Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Passive House Standards Met

Passive House Standards Met
It has been just over 1 year since we moved into the house. I finally have about 1 years worth of data (minus cooling for this year). Here is where we stand:

One really nice thing about PH International is the simplicity of the standard. I don't mean it is simple to achieve, but it is simple to explain.
1) Airtightness under 0.6 ACH50
2) Heating Demand - 4.75 kBTU/sf/yr
3) Cooling Demand - 5.39 kBTU/sy/yr
4) Primary Energy - 38.0 kBTU/sf/yr
5) Thermal Comfort / Thermal Bridge Free design - Blog post to come!

So lets do some unit conversions, since my house is totally electric - so my calculations are in kWh:

  • Heating Demand - 1.39 kWh/sf/yr
  • Cooling Demand -  1.58 kWh/sf/yr - I'm told this is to account for dehumidification being energy intensive. 
  • Primary Energy - 11.1 kWh/sf/yr
Lets see how we did - Our PHPP model shows 2930 sqft

1) Airtightness: My previous blog posts shows how we met this standard comfortably

2) Heating Demand: I installed 2 electric meters measuring my 2 air source heat pumps that I read monthly, so I can accurately measure my electrical consumption for Heating and Air Conditioning.

  • The top meter measures the Water Heater electrical consumption (installed on 2/1/2017)
  • The bottom left measures the 2nd floor minisplit heat pump (installed on 10/25/2016)
  • The bottom right measures the 1st floor minisplit heat pump (installed on 10/25/2016)
I should note, we had not used the minisplits for heating until after the meters were installed.

My electrical use dedicated to heating over the 2016-2017 winter was: 1730 kWh

1730/2930 =
0.59 kWh/sf/yr or 2.02 kBTU/sf/yr

The 2016/2017 winter had 5593 Heating Degree Days - our 30 year average is about 6380. So our winter was about 12% warmer than normal, but we are less than 1/2 of the PH limit of 4.75 kBTU/sf/yr

3) Cooling Demand: We are not done with cooling for this summer yet (it is early august). But we can interpolate a little bit. So far for the summer of 2017 we have used 187 kWh

0.06 kWh/sf/yr or 0.22 kBTU/sf/yr

As long as I don't use 4,400kWh the rest of the summer I will be under the limit (remember I've only used 187 so far this summer)

4) Primary Energy: Now that I have a full year's worth of electric bill I can do this calculation. The primary energy portion of the Passive House accounts for grid losses (The assumption is the grid is 38% efficient). We moved into the house in July 2016, so August 2016 was our 1st full month of utility bills. This number includes all of the heating, cooling, water heating, ventilation, cooking, plug loads, etc. 
 Here is our Monthly breakout of usage:
August 2016             685 kWh -  $85.53
September 2016       573 kWh -  $75.15
October 2016           452 kWh -  $63.80
November 2016       622 kWh -  $73.63
December 2016       968 kWh - $103.94
January 2017         1232 kWh - $142.60
February 2017         957 kWh - $121.58
March 2017             848 kWh - $93.68
April 2017               633 kWh - $79.51
May 2017                418 kWh - $65.79
June 2017                474 kWh - $66.36
July 2017                 537 kWh - $75.48
Total                      8399 kWh - $1,047.05

2.6 x (8399/2930)= 
7.45 kWh/sf/yr or 19.37 kBTU/sf/yr

Again, we are FAR under the limit of 38.0 kBTU/sf/yr.

I do have a meter on the water heater and ventilation system but I installed it in late January, so I don't really have meaningful data yet. But this is what I have so far:

The Water Heater Electrical usage so far has been:
February 2017    136 kWh - $14.86
March 2017        166 kWh - $15.01
April 2017          113 kWh - $11.16
May 2017           104 kWh - $12.14
June 2017             86 kWh -   $8.96
July 2017             69 kWh -    $7.51
Total                   674 kWh - $69.64

The Ventilation System Electrical usage so far has been:
February 2017    38 kWh - $4.15
March 2017        42 kWh - $3.80
April 2017          34 kWh - $3.36
May 2017           32 kWh - $3.74
June 2017           42 kWh - $4.37
July 2017            46 kWh - $5.01
Total                  234 kWh - $24.43

Lets take a look at how my electrical bill breaks out for 2017:

(This is only from January on, so the heating number may seem misleading since it is only for half of the winter)
The 2 things that stand out to me are:
1) The $17 per month service charge certainly adds up fast!
2) I am surprised at how little the ventilation system costs to run considering it is the only piece of equipment in the house that runs 24/7 (roughly $4 per month to operate - and that includes the Comfofond ground loop!)

