This year, April showers brought a little more to the Houston area than May flowers. 

On May 16, an act of God in the form of a Derecho Storm took the city (and just about every meteorologist) by complete surprise. Push notifications of possible tornadoes were sent to cell phones mere minutes before 100+ MPH winds peaked in their force in our Downtown District. High-rise windows burst into the streets under the immense pressure. Thousands of old growth live oaks were uprooted, taking power lines with them. It was as horrifying as it was mesmerizing to watch from inside my home. The worst of the storm lasted maybe 10 minutes, but that was all it took for nearly 922,000 people to lose power. Our personal experience was losing power on Thursday night, regaining it for a few hours on Friday, and losing it again until Sunday.

Phius Certified Consultant Jesse Hunt explains mechanical system design decisions during a tour of his Phius Certified home in Houston.

One unique detail from my experience of this storm is that it came from inside the first Phius Certified passive house in the city, which I developed, built, and moved into in 2023 – I dubbed the project Clutch City Passive as a nod to H-Town. 

The structure consists of two shared-wall high-performance townhomes that are 14 times more airtight and have twice the insulation than code requires. It also has hospital-grade indoor air quality via 24/7 fresh filtered air provided by an energy recovery ventilation (ERV) unit. However, it’s the non-mechanical elements of these homes that was a game-changer during this damaging storm and its aftermath.

First point of interest, sound. Due to the airtightness, my family and I literally couldn’t hear the 100 MPH winds from the closet, nor I from our kitchen while I watched a literal vortex of wind bending 50 foot Live Oak trees behind my property like the inflatable dancing tube man you see in a used car lot. I live near trains and new construction and don’t hear any of it, but this was just wild. 

Second point of interest, humidity. You could say I’m hyper aware of the subject. I immediately instructed my family of five to take the shortest of only necessary showers and make efficient use of exterior doors. We also spent a lot of time outside the home during the day  (charging phones and avoiding long periods of exhaling water vapor inside). The outdoor relative humidity readings at night throughout the weekend were a sultry 99%. Result: after some hot humid days in Houston, my home only rose to 56.4% relative humidity upstairs – the most humid place in the home. 

Third point, temperature. Everyone slept comfortably. I had my mother-in-law, wife, 3-year-old, and 5-month-old and not a single person complained about being hot. I’d say it was a miracle, but it was actually building science. On the contrary, we never stopped remarking on how preposterously cool the home was on night three. Summer temperatures don’t relent in Houston, day or night. On day two, daytime highs reached a heat index of 91 degrees and our “low” that night was a heat index of 96 degrees. Result: the final recorded temperature inside Clutch City Passive before power was restored was 76.8 degrees Fahrenheit. 

My home has solar panels on it, but I have not yet made an investment in a whole-home battery system.  By code, our 6 kW PV array disconnects automatically during an outage to protect utility workers from the uncontrolled flow of electricity that would otherwise be coming from our roof. You best believe the irony was not lost on me during this whole city emergency. Passive house projects focus on the quality of the envelope first, and foremost, because you only get to build that once. As a result, if you want to go net zero, or say, ride out a freak storm, the size of the renewables and batteries required goes down – way down. One battery would quietly provide enough energy for my home at night and would be charged fully every day, while I charge devices from The Sun. You could say I’m in the market for one with the hurricane season we’re supposed to have this year.

I personally cannot look backwards in the quality of projects I build. It’s a standard of care that I wish more owners asked for and builders knew how to provide. That’s why I’m dedicating my career and my livelihood to it. I’m President of our Phius Alliance Houston chapter where we build community and knowledge share about passive house. And I have this little company, Emergent Development, making change one airtight home at a time. And no matter how those endeavors go, you can’t take away what I was so lucky to build for my family – comfort and some peace of mind.

Clutch City Passive would not have been possible without the village that helped me build it:

  • My Family
  • PH Builders of Texas
  • DwellGreen of Texas
  • The Labita Team
  • Parikh Architecture + Design
  • My Sub Contractors
  • Texas Gulf Bank
  • My Investors

An Inside Look During the Outage