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Any Builder With Passive House Experience, or a Desire for PH Experience, Near West Chester, PA?

jdom's picture

Hi All - I'll keep this short and to the point.  I'm looking for a builder who is interested in a Passive House project.  For the past year, I've been working with a local architect on the design of a passive house to be build for me in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  It's been quite a learning process for both of us.  The PH certification process has been initiated, and the final details are now being put on the plans.  The house will be in the style of a Pennsylvania farm house.  Two-stories, three bedroom, a 28' by 38' footprint.  No bump-outs. Detached garage.  All-in-all, I believe it's a very straight-forward PH project.  My task now is (ideally) to find a builder who has both experience with and enthusiasm for this type of project and the detail work it will require.  I realize that the PH experience factor may be difficult to meet.  But at a minimum, conventional residential building experience, and enthusiasm for the PH concept is a must.  I figure it would be a great opportunity for a builder who wants to gain experience with PH without taking on an overwhelming project.  So the question is...Do any of you know of someone in the area who might fit the bill?  Feel free to shoot me an email at or post here.  I'd be happy to provide additional details or answer any questions that you might have.

j (post #207021, reply #1 of 8)

I am not in the neighborhood but wish you the best of luck on your home.

I'd also like to ask you to consider running an account of the build here on Breaktime.  It would be of great interest to many and especially intriguing to those of us who do this for a living.


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


Calvin - Thanks for the (post #207021, reply #3 of 8)

Calvin - Thanks for the interest.  I am in the process of setting up a Wordpress blog to track the progress of the project.  The blog won't be fancy, but my goal is to disclose everything (both good and bad), including complete cost data, as this is something that seems to be lacking in other similar (Passive House) blogs.  I'll post the link once it's up and running.  Hopefully, it will be helpful to others who are contemplating a similar project.


J, I too would like to read (post #207021, reply #2 of 8)

J, I too would like to read about your experience. 

Don't know what exactly you have been doing but I hope you're aware of the happenings with Passive House and PassivHaus last year:

"The founder of Passivhaus and director of Passivhaus Institute PHI, Dr. Wolfgang Fiest, has just sent word that the Passive House Institute United States (PHIUS) will no longer be able to provide building certifications, and will no longer be considered a partner of the program. While the news comes as a blow to the effort to make inroads for Passive House in the US – a market very much on the radar for super-efficient building standards — it also reflects the commitment the Passivhaus Institute has to the quality of its certification process."

PassivHaus is a most interesting movement in Germany.  Unfortunately I have yet to read a quantitative analysis of performance.  It appears to be a variation of building what we Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) fans have been doing for years, but with great reliance on occupant heat contribution, which is negligible with US-sized houses.  Your house would require minimum of five occupants.  Is that your plan?

I'm not a builder, but a very interested PAHS consultant.  Your architect should make the plans simple enough for any competent builder to accomplish the design.  As with any heating system, it's a matter of providing enough heat to balance the house losses.

Looking forward to seeing it.

PAHS works.  Bury it.

Tom - Thanks for the info.  I (post #207021, reply #5 of 8)

Tom - Thanks for the info.  I wasn't aware of the PAHS concept.  It sounds interesting, and I will read up on it when I get a chance. 

I am aware of the friction between PH US and International.  But (though I'm not sure how), PH US is still certifying projects, and our certification package was recently submitted.

Regarding the number of occupants, our house will have three bedrooms, but it will only have two permanent occupants; my wife and me.  The architect and I have been doing as much as is possible/practical to simplify the design of this house.  So we're confident that any competent builder can do the job.  The issue, as I see it, isn't one of complexity, but rather one of change from the status quo and attention to detail.  The best example, I think, would be the need/requirement to seal the building envelope to a degree that is not currently typical in the building industry.  But we're confident that the right person is out there. 

Sounds good Jerome, With (post #207021, reply #4 of 8)

Sounds good Jerome,

With fewer occupants you simply need to find more heat elsewhere, or have fewer losses.  Glazing is crucial, as your architect knows.  Not involved, but as I understood it a major German concern was the size of house we consider appropriate for only two occupants.  Yours, for instance.   Means that the original plan for relying on occupant heat won't be very effective.

With PAHS we typically plan for upwards of .5 air changes per hour (ACH), a total air change every two hours with fresh air.  It's necessary to control how that air is exchanged or you will have considerable heat penalty.  A great source of building gasketing is Conservation Technology  Their EPDM gasketing has been performing perfectly in my house for 20 years already.  Sun exposure, no problem.

Where PAHS differs from most strategies is that it is both a heating AND cooling system.  Passive, combined in one system.  Why with minimal tweaks it is applicable for Vermont and Georgia (current projects).  Not that you will have any problem at all with a well-designed PH with fewer occupants.  Variations on a theme. 

Your architect will specify products, like EPDM gasketing, that makes it simple for the builder to comply.  Should be a very comfortable house, congratulations on your choice.

PAHS works.  Bury it.

PHIUS+ Certification alive and well (post #207021, reply #6 of 8)

Hi all,

FYI, PHIUS has continued certifiying passive house buildings, and in fact, has beefed up the certification process to include more site visits, and RESNET-approved quality control and quality assurance inspections. And starting in 2013, PHIUS+ Certification will also earn projects the U.S. Department of Energy's Challenge Home status. See this announcement:

The upshots is that projects can earn a HERS Index Score, Challenge Home status, and be certified to passsive house standards with one process. One-stop shopping.

As always, PHIUS+ certifiecation includes detailed review of energy modeling and plans to identify problems early in the process. The certifiers work closely with project designers to iron out issues at the planning state. 

The difference since PHI severed its relationship with PHIUS is that PHIUS has been freed to collaborate with other bodies to make PHIUS+ Certification more useful and more valuable in the U.S. market, and to beef up the QA/QC aspects to RESNET approved status. 

As a result, we've had more projects submitted for PHIUS+ certification in the past 10 months or so than we had in several years of certifying under arrangement with the Europeans. The growth is really encouraging.


Mike Knezovich


Thanks much for clearing that (post #207021, reply #7 of 8)

Thanks much for clearing that up, Mike!  I wasn't sure how all that got worked out.  But I did just come across the Klingenblog at 

which has some great information on recent developments and events. 

Passive House Blog (post #207021, reply #8 of 8)

For anyone who is interested, I found a builder, and we broke ground a couple of months ago.  So I have started a blog to track the construction of this Passive House.  It seems that this has become almost standard operatiing procedure for those who have built a Passive House prior to me.  In addition to communicating the "usual" information pertaining to the unique aspects of Passive House construction, I'll try to broaden the discussion by relaying the other issues that I'm encountering, issues that someone might expect to encounter in home building, whether the end goal is a Passive House or not.  I'll also do my best to share the actual cost and budget information, for better or worse, because that is something that I've found to be absent from most discussions.  So if anyone is interested, you'll find the blog at  Stop on by, and feel free to offer your comments, questions, criticisms or suggestions.  I've got pretty thick skin and I'll do my best to respond to any questions.  Just remember that I'm neither a professional builder nor a professional blogger.  Hopefully, some one will find the information useful by learning from both my successes and mistakes.

Jerome Lisuzzo