Martin Holladay Rattles Cages with Critique of Passivhaus

martin holladay too much insulation image

Image credit Martin Holladay, from presentation: why it is silly to put so much insulation under the foundations.

They probably didn't need any extra heat in the room at the Passive House Northwest event last month, where they set the cat among the pigeons by inviting energy nerd Martin Holladay of Green Building Advisor to give the keynote. it is a wonderful presentation, in which he notes:

  • There is nothing new about super-insulated houses, the concept has been around since the seventies.
  • They aren't passive.
  • They are not "homes without heating systems."
  • The annual heating limit is arbitrary.
  • It is biased against small houses.
  • It doesn't measure cost-effectiveness.
  • The name is dumb.

But other than that, he loves it.

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Saskatchewan Conservation House, proving that there is nothing new about being boxy. From presentation

Holladay is a real pro, and built his first passive solar house in 1974. He notes that calling them Passive Houses is just confusing; as I noted two years, ago, Passive Design and Passive House Mean Two Different Things. In english speaking Britain they call it Passivhaus, but I suspect that ten years ago, people were afraid of introducing foreign names. (Remember Freedom Fries?). So instead we get Passive House, when it is neither passive or limited to houses.

Read the whole thing at Green Building Advisor. Read also Mike Eliason's rebuttal. Mike is a member of the Brute Force Collaborative, which focuses on "significantly reducing carbon footprints and energy usage."

Except it is not really a rebuttal; Mike agrees that the name is stupid, that they are not built without heating systems, and that they don't need ducts. Oh, and that "there are people building excessive assemblies." There is no cost-effectiveness feedback, and that the standard doesn't distinguish between energy sources. In fact, Mike agrees with Martin more than he disagrees. More at A Passivhaus Rebuttal: In Defense of the Standard

In the end, it appears to have been a healthy, provocative discussion. Mike writes:

Amazingly, instead of deflating all 170 attendees, reactions were varied -- agreement, disagreement and probably even a little rage! Attendees were discussing aspects of his address well beyond the meeting -- a testament to issues with which many have struggled. There was a brief question and answer period, but no one successfully challenged Martin.

I wish I had been there.

More on Passivhaus:
Forget Energy Star and LEED, Green Building is Passivhaus
Passive Design and Passive House Mean Two Different Things
Passivhaus: Too Rigid and Inflexible for America?

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