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Passive History in a Nutshell

Superinsulation, airtight envelopes, energy recovery ventilation, high performance windows, managing solar gain – originated in the United States and Canada decades ago, a reaction to the OPEC oil embargo. In fact, renowned American physicist Dr. William Shurcliff wrote in the 1980s about passive houses. (For a summary of North America's pioneering energy history, see Katrin Klingenberg's blog.)

Interest in conservation waned in the United States for many years. During that time, the Europeans refined the application of passive principles and spawned demand for high performance products. Dr. Wolfgang Feist (a German physicist) and Dr. Bo Adamson (a Swedish scientist) led the effort to refine the principles and develop the design techniques and the passivhaus performance metric. The first passivhaus was built in Darmstadt, Germany. Feist went on to found the Passivhaus Institut (PHI), which is headquartered in Darmstadt.

PHIUS co-founder Katrin Klingenberg studied architecture in her native Germany. She discovered passivhaus and endeavored to re-introduce the now refined passive house principles to the United States in 2002 by building her own passive house residence in Urbana, Ill. (Unbeknownst to her at the time, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had been a hotbed of innovation in building energy efficiency in the 1970s and 1980s, and is where the term "super-insulation" was coined.)

Since then interest has continued to grow in the United States. Over that period PHIUS’ Annual North American Passive House Conference has grown exponentially, drawing presenters, exhibitors, and attendees from around the world. It’s the largest and most technically-advanced such event in North America. 

Over time, PHIUS and PHIUS-trained professionals learned that in North America’s climate extremes, passive building concepts and standards require adaptation if they are to be practical, cost effective, and adopted widely enough to make a substantial difference. PHIUS also recognized the need to partner with major energy leaders —for example, the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, RESNET, Building Science Corporation (BSC), and Fraunhofer IBP—to grow passive building principles from a boutique concept to mainstream adoption.

Ultimately, it became clear that a single performance metric for all climate zones was not workable. Under a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Building America grant, the PHIUS Technical Committee, in partnership with BSC, developed a formula that yields climate specific, cost-effective performance targets. It was an exhaustive, three-year effort:

The result: PHIUS+ 2015--a climate-specific passive buildign standard for North America. The new standard yielded aggressive but attainable climate-specific building energy performance targets that substantially cut carbon emissions and energy consumption, in buildings that provide superb comfort, indoor air quality, and resilience. 



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