I hopefully will have some news on the Certification front soon! Passive House Academy is working on it! 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Offical Blower Door Test

Official Blower Door Test

Well we've been in the house for almost a year now, and we are just now getting all of the necessary documents sent to Passive House Academy (PHA) for final certification.

The big remaining items are:
  • Installation PSI values for our windows - results for this will be in a separate blog post. 
  • Zehnder Commissioning to verify airflow in each room and ensure proper balancing from the supply and exhaust from the unit
  • Official Blower Door Test
So this post will go into some depth on what is required for the Passive House Institute Airtight Test

Calculate the House Air Volume
This is maybe the biggest difference between the ASTM and European Standard. We calculate the air volume of the house from slab to interior drywall and exclude ALL interior wall and floor air volumes. Essentially the "visible air volume" inside the house.

Sketchup makes this much easier!

I broke up the volume into 4 components
Volume of the Basement = 8,888 cuft

 Volume of the 1st Floor = 9,896 cuft
 Volume of the 2nd Floor is = 8,727 cuft
Volume of the Staircase Shaft is = 1,846 cuft

This give me a total volume of 29,357
(and just over 2900 sqft for those keeping score at home).

For you PHUIS people - my surface area is 6371 sqft

Here are my results from the official PHI Test:

Multi-point Depressurization

Final Depressurization : 51 CFM50

Multi-point Pressurization

Final Depressurization : 49 CFM50

Average per PHI Standard = 50 CFM50 => 0.10 ACH50

Now for the actual test. Enjoy the videos!

Blower Door Setup

Airtightness test with Duct Blaster Ring 3

Airtightness test with Blower Door Ring D

So here are our results:

Rochester Passive House is one of the tightest in the world!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Questions for my wife

Questions for my wife

Many times during tours questions come up that are best answered my by wife. The questions are generally asking for a different perspective from mine. It makes sense. I am, after all, selling Passive House Design and Tradesman services through Airtight Services. So how much can you believe from a salesman?

 My wife Brianna has offered to answer some questions from our most recent open house. Here you go! These questions are in no particular order.

Hi Everyone! Brianna here. Before I go into answering these questions just know that I am not a designer, architect or engineer. Many of the finishes in our house I found on pintrest. Some of these questions are hard to answer, but I will do my best.

What was the biggest challenge with the layout / floor plan in order to keep it "Passive"?
  • Definitely working within the "simple shape" I am really not good at visualizing how large a space will be from the prints, so we ended up with bedrooms on the 2nd floor that are too big in my mind. I would love to move some of that square footage back to the 1st floor. No fireplace was a challenge too when it came to decorating the family room / dining room area. I've always had a fireplace but we never really every burned anything. But losing the focal point in a room is a challenge. 

What is it like to cook on an induction cooktop?
  • I have cooked on standard electric and gas, but I really like the induction. You have to really watch it. The days of turning the pot on to boil 30 min early are over. If you boil a lot of things, you will boil something over. It is really easy to clean up though - since the water doesn't burn into the cook top like on a standard glass top. A damp cloth will clean it right up every time. There also is no gas smell in the house when the burner is on.

