwide programs, such as the Building Of Tomorrow program, focused on the research and development side—creating better building components, but also providing sociological research on perception and use.

There was also a strong focus on vocational training for diverse building-industry professionals and an emphasis on public awareness programs, including media campaigns and excursions to Passive Houses—with the ability to rent Passive Houses for a few days or weeks to “test them out.”

Can you only meet Passive House standards through new construction?

Rohracher: The original concept was focused on new construction, but there is huge potential to use Passive House knowledge and technology for retrofits. The latest available figures for Austria showed only 50 retrofits in 2008 meeting the Passive House standard, but that number is growing quickly. It’s certainly more difficult to meet Passive House standards via retrofitting, because you can’t change buildings’ orientation and factors like that. But you can apply different Passive House components, such as super-insulation and highly insulated windows, and get very close to the standard, if not all the way there.

Can you really apply Passive House standard to commercial buildings?

Eldrenkamp: “Passive House” is a direct translation from the German, where “haus” means “building.” So the concept can apply to diverse building types, from single-family homes to large office buildings.

Rohracher: Yes. The concept was originally used in Germany for modest residential buildings. But more recently in Europe, we have seen the Passive House standard applied in non-residential buildings, including schools, factories, supermarkets and office buildings.

How much does it cost to build to the Passive House standard?

Eldrenkamp: In the U.S., it may cost only 5 to 10 percent more to design and build a new home to the Passive House standard. But we have found that while it’s not impossible to retrofit an existing home to the Passive House standard, it’s prohibitively expensive in most cases: sometimes equaling 80 percent of the cost of new construction. So that’s problematic.

Rohracher: It depends on what the building looks like and how easy it is to retrofit. I’ve just seen recent figures from Austria, where retrofitting to the Passive House standard cost on average only 10 to 15 percent more than standard renovations. Our experience in Austria is that, with new buildings, Passive House construction only costs 3 to 5 percent more than regular construction. The economics are getting better all the time, as we become more experienced and Passive House materials become cheaper and more widely available.

What is the return on investment for Passive House construction?

Rohracher: In Europe, if you sell a building, you have to provide some certification of how much energy it uses. So an investment in Passive House construction increases the value of the property. If there is this kind of incentive around new construction, you don’t need to have long-term plans for a property to realize a return on your investment.

Eldrenkamp: In the U.S., however, people often have a very short-term view on construction costs. On average, people move about every seven years and tenant leases are typically only a few years long, too.

In addition, I don’t really like the idea of using simple payback formula for energy-efficiency improvements to homes and offices because the service life of a building is so long. In Boston, for example, we have buildings with a service life measured in centuries, whereas our ability to predict energy prices is measured in days.

That said, it is so much cheaper to build for maximum energy efficiency at a building’s outset, that it seems nuts to make value-engineering decisions that will last 100 years. One of things I found most compelling about the Passive House standard is that it says this is a useful energy budget, not only in terms of building economics but also in terms of sustainable use of the world’s energy resources.

And when you’re designing to a specific budget, the question becomes how do we most cost-effectively build this structure to get to this specific goal? That is a very different conversation from what’s cost-effective in terms of our ability to anticipate where energy costs are going to go over the next few years or even decades.

What are the barriers to moving toward adopting Passive House standards?

Eldrenkamp: One barrier is the general availability of components—primarily that really good windows are still inordinately expensive. We have not traditionally asked much of windows in the U.S., and the difference between the window you can use in a Passive House and the window that meets code is huge. You’re doubling or tripling the cost of your windows right there.

The HVAC and mechanical systems here are also lacking. In Europe, they have these elegant all-in-one units that do heating, cooling, ventilation and domestic hot water—all in a component that fits into a small linen closet.

Europe also has a wider range of insulation, more widely available. We can find all the same insulation here, but some of it is just very difficult to get in quantity or cost effectively.

So there’s the availability of building components part, which is solvable long-term, but there’s also consumer resistance to certain components. In a Passive House, you probably want to go with casement windows rather than double-hung windows. You likely want to have an electric range top rather than a gas cook top. You definitely don’t want an open fireplace. And ideally your dryer is a condensing dryer, so it’s not vented to the outside.

From the industry’s perspective, the biggest barrier is the initial cost: the investment in basically learning a new language. Austria is “exhibit A” that building to the Passive House level of performance gets easier with time. But it definitely costs a lot more to do your first Passive House, and not all those costs can be passed on to the client or the homeowner.

And then there are the perceived design limitations. Independent of those features I talked about, with regard to the consumer, the architects will find that they need to have simpler geometries. They have to do their floor plan layout so that most of the glass can face south. It’s also harder to do a Passive House with a basement than on a slab, so that’s a perceived design limitation. The cheapest way to insulate the attic is to put a couple feet of cellulose up in there, which means there’s no pull-down stair. So you start eliminating the storage in the basement and the storage in the attic, and there’s resistance both from architects and homeowners.

Rohracher: Many of these issues were also barriers to adoption in Europe. Many of them still are. And many of them you can work around.

For example, more than half of the Passive Houses in Europe have basements—you just have to change the design to decouple them firmly from the rest of the building. You need more collaboration between the different building professionals, because a Passive House is a much more tightly coupled technical system than a normal house. You have to integrate all building professionals into the planning process, and there needs to be a specific level of competence among all the different participants in construction.

Europe also has the same problems and issues in terms of uses and usage perception. Aesthetic quality is still an issue in Austria. It was so very important to show that you can make very good architecture and still meet the energy-efficiency standards. The proponents of Passive Houses would say that great architecture always comes from working with or against certain resistances and limitations.

Do we have to wait for U.S. manufacturers and suppliers to catch up to have access to Passive House building components and materials? Or can we work with what’s already available in Europe?

Rohracher: As Paul said before, it’s not just a matter of availability in the U.S. You have the technology, but it’s not widely available. And you do have not the same range of options seen in Europe. It’s something that will develop along with demand, I think.

Eldrenkamp: For some projects, people were actually shipping windows over from Germany because they were able to do that more cost-effectively than to buy North American triple-glazed windows.

But North American manufacturers are starting to respond. There’s a handful of window manufacturers now making windows efficient enough to meet the Passive House standard. A company in New Hampshire is starting to import Swiss mechanical systems and switching over the controls, so that you can use this Swiss equipment in the United States. You could normally do that with HVAC equipment because Europe is on 50 cycles a second, whereas the U.S. is on 60 cycles a second.

It's only a matter of time: The U.S. can build anything it puts its mind to. It just needs to put its mind to it.

Top photo: Mountain Retreat Schiestlhaus, Hochschwab. Robert Freund, ÖGUT.

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