Ottawa Passive House at Centre of Debate Over the Future of Passive House Certification in North America

Rideau Houses Ottawa
©. VERTdesign

© VERTdesign

During Greenbuild in October, I attended a presentation on Passive House design that left me dazed and confused. Ross Elliot of Homesol in Ottawa described how he worked with VERTDesign on what he described as Canada's first Passive House, got it certified by the American Passive House Institute US, then had the certification challenged by the European Passive House Institute, which no longer recognizes the certifications by PHIUS.

I have tried to be low key in the coverage of the schism in the Passive House movement, focusing on the positive, like the founding of the APHN. I did not dig into the Rideau House story because we are here to promote green building, not do a play-by-play of a pissing match.

But over at Green Building Advisor, Martin Holladay digs right in, and it is a horror story. Consultant Malcolm Isaacs, a director of the Canadian Passive House Institute who started on the project and was replaced by Ross Elliot, complained to the PHI in Germany that the house doesn't comply.

How seriously did Dr. Wolfgang Feist, the director of the Passivhaus Institut (PHI), take Isaacs's concerns? Very seriously, as it turns out — seriously enough to publicly accuse the Passivhaus Institute U.S. (PHIUS) of certifying buildings “without the requisite documentation.” Feist concluded that the certificate issued to the Rideau Residences was so unjustified that it was time to cancel all contracts between PHI and PHIUS.
In short, the certificate issued to the Rideau Residences was one of the causes of last August’s PHI-PHIUS divorce.

The dispute cuts to the very core of what Passive Houses are all about. I noted earlier that the Passive House concept was dead simple: Don't use more than 15kwh/m2. But now the American PHIUS leader Katrin Klingenberg writes:

Dr. Feist and his followers still claim that 15 [kwh per square meter] is valid equally in any climate and anywhere in the world. It is almost impossible in very cold climates as far as I can tell. I have not been able in all those last 12 years that I have been working with the German PHI to receive a good physics-based answer for this claim. Have come to the conclusion that there is none.

So the split becomes more than just personalities and governance; it goes to the fundamental concepts. Nobody knows what it means any more, and everybody loses. What a shame.

Read the whole story at Green Building Advisor, including all 40 comments. Also read the equally troubling PHIUS Tries to Trademark ‘Certified Passive House Consultant’.