Passive NetZero SUPERHOMES Can Weather Storms, Save Lives and End Climate Change by Better Building Inst
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Congratulations! Your proposal, Passive NetZero SUPERHOMES Can Weather Storms, Save Lives and End Climate Change, in the Buildings contest, has been selected to advance to the Finalists round.
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2015 Climate CoLab Judges
Additional comments from the Judges:
I confirm my first evaluation of the proposal. It is not new (what the author proposes could easily become common practice and indeed already is in some country), yet we need as many demonstration projects as possible to show what has been already proved, i.e. that building more efficient architecture is technologically and economically feasible.
While this proposal has worthy goals, I am surprised at the lack of acknowledgement towards similar efforts all across the country (of which there are many) For example, the DOE Zero Energy Ready home (http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/zero-energy-ready-home) program has been active since 2008 and has made many strides in this area. This (and other) programs have gone into much more depth surrounding the practical challenges of constructing net zero homes.
It is great to see many of our initial comments addressed. However, these are the key elements which I believe still require development. • There needs to be a methodology for designing the homes – I suggested previously Passivhaus which has the PHPP. Poor orientation alone can increase energy demand by 30% and at the moment there seems to be no tool to provide guidance on this. A similar energy increase can be seen in buildings with poor Form Factors, again the PHPP would help designers here. At the moment it appears they would be working in a vacuum. I do not doubt that Don, you would be able to make orientation and form decisions based on your experience but if this is to be rolled out there has to be a tool to provide this guidance. Similar guidance is required for shading from adjacent buildings/ trees etc. Similarly temporary shading devices have to be able to be modelled to make sure the homes do not overheat. The design of the homes should be location specific and again if a tool such as the PHPP was used designers would be armed with full climate data for their chosen location. • I am not sure I understand the logic of going to a higher air tightness standard than 0.6ACH @50Pa. I have run a couple of calculations on some Passivhaus designs and the change in heat energy demand is around 0.4kWh/(m2a) when you decrease the pressure test result to 0.5ACH @50Pa. This seems like a fairly small gain, it is also worth mentioning that most Passivhaus buildings would have results less than 0.6ACH @50Pa this is just the upper limit. Designers often aim for around 0.3-0.4ACH in the UK, with many projects now achieving less than 0.2ACH. • Final comment on Passivhaus is that the proposal would appear to sit well with this methodology, there are no limits in Passivhaus to building materials, thermal mass, renewables etc and if you want to go to zero or plus energy with a Passivhaus there is nothing to stop you, in fact with the new PHPP this is encouraged. The Passivhaus part is giving you a robust, tested, cheap and accurate modelling tool through the PHPP. And at this point your proposal does not offer an alternative. • I still have reservations regarding the south facing sky lights, I would want to see some modelling to show this will not resulting in overheating. • I do also still have reservations about the Zero utility bill claim, specially regarding electrical demands for unregulated loads and small power. I think some calculations need to be carried out to find out how much PV would be required to achieve this aim. Have you considered hot water heat recovery, especially on the shower runs. This is becoming quite popular in Europe at the moment and is passive so has no moving parts/ maintenance issues. Its great to see you considering GGBFS and PFA, from the experience in the UK with GGBFS it is possible to get to a 70% GGBFS to 30% cement ratio, usually lower with PFA closer to 30% PFA to 70% cement but this will all depend on local regulations and structural requirements. I would summarise by saying that I feel this proposal has great merit and we need more demonstration projects of its kind. The lack of calculation and design tools/ methodologies may not adversely affect this pilot scheme due to Don’s experience and local knowledge. However, for it to be rolled out nationally and internationally there has to be a calculation methodology to make sure designers are supported and empowered to make the correct decisions. The building system part of this proposal remains the strongest element and well worth commendation within this competition. Along side the education elements set out by Don this could easily have large, direct and positive impacts on the built environment – as long as some form of modelling tool is adopted to help less experienced designers!
