Gallery: Passivhaus Institute Ends Relationship With Passive House Inst...


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.

In a letter, Dr. Fiest praises his handpicked US director Katrin Klingenberg for her work, but he then states “Unfortunately, recent actions by PHIUS have culminated both in breaches of contract and good faith, unnecessarily reinforcing false divisions within the Passive House community. In light of PHIUS’ disregard for its standing agreementswith PHI, we are left with no other choice but to suspend all standing contracts. Evidence of PHIUS’ certification of Passive House buildings without the requisite documentation has threatened the integrity of the Standard and forced PHI to terminate PHIUS’ status as an accredited Passive House Building Certifier.”

He goes on to describe three actions that PHIUS has made that have not sit well with the organization, and have in turn led to the termination of their relationship. The US organisation was unauthorized to sell the primary design software Passivhaus Planning Package (or PHPP), and did not have permission to change the software — presumably converting it from metric to English measurement units. Fiest also states that PHIUS has begun a “competing professional certification scheme” while not following current contractual obligations. Finally, and most damming, he alleges the US group is not using proper documentation to certify projects. “Evidence of PHIUS’ certification of Passive House buildings without the requisite documentation has threatened the integrity of the Standard and forced PHI to terminate PHIUS’ status as an accredited Passive House Building Certifier,” said Fiest.

Given the precision of design and implementation that results in a certified Passive House, which is 10 time as efficient as code, even the idea that a certifying agency is not properly complying with the standard would undermine the entire program. The loss of a US-based certifying agency will certainly slow down the implementation of Passive House in the US for the short term — a huge market which has seen tremendious interest in the building system.

Fiest relays, “PHI is doing everything in its power to ensure Passive House’s continued success, especially in the US where we will continue to reach out to those competent, motivated and fair actors who emphasize real work and real Passive House construction.”



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  1. PHA August 31, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Having personally delivered the Certified Passive House Designer course recently in NYC, I can reassure people this fallout is not over the use of IP or English Units. Our course was delivered entirely in IP. It is also not about the difficulty of the exam – we received our results back yesterday from PHI for the June exam and are delighted with the pass rate. Lastly, it is not about the curriculum being too ‘European’- we involved local local (NYC) building contractors to present their experiences to the Participants as well as visited local Passive House projects. Lastly, regarding Building Certification, there are indeed others providing full certification in the US, including yours truly. There are about 30 Accredited Certifiers in the World right now and 45 Accredited Passive House Training organizations. In my view, a vast country like the US needs at least 10 Building Certifiers and several accredited Trainers. That’s the model is Europe, and just think of the different climates between Norway and Italy. The Europeans generally all get along fine, all working away and busy planning, designing and building projects. Surely that’s where our energy should be directed. Hope this helps the debate.

  2. AGbuilds August 19, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    I too recently took the PH training course through PHIUS at Parsons. There was a lack of organization throughout the entire course, and in the end, most participants felt that they had not been adequately prepared for the exam with the material covered during training. Personally, I feel that I paid to take the consultants training, which should have covered the material necessary to pass the exam.

    PH recently wrote an email to the US trainees which included the following sentiment:

    “It is important to remember through all this that it’s about building actual buildings and about sustainability and about advancing energy efficiency, not about designations and exams. All of you competent professionals who have worked hard have important contributions to make to the Passive House movement – please do not divert any momentum from the real work that you are doing and that still needs to be done! Know that we appreciate all your efforts and will be here to support you as you go forward.”

    PH has also offered to certify consultants through the completion of a successful Passive House project. You can still receive PH training as approved by PHI through the Passive House academy:

  3. kgregoire August 19, 2011 at 11:51 am

    What is even more frustrating is PHIUS’ attitude and language in reference to the “North American” market. CanPHI, the Canadian Passive House Institute, has no such issues and has worked with PHI since its’ inception to ensure compliance with the greater global community. It has been clear for a while now that PHIUS was pursuing the business model of the USGBC and looking to generate fees via regulation. Compliance with the international community is critical in maintaining the integrity of the designation and the standard. PHIUS is doing harm and a disservice to the PH moevment and concept through their cavalier attitude. America may want to look north for compliance and future certification.