What was it like dealing with the Amish for your kitchen? Why didn't you have them do your bathroom cabinets also?
  • Working with the Amish was certainly an experience. It really gives you an appreciation for ALL of the modern day conveniences. There was no show room, there was no photos of previous work, there was no "options". When we sat down with them in their shop the piece of paper was blank. We had our "design" and photos of the style we wanted, a color sample we liked and that was it. We could have anything. I suppose this was the start of the endless decisions you get with a custom home. 
    • Choice of wood - Oak, Maple, Poplar, Cherry, Hemlock, Rustic Hickory, Walnut, Pecan... you name it. 
    • Color - stain color, paint color
    • Style - inset drawers, full overlay, etc. style for sides of cabinets not tight to a wall, etc.
    • Design - We were working around 2 load bearing posts, and had to tie them into the island. We also could choose from any of the kitchen cabinet gadgets like spice drawers, garbage drawers, hidden areas, adjustable shelves. They really wanted us to utilize every inch of possible space.  
    • We put in our order, wrote a check and just had to trust that they would deliver
  • If I could do it all over again, I would have them stain the lower cabinets and have our painter paint the cabinets. The Amish don't have a "clean room" so the finish on the paint is kind of rough - but they have been great working with us, and are always happy to "rebuild" cabinets if necessary. I also would have used a less expensive wood for the painted cabinets. We used maple on the lower cabinets
  • We put in our kitchen order with them very early in the process, and totally missed our window to have them build our bathroom cabinets. We may have saved a little bit of money on the bathroom vanities since we bought ALL of them on the clearance rack at like 50% off, we certainly got an cheaper product.  
  • I have told Matthew to write a blog post on our dealings with the Amish, since he is the one who took 3 or 4 trips down there to meet with them while they were building them. He has some good stories.

Are all of the rooms really the same temperature?
  • No. This winter the kids bedroom was about 2-3 degrees cooler than the master bedroom. We have a thermometer in there to make sure they didn't get too cold. We also opened up their door when we go to bed. The basement was also 3-4 degrees cooler than the 1st floor. 

How are you dealing with all of these open houses?
  • Thinking positively, it forces us to keep the house clean and any "projects" we are working on have to be done before the next open house. 
  • It can be difficult, particularly for the Veterans Day Weekend when we do a multi-day open house. But if we can bring in some donations for the area veterans, it it worth it! 

What is the biggest difference in this house from other houses you have lived in?
  • This is a hard one. It is definitely quieter, not only from outdoor noise, but there wasn't a loud furnace that kicked on every so often. Everything is quieter. I also grew up with a bedroom over a garage - and it was ALWAYS cold. There is no room in this house that is ever cold.

What is the biggest drawback from building such an efficient house?
  • Reduced options for appliances (no gas) - I am not complaining at all about the dryer, but we did need to buy a ventless one and there was only 1 choice. We also needed to have an electric stove, again not a big deal, and I LOVE the induction cook top. And designing a focal point in our family room that is not a fireplace is hard. We will end up building a fake one where we can burn candles or something. 

Where did you get your kitchen floor from?
  • Phew, an easy one! Matthew showed me an ad in one of his builder magazines for Armstrong Architectural Remnant Line. There was a local company in Rochester that is a dealer for that line of floor (Rochester Linoleum and Carpet One). Once I saw it at the store I knew I wanted it! Much of the color scheme in the house is based on the floor. I was going to be VERY UPSET if that color, or line was discontinued. I am not sure what would have happened if the floor had to be changed. Our kitchen cabinet color was based on that floor color, our paint scheme was based on that floor color, the stair tread stain color was based on the the floor color. The day we placed the order I was much happier! 
  • Here is the exact flooring: Armstrong Architectural Remnant Natural L3103
This was fun! Send me more questions!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

RESNET Cross Border Challege

2016 RESNET Cross Border Challenge Winner!:

For those of you who don't know, RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) is the independent organization founded to help homeowners reduce their utility cost. They do quite a bit nationally to promote building efficient buildings utilizing tools such as:

HERS Index - Essentially a MPG for a house

Energy Efficiency Mortgages - Mortgages that Credit a homes energy efficiency in the home loan (you can spend more to build the house because your utility bills will be lower)

Energy Audits and Home Energy Ratings - a much more involved energy audit that one offered by Home Performance with Energy Star. It would probably be a great idea for anyone buying an existing home to have one of these audits done. It is far more comprehensive and can uncover some important information for the prospective home buyers

A RESNET Rater is one who is responsible for all the necessary field work and energy modeling for a new construction Energy Star Home. They have all of the skills necessary for any of the 2015 Code Requirement Testing and they can also be tasked with PHIUS field verification.

Canada has a similar organization - CRESNET for homes built in Canada

Back to the Cross Border Challenge...