Proposal to build a demo home combining existing efficient technologies and techniques that represent the current state of the art of sustainable design and construction (well-placed windows, air tightness, radiant heating etc,). This may not be wide spread in the US but it is not necessarily inovative. The proposed and already existing construction material ‘ICF’ might be more durable and robust than existing timber frame constructions, however is common place in the marked and, due to cement, steel and EPS, has a rather large grey emission footprint. In places where such constructions are commonly used (such as Europe) people are looking into wood construction to improve the carbon footprint. Good wood construction, as well as concrete can be very durable and last similarly long, hundreds of years. It would be helpful if some economics were provided, how this approach compares to a common home. It is normally not the lack of concepts and technologies that prevent application but the higher investments costs. If the solution shows interesting potential to achieve efficient homes at lower costs then there is leverage. I don’t see how the proposal is supposed to make one ‘independent from the ‘fossil-fuels industry’ - EPS foam contains crude oil, steel and concrete industry is heavily energy and fossil fuel driven
Passive homes are interesting still, but having another demo passive home isn’t unique. There is nothing wrong with seeking funding for a St. Louis demo and I hope they can do it. We’re at the 1 in every-other-town stage now. Here’s one in my town: http://nesea.org/be-event/pro-tour-first-certified-passive-house-wayland-ma
Your proposal has been selected as a Semi-Finalist!
Congratulations! Your proposal, "Passive NetZero SUPERHOMES Can Weather Storms, Save Lives and End Climate Change" in the Building contest, has been selected to advance to the Semi-Finalists round.
You will be able to revise your proposal and add new collaborators if you wish, from July 1st until July 14, 2015 at 23:59pm Eastern Time.
Judges' feedback are posted under the "Evaluation" tab of your proposal. Please incorporate this feedback in your revisions, or your proposal may not be advanced to the Finalists round. We ask you to also summarize the changes that you made in the comment section of the Evaluation tab.
At the revision deadline listed below, your proposal will be locked and considered in final form. The Judges will undergo another round of evaluation to ensure that Semi-Finalist proposals have addressed the feedback given, and select which proposals will continue to the Finalists round. Finalists are eligible for the contest’s Judges Choice award, as well as for public voting to select the contest’s Popular Choice award.
Thank you for your great work and again, congratulations!
2015 Climate CoLab Judges
The enthusiastic and purposeful approach of the proponent makes the proposal potentially appealing to the general public and local supporters. However the concept – from the overall idea of superinsulation and airtightness, educational showcase, sponsored labor and material, integration of renewables and use of energy efficient appliances – is well known and already tried in many countries, not only in Europe, where Germany is leading in research and construction of low, zero and even plus energy buildings, but also in New Zealand, which is far behind the US in the field of energy efficiency. There are already energy certification initiatives based on similar principles, such as the renowned Passivhaus standard, based on energy conservation and recently evolved to include renewables. The proposal does not clarify in which way it would enhance this already consolidated knowledge or better overcome traditional resistance of the building construction market.Furthermore the benefits of using ICF instead of timber are not convincing when considering that timber can be sourced from certified sustainable forestry and contributes to the sequestration process.Given the already available data on zero/plus energy houses, a more detailed proposal including LCA and affordability considerations could help prove its degree of innovation and feasibility (if any).It must be recognized that a show case building is always an effective strategy; in that the proposal is commendable. However the concept of ‘superhome’ does not look innovative when compared to other, similar zero/plus energy solutions already on the market and the one off construction is at risk of very limited impact.The message is clear, the target set, yet more needs to be investigated concerning materials, affordability and strategies to promote the concept outside the local context.
