'Passive' building gains momentum amid controversy

Projects such as TrekHaus in Southeast Portland show momentum for

Projects such as TrekHaus in Southeast Portland show momentum for "passive house" construction.

"Passive house" construction continues to gain ground in Oregon with more projects aspiring to earn the certification and further push the limits of energy efficiency.

Builders around the state are turning to passive house construction, which espouses design and airflow technology for maximum energy efficiency, as a way to differentiate.

"I personally wouldn't do anything else. In this market people are either looking for something really cheap or something extraordinary," said Robert Hawthorne, architect and general contractor with PDX Living LLC.

Hawthorne's current passive house project, TrekHaus, is being used as a laboratory for researchers eager to document the energy savings being achieved by these buildings.

Such data will be especially useful as the Passive House Institute US aims to establish its own certification for passive house practices and start to build an industry around it in the U.S.

In August, industry insiders were buzzing about the fact that Germany-based Passivhaus Institut, founded by the standard's founder Dr. Wolfgang Feist, broke ties with Passive House Institute US over a dispute about certification.

The U.S. passive house authority is cooperating with the U.S. Green Building Council to develop a certification for the U.S. market. The Passivhaus Institut announced it would suspend all contracts with its U.S. counterpart, citing a breach of contract.

Sam Hagerman, president of Hammer & Hand and president of the newly formed Passive House Alliance industry group, described the controversy as a tempest in a teacup.

"(Passivhaus Institut) is slow to adopt a non-European-centric certification," Hagerman said. "But there's just no way we can promote passive house aggressively enough if it's just this European certification."

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@SustainableBzOR | christinawilliams@bizjournals.com | 503.219.3438

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