Passivhaus Institut and International Living Future Institute Agree to "Crosswalk" Partnership

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CC BY 2.0. Molly Freed at NAPHN Conference/ Lloyd Alter

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

That's Molly Freed of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the people behind the Living Building Challenge and the ILFI Zero Energy Certification. She is at the North American Passive House Network (NAPHN) conference in New York City (NYC), announcing a new partnership or "crosswalk" with the Passivhaus Institute (PHI). (WHEW, enough initials already.)

It's an interesting partnership that is, I hope, the start of a beautiful friendship. I have long imagined a big conference where all of the people behind all the different standards get together and agree to a modular, plug-and-play model. So you might use Passivhaus for energy and Living Building Challenge for materials, and they would complement each other. The ILFI has crosswalks with the Well Standard and Australia's Green Star program, so this modular, cooperative approach may spread; there is much everyone can learn from each other.

difference between standards

Differences between standards/ ILFI/Screen capture

For instance, Passivhaus doesn't really care what materials you use to build or, with energy, which fuel you use, as long as you hit the very low numbers of energy consumption. You can even use fossil fuels for heating and hot water, although you won't need very much of them. The ILFI Zero Energy certification doesn't care how much energy you use, as long as you have the solar panels to go net zero over the course of a year.

Performance requirements

Performance requirements/ ILFI/Screen capture

I have always preferred the Passivhaus approach that sets real limits on energy consumption to the Net Zero Energy philosophy that lets you burn as much energy as you want in your glass-walled house. The Net Zero concept can lead to all kinds of problems (see the Duck Curve) and is falling out of fashion, even in California. As Passivhaus architect Elrond Burrell has written, using the term zero-carbon as we used to, as being the same as zero-energy:

In the dark freezing depths of winter, with a gale howling outside, everyone has their heating turned up high and all the lights switched on ... and since the sun isn’t shining the photovoltaic systems on the ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ aren’t generating electricity. And since the wind is gale force and highly changeable, the wind turbines have switched to safety-mode and aren’t generating electricity! So all the ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ are back to drawing electricity from the national grid, like every other building. And if the ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ are only mildly above-average energy efficient, they present quite a demand for electricity!

On the other hand, the ILFI Zero Energy certification is a spinoff from the much broader Living Building Challenge, which looks at everything– materials, water, air, land use, everything that goes into a healthy sustainable building. These are all things that I believe should be in every Passivhaus building.

net zero

© Net Zero energy house/ Mariko Reed

It's really important that different standards organisations work together and learn from each other. When the first ILFI Net Zero Energy house was built, I was somewhat critical, noting the giant wall of glass and the lovely mid-century modern beams making wonderful thermal bridges and air leaks, and called Net Zero a "useless metric."

Now Passive House has elements of Net Zero in its Plus edition, and the ILFI people are beginning to see the charms of tough limits on consumption.

In the end, when you look at the differences between the two standards, it is not hard to see an alignment. I know this partnership is just about energy, but it is a foot in the door, and perhaps some of those other petals from the Living Building Challenge will fall from the sky over Darmstadt.

Nuthatch Exterior

© Ashley McGraw

There have been attempts at doing buildings that are certified under both Passive House and Living Building Challenge (such as Nuthatch Hollow Living Building), but it is really hard, and sometimes the standards are contradictory. Here's hoping that there are a lot more crosswalks, and a lot more buildings that try to deliver the energy and comfort of Passivhaus with the green goodness of the Living Building Challenge.

Molly Freed at work

Molly Freed/ Photo Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

And thanks to Molly Freed of the ILFI for explaining it all to me.