This is an interesting proposal with lots of potential. • The demonstration and educational elements of this proposal are excellent, these are essential for increasing the awareness and therefore adoption of buildings which can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.• The potential application of this Build System to disaster relief is a very interesting part of the proposal, addressing the wider impacts of climate change.• By proposing a Build System that can address the issues of durability in current building methods this proposal is forward thinking, although not unique. The longevity of the building may start to address the embodied carbon issues with some of the materials.• The proposal hints at a Building Standard in addition to the proposed Build System. Without actually defining what this standard is or the methodology which should be adopted to design to it. There is a significant danger in looking only at elemental values, such as R-values. For many decades in Europe R-values where increased through regulation without significant increases in building efficiencies. Through many years of research it was demonstrated that this performance gap was due to poor thermal detailing, lack of thermal continuity and lack of air tight construction details, especially around windows and door and poorly considered orientation. Meaning that improving building elements or components alone results in performance gaps. • There is a lack of information on how the buildings will be modelled/ adapted to take into account the local climatic conditions.• Statements such as ‘eliminate the energy needed to heat, cool or light…’ are a little misleading unless the proposal means off-site energy will be eliminated as some energy will always be required for these functions.• The use of rooflights in residential buildings have to be treated very cautiously to prevent issues of overheating. It is possible to have a very successful summer ventilation strategy including night purge ventilation without the use of rooflights but instead with carefully designed and balanced fenestration design.• I have some reservations regarding the embodied energy of some of the build elements, although it is good to see the applicant is aware of these and trying to address them. I would recommend looking into cement substitutes, it is very common in the UK to use waste products such as GGBFS or PFA in place of cement. We also use alternatives to concrete such as clay blocks, these can be filled with insulation and laid quickly by semi-skilled labour. Similarly it would be interesting to know if the applicant looked into green roofs, green roofs reduce summer overheating and address rainwater run-off. • The use of radiant heat tubing within concrete floors can cause some issues in very low energy homes, as the delay is such that by the time occupants feel comfortable and turn the heating off the thermal mass continues to release heat into the well insulated space and in time overheats it.• It would be nice to see the thermal mass of the construction being utilised more, the current proposal for dry walling limits the extent to which the thermal mass of the concrete can contribute.• Although building design can address all regulated emissions the control of unregulated emissions is largely beyond the control of the designers. i.e in a low or high energy home you may have the same number of computers being used, the same number of TV hours, washing loads etc Therefore the statement that the energy required by the home could be ‘easily supplied by a few solar panels’ is a difficult one to prove. Even a building which meets the UKs zero carbon definition will still require a full roof of south facing PV to meet all of the unregulated emissions.• In very low energy, draught free homes ventilation should be supplied continuously, the energy required for high efficiency heat recovery ventilation units is similar to a low energy light bulb so these units are not turned on only ‘when necessary’, they should not be turned off.In summary this is a very positive proposal and has many merits which is why I am recommending it for shortlisting. It is a stronger proposal as a Build System than a Building Standard and to get maximum out of the Build System, the designers should design to an existing well researched and developed Building Standard. I recommend they look at the Passivhaus Standard. This standard is recognised internationally as the leading low energy building standard and there are now a number of projects across the USA including one in Louisiana which had to address the specific heat and humidity issues of that part of the country. The Passivhaus software is very affordable and provides full climate data so buildings can be designed for their specific location. On a personal note my parents in-law live in the St Louis area so I would be very interested to be kept up-to-date with the project developments.
