I am truly honored to be here tonight! Thank you so much for this award, it really means the world to me. Receiving the NESEA Professional Leadership Award is an emotional one for me. I did not see it coming.
I was asked recently by academics what happened during my architectural education that helped me to reach this point in my career...now that I reflect on it...NESEA happened.
Is Chris Benedict here tonight? In 2006 she called and asked me to come and present about my house at NESEA in Boston. NESEA who? Where was Boston? I was on a mission and too busy, had just built my own passive house in Urbana Illinois. I was in the process of founding e-co lab, a community housing development organization and we were working on the next two passive house projects there. I had no time for this. I declined and Chris kept calling, I don’t know how many times this repeated. I kept saying no. Eventually she asked “Will you if I pay for your accommodations?” I gave up, I said “Yes. Ok, I’ll come.”
Once there, at my first ever NESEA conference, I ended up presenting and on a panel with those who would become my heroes. I knew nothing about who I was sitting across from or was co-presenting with. The panel followed a detailed presentation on the Smith House by me and a presentation on the Hanover House by Marc Rosenbaum. As he always does, he came prepared, had done his homework and was comparing envelopes, systems, and cross examined me on my building science knowledge. Whew!
Next up on the panel: I was leveled and warned by the great Betsy Pettit and John Straube that if I wasn’t careful my super insulated structures in cold climates would “melt away.” Then, we all got a t-shirt based impromptu crash course on humidity,
psychrometrics and different climates by Henry Gifford. Henry who was not actually officially on the panel but gave his speech anyway. All in all I held my own. But I felt like I had just gone from 0 to 100 and realized I had a lot to learn. Later, when Phius launched the Certified Passive House Consultant training in Urbana of all places, Mark Rosenbaum was one of the first ones to show up for the class and also the first one to question “15kWh/m²yr” (the one size fits all German standard).
I had no answer. Never even thought about it. Yes, why 15? I posed that question to the powers that be in Germany and got no answer. John Straube chimed in online and I took another, this time public, beating trying to explain things on the 15 front. John was not having it.
Linda Wigginton took notice of the debate that had begun to unfold and scheduled a cage match session between Mark, John and myself at one of the Affordable Comfort Conferences (Austin, TX). She did not stop there. She also pitted me against Betsy at another: No foam assemblies versus foam assemblies (ACI in Kansas City). Oy, those were the good old days.
Challenged by building science giants I quickly learned a lot more. I had known of the super insulation pioneers and that somehow the Germans had based their work on those early adopters in North America. But I had no idea that it was actually Joe Lstiburek (amongst others) at the young age of 21 who had been in the same trenches in the 80s experimenting on his own buildings to show proof of concept, and to pioneer ultra-low load building techniques and practices and more. Joe was inventing many facets of passive house that eventually made their way overseas for the German reiteration.
Once I accepted the invite to my first building science summer camp, Joe, Betsy and I became fast friends. And I was introduced at once to a world I had only suspected: a brilliant community of high performance building experts in North America, from building scientists to designers, builders, and manufacturers.
During that first summer camp in 2011 I got to know many of the other original pioneers and heard yet of others who I didn’t meet in person but have since communicated with. Rob Dumont stands out here. From him I learned that the term “passive house” had been coined in North America. He sent me an abstract he had submitted to a conference in the 70s that mentioned passive houses…that’s where the term came from! It all started to make sense.
I asked the Phius technical team to investigate and we found that Mark was correct, 15 was not the answer. What we really needed were climate specific passive building targets. We went and challenged it and the rest is history. It did not go down well with our then German partners and that relationship ended. Once we put one and one together, it was obvious. Soon after we explained our climate specific idea to Joe Lstiburek and Betsy Pettit, they helped us to develop them under a Department of Energy (DOE) grant led by Building Science Corp. That made the publication of the first and still only climate specific (and cost optimized) passive building design methodology by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2015 possible.
Since those days Phius has successfully collaborated with the DOE, EPA and RESNET to build a robust, practical and quality assured delivery process for passive, zero energy ready and zero energy buildings for all climates. It has grown into a nationwide organization promoting passive building to become mainstream. We have trained over 4000 professionals to use the methodology and safely execute it at close to no additional cost. Cost optimization and climate specific targets made the recent exponential growth of certifications in the multifamily sector possible: reduce the operational carbon while also ensuring resilience, increasing comfort, health and safety in a fast-changing world. Not only do the Phius standards mitigate but they also help us to adapt to changes that have already been set in motion. In Massachusetts and New York State, NESEA’s stomping grounds, the high-performance community has been exceptionally successful and has worked together to move policy forward and to include passive building standards into the new zero energy codes. Many municipalities are set to voluntarily adopt the new Mass Zero Energy Stretch Code comes January 1, 2023. It specifies that every multifamily building over 12K sq ft has to be built to passive building standards! What an achievement! And NY is not far behind.
The climate challenge can seem daunting, but I like to say that we have come incredibly far, it really truly is amazing. It took an entire dedicated community to get this done.
You all, the NESEA community and specifically my fellow Professional Leadership awardees of NESEA (I have had the pleasure to work with almost all of them over the years), have been my mentors. Without your embrace, honesty, commitment to science and best practices, dedication to the cause, generosity, continued support and welcoming me in. I likely would not be where I am today. And we would not be here having achieved what we have together in the high-performance passive building and zero energy world in pursuit of a safe and just energy transition. A heartfelt thank you to you all! I am eternally grateful to this community and especially their leaders who so graciously took me under their wings.