Each year for the past decade or so the 2 organizations have had a friendly competition to see who can build more efficient homes:

The Cross Border Challenge is simple - Lowest HERS Score wins. Now there are a few categories:

Lowest HERS Score by an American Production Builder (>49 HERS Ratings per year)
Lowest score American Mid Size Builder ( 10 to 49 homes HERS rated per year)
Lowest score American Custom Builder (< 10 homes HERS rated per year)
     -Rochester Passive House was entered in this category
Lowest score Canadian Production Builder (> 49 homes HERS rated per year)
Lowest score Canadian Mid Size Builder (10 to 49 homes HERS rated per year)
Lowest score Canadian Custom Builder (< 10 homes HERS rated per year)

Net Zero Award American Builder
Net Zero Award Canadian Builder

In 2015: 190,180 homes were rated in the USA. The winner of the lowest HERS Score in 2015 was a house 26

In 2016:  206,583 homes were rated in the USA. The winner of the lowest HERS Score in 2016 was ROCHESTER PASSIVE HOUSE with a HERS score of 22!

While it is possible to get your HERS score down to 0 or below (net zero homes) they are incorporating some kind of onsite renewables - solar panels or wind turbines. Almost any house can be a net zero house with enough solar panels.

Just because a home is a net zero home, it doesn't necessarily mean it is energy efficient. 

Rochester Passive House achieved the lowest HERS score without the use of onsite renewables  of any home submitted in 2016 (and 2015).

This award is certainly a compilation of efforts from:
Airtight Services - Matt Johnson, Bill Labine
Garbacik Construction - Tad Garbacik
Grater Architects - Tim Burke and Bill Grater

Great Job Everyone! I will be getting all of my paperwork submitted to PHI for certification by the end of the month! Keep your fingers crosses!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rochester Passive House UPDATE!

Rochester Passive House UPDATE!

We are planning out next open house for:
April 1st from 10-3. 

340 Quaker Meeting House Rd
Honeoye Falls, NY 14472

Wow, time has FLOWN by! I can't believe it has been 4 months since my last post. So much has happened since my last post!

 I have been holding open houses fairly regularly to those looking for a short walk though.

I will be presenting at the following conferences in March:

  • 2017 Finger Lakes Building Officals Association - March 14th in the afternoon

  • RIT Students and Faculty Location TBD on 3/23 around lunch time

  • NYSERDA Event in the Buffalo on 3/28 at the Millennium Hotel

I have an exciting announcement I will be releasing the 1st week in March. I will send out an mass email as well.

Now - How has Rochester Passive House Performed over the winter?

October     - 345 Heating degree days - No Heat Needed
November -  572 Heating degree days - 124 kWh for heating energy -  $11.29
December -  1051 Heating degree days - 453 kWh for heating energy - $40.69
January    -  1052 Heating degree days - 453 kWh for heating energy - $46.18

So far in February we have used 301 kWh (Roughly $30)

Our total heating bill for the winter is $128.16. I would be shocked if we spend over $150 for the year!

The house has maintained about 70 degree on the 1st and 2nd floor and about 66 in the basement where there is no heat to speak of.

We have maintained our CO2 levels at or below 600 PPM all winter (with the exception of a large 30 person party where we pegged 1000).

Stay tuned for my update in a few weeks!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Video Compilation

 I have compiled a list of video's I shot during the construction of Rochester Passive House.
All of the Video's can be found by searching "Rochester Passive House" in Youtube


One of the 1st Video's I took was during the window delivery. They are heavy! We unloaded the container with a skid stear and had to push them into an on site storage container.

This group of 3 video's shows what we needed to do to raise the outer wall of our double wall assembly when the inner wall was already built

This video shows the setup and plumbing of our drain water heat exchanger.

This video shows the installation techniques of damp spray cellulose. This wall is an interior wall for sound deadening, but you can see the installation from both sides of the wall.

This video shows the technique we used to complete the insulation of our attic when we cannot see the levels of insulation. We need to maintain at least 24" of blown cellulose in the attic.

 Here is a video I created a week or so before we moved in.

Finally, Here is a video of the blower door set up and test

Hope you can make the Open House!