Fenestration a Key Factor in New Passive Building Standard

The Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) has introduced climate-specific building standards for more than 1,000 more locations in North America, from major metros to rural areas.

PHIUS now has custom passive standards for any climate in North America. Photo: PHIUS

PHIUS now has custom passive standards for any climate in North America. Photo: PHIUS

Passive buildings generally are buildings that are built so air-tight and energy efficient that little, if any, energy is needed for heating or cooling.

The rating is a result of peer review from the U.S. Department of Energy, public comment from certified passive house consultants and three years of work. It is formally known as PHIUS+ 2015: Passive Building Standard—North America.

“We believe that PHIUS+ 2015 will make passive building more cost-effective across climate zones,” says PHIUS senior scientist Graham Wright in his blog. “We got some good feedback on our standard-adaptation work—14 folks submitted some 50 pages of formal commentary altogether.”

Mike Knezovich, director of communications, says what’s next is “what we’ve been doing all along—trying to promote the adoption of the passive building standards.”

These are the ratings needed in order to be passive. Photo: PHIUS

These are the ratings needed in order to be passive. Photo: PHIUS

They’ve done so thus far by testifying on Capitol Hill, training architects on passive building and even developing a program for builders to become comfortable with the strict air tightness needed to achieve the standard.

That air tightness doesn’t come without quality fenestration, says Knezovich. “The rating starts with the envelope. Air tightness in general is important, but there’s also the R-value of the window and frame. Those numbers are really key, and that’s why people are starting to use triple-paned windows.”

In the past, builders needed to import European windows to meet the standards. But now, Knezovich says, domestic manufacturers are stepping up to the passive plate.

“The more the [passive building] market grows, the more manufacturers are taking note and offering more products to scale,” he says. “That has brought on domestic manufacturers, and the cost of those windows has gone down.”

Knezovich’s hope is that builders who previously dismissed the rating due to its single universal rating requirements will take another look now that there are more specified target numbers for each geographic area.

To determine a building’s passive building performance target, PHIUS+ 2015 takes these criteria into consideration:

  • Annual Heating Demand (kBTU/sf-iCFA.yr)
  • Annual Cooling Demand (kBTU/sf-iCFA.yr)
  • Peak Heating Load (BTU/sf-iCFA.hr)
  • Peak Cooling Load (BTU/sf-iCFA.hr)
  • Manual J Peak Heating Load (BTU/sf-iCFA.hr)
  • Manual J Peak Cooling Load (BTU/sf-iCFA.hr)

To find the new performance targets for your climate, click here. (Note: if your specific geographic location isn’t listed, PHIUS will calculate those numbers for you for a small fee.)

To find and compare which manufacturers’ windows meet the standards, click here.

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