Jul 5, 2015
Reply: Wow, a lot of great suggestions, most of which I would have included if I wasn’t trying to make this demonstration facility appeal to the majority of average Americans. But I will now, and here are the most important: Since my teens I have always been an environmentalist and advocate of thermal mass, green roofs, passive solar, and radiant hydronic systems, and to my knowledge at least, came up with my own simple passive house concept back in 1969 during my freshman year as an architectural engineering student. At that time, I simply married passive solar to thermal mass and what I now call passive geothermal, requiring a basement to maintain a constant temperature of 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Later, after I switched to electronics engineering and went on to a career in personal computer sales, consulting, design, programming and CADD/CAMM systems, I continued to study passive underground, ICF and monolithic dome structures as they were introduced, along with anything energy-efficient. In this proposal, I focus mainly on ICF because it makes the best ‘normal-looking’ building envelope, but my personal choice would be a 2-story monolithic dome that starts well below the frost line. My own passive house targets are higher than the official standards, with NO heating (including water) or cooling load whatsoever. Also, I consider an ACH50 blower door result of 0.6 still too high, but it makes a good upper limit. Like the PassivHaus standard, I also include air movement based on the stack effect, by using operable skylights as cooling towers, HRV’s, and sometimes even underground cooling tunnels in larger buildings. HVAC systems have been included in some of the homes I’ve helped build, but few have been used. Regarding the Life Cycle Assessment of ICF v timber, I refer to the report from MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub, Methods, Impacts, and Opportunities in the Concrete Building Life Cycle, which states that the LCA of ICF homes is the same as even super-insulated wood frame, or better if the building either lasts beyond 60 years or uses PFA (fly ash) or GGBFS (blast furnace slag ash) mixed with the Portland cement inside the insulated forms. Since the main hot button of this proposal is a home that will last practically forever and double as a whole-house storm shelter, the fact that both these criteria will be met should make it both an easy sell and a clear LCA winner. Besides, I am constantly on the lookout for a low-carbon alternative to Portland cement, hoping to find one that that involves less heat and carbon to manufacture. Sustainable forestry is admirable, but NO forestry is better. Yes, cutting trees to build houses does sequester the carbon already captured, but it ends any future sequestration by those trees, and will release the stored carbon when the wood is either burned or sent to a landfill. After a few years, builder-grade wood cannot be reused or recycled like concrete, steel and polyfoam can. And the insulation-filled clay blocks mentioned in comment #2 would be better than wood frame, but still allows for thermal bridging via the clay, unlike ICF with its continuous polyfoam panels on both sides of the concrete. The potential for overheating such a low-energy structure will be addressed by an indoor climate management system, slowly controlling water flow through the radiant floors and opening operable and shaded skylights to automatically release warm air and adjust sun exposure. Strategically-placed vents will allow air temperatures to remain constant between large, multi-use rooms, while ceiling fans will circulate air in each. Temperature, humidity, CO2, VOC’s, and dust will be monitored to adjust the appropriate IAQ devices. This combination of construction technologies is unique by any building standard, and to my knowledge has never before been attempted with so much detail. If anyone reading this knows of other practices that can be added to make it greener, stronger or more sustainable, I’m all ears. Will this trigger a new building standard? Probably not, but hopefully it will encourage improvements in existing ones. But at the same time, standards and regulations often provoke resistance in buyers, builders, corporations and politicians. By displaying this and other demo/training centers to the public, I hope to establish it as a more attractive free-market choice, and not a political football to be kicked back and forth between real people who care about our planet and corporations that don’t. And really, who wouldn’t want to live in a house that has NO utility bills; won’t be destroyed by fire, floods, mold, insects or increasingly severe weather; and won’t require as much money, time or worry to maintain? And if it can also reduce the risks of dirty, explosive fossil fuels, global warming and climate change, builders will be forced to adapt, politicians will no longer have a reason to deny climate change, and energy companies will have to either abandon fossil fuels and embrace renewables, or sink into oblivion.
Jul 14, 2015
I do believe I am finished, although I will still be proof-reading and correcting right up until midnight, after getting home from a Sierra Club Beyond Coal meeting. I tried to answer all the concerns from both of you, maybe even more than once. If not, and you get the time before closing tonight, shoot me a message - I'll be here! To the author of Comment #2, I'd be interested in staying in touch. I may have met your in-laws if they frequent the local home shows - I run a booth at each one that demonstrates most of what this proposal is all about: Energy audits and consulting, teaching contractors about weatherization, and designing and overseeing zero-energy homebuilding.