PHIUS Conference: Communicating the Value of Energy Efficient Building Design

Authored by Lindsey Kieffaber, October 18, 2017

I represented LHB at the 12th Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) 2017 Conference in Seattle, Washington. PHIUS is taking significant steps to change the conversation around energy efficient building design. Their own claim is that the PHIUS’ Annual North American Passive House Conference is “the largest and most technically-focused such event in North America”.

It seems the biggest hurdle to building to a higher energy standard than code is the question of “how much does that cost?” At the PHIUS conference I heard a lot of questions about how to market this real and/or perceived extra cost to clients. One response stuck with me, following with another question: “How much does a bag of groceries for the week cost?”. And so, the answer, “it depends”, becomes more relatable and believable. How much a bag of groceries costs depends on what ingredients are used to fill this bag, or in their analogy, create this passive house building. I further liked the analogy because I could fill that bag with chips, and it would be cheap and the bag would fill quickly, but really, what nutritional value is that? Whereas if I filled my grocery bag with veggies, it would last longer and I would feel a lot better. Similarly, Passive House focuses on quality ingredients which provide excellent performance.

Here are three tips I picked up on how to change the conversation to communicating the value in energy performance, which can often be the least visible aspect of a building to spend money on:

1. Upcoming visibility of energy efficiency – Emerging technology
Consumers are becoming smarter; the demand pressures and availability of information are allowing consumers to make more informed decisions. Technology is available for consumers to test the energy efficiency of their homes, and that process is going to get a lot easier and more mainstreamed with applications like the MyHeat Map (currently in beta for Canada). Just like most won’t buy a car without a certain Miles-Per-Gallon rating, I imagine given the availability of information consumers won’t rent or buy a home without knowing its energy use intensity. The MyHeat Map visually communicates a home’s relative energy performance to assist consumers in informed design making; making energy efficiency easily visible to the public.

An image of a sample block of MyHeat’s Heat Map

2. Careful with words
Loan officers, appraisers, and developers are typically risk adverse people. They may not buy into PHIUS immediately, requesting proof that designing to this standard has a better ROI. Financial evidence may be difficult to find today. Designers learning to communicate the PHIUS benefits of comfort, durable materials, energy efficiency, quality features in terms understood by loan officers, appraisers, and developers is essential to the widespread adoption of the standard.

3. Make the features work for you!
Certification programs can be great marketing tools, but not everyone is knowledgeable about those programs. It’s important to make sure the appraiser is considering the certification and added features (not always the most visible aspects) when they appraise the building. Everyone is entitled to a “competent appraiser” which means familiarity with the project type, in the case of a Passive House building, a highly efficient building. It may be helpful to ask the appraiser some questions about how many hours of energy efficiency continuing education they have or whether they are familiar with the AI addendum. If they don’t seem to have the right level of knowledge, it’s within a consumer’s rights to request a more competent appraiser through the lender. Jeffery Gephart from Vermontwise Energy Services presented on this topic at the PHIUS conference, his slides can be found here.

LHB is currently designing the first multifamily low-income Passive House projects in Minnesota, providing our team with the opportunity to apply lessons learned from case studies presented at the PHIUS conference. Look for updates on our blog as the project progresses.

LHB’s early concept rendering of an upcoming Passive House project.


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