  4. PHan August 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    “the certification exam was presented in broken english with largely irrelevant content.”

    the PHI exam wasn’t in ‘broken english’ – no more than previous exams prepared by PHIUS were. and the questions weren’t ‘irrelevant’ – it just featured a number of issues (e.g. economics) that we had absolutely ZERO education on during training.

    frankly, this is highly unfortunate and the ‘go it alone’ attitude of PHIUS was the wrong choice (guessing one of a series of horribly incorrect choices). everyone who took the training and exam thinking they would be dealing w/ a logical PHIUS that would be working in conjunction w/ the PHI to certify actual buildings to the passivhaus standard, needs to be refunded their money. or maybe the PHIUS board needs to be disbanded.

    did it really come down to, “the european exam is too hard, but i paid $2500 for this training – i deserve to pass!”?

  5. PHengineer August 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I also got that letter on July 22 saying that PHIUS was breaking from PHI, mainly over complaints from trained consultants about PHI’s certification exam.

    It is interesting to see it spun like this…who broke up with who?

  6. mikellecannelle August 18, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Having a partnership with other countries is vital! Restricting Passive House design development because of a unit is nonsensical- on both parts.
    A. learn the units.
    it could be fun.
    B. Allow room for growth.
    PHI expanded by being in the U.S. The current benefit is in adverstisment… The loss of their partnership will remove the long term benefits of reduced energy costs in homes
    C. Evaluate the results.
    Are North American passive houses actually up to standard of PHI? Are they consistent!?

  7. PHarchitect August 18, 2011 at 10:31 am

    On July 22, 2011 PHIUS issued a letter to its members stating that they, PHIUS, would be breaking away from the German organization. The reasons given were that the German standard, while highly tuned to their specific climate, is not relevant to the much more diverse and demanding North American climate; requiring consultants to input data in SI made the planning package needlessly cumbersome and seriously impeded its implementation by a larger US audience; and the certification exam was presented in broken english with largely irrelevant content. Attempts by PHIUS to remedy these issues in order to make this excellent standard viable for North American implementation were met with refusal. Hopefully the two organizations will make amends and find common ground; in the mean time, however, the US program stands a better chance of moving forward without the burdensome control of the German organization. See excerpt from the July 22 letter below:
    We are writing today to let you know about a change in course that the PHIUS board has decided upon recently. As you all know, we have been working to facilitate collaboration with the Passivhaus Institut (PHI) in Germany. We have promoted PHI and its protocols; we follow those protocols for certification and we very much respect what the PHI has achieved. We have made an effort to adopt their exam for all of our trainees to help create an international consistency regarding content, dates and administration this last November. We signed on as an exam provider for their Certified European Passive House Designer Exam. PHIUS had always planned to merge our established Certified Passive House Consultant designation with the European designation in the name of international cooperation. However, as many of you are aware, especially those who are still waiting on the results of the most recent exams, this was initially a good idea but has proven extremely problematic in execution.

    We have received much feedback on the Certified European Passive House Designer Exam and process from all over the country. Complaints about format, time, difficulty level and especially about the ambiguity of questions. Also, many felt they had not been prepared for this kind of exam. Potential for misunderstandings between language translation, other building conventions, units, and focus on Central European climate only have in many test taker’s opinions led to a significant disadvantage for North American participants. Some even called the exam largely irrelevant for the U.S. market.

    PHIUS’ course is designed to educate the consultant to design successfully in the North American market. We have not successfully influenced the Certified European Passive House Designer Exam questions; so we had to make a choice: Do we teach to a European exam or do we prepare the students to the best of our knowledge with the skills they need to be able to perform as professional Passive House Consultants in North America during their day-to-day practice? We felt the most responsible choice was the latter.

    We have addressed these issues with the PHI at meetings in Germany, Austria, here in the United States, and through electronic and telephone communication. We tried to make a case that Passive House design in North America requires different knowledge and skills, climate-specific design knowledge not yet represented in their courses and exams. Unfortunately our continued inquiries with them and requests to make the exam more relevant for the building culture we operate in did not result in any improvement. We asked for inclusion of more relevance to the North American market and elimination of translational issues. However, rather than improving, the European exam has continued to disadvantage North American candidates to further and further degrees.

    The consultants’ critique from around North America is harsh. It is a critique on both PHI and PHIUS. We have heard it and the board of PHIUS has taken it to heart. We have made efforts to communicate your and our concerns with the PHI over the past year with no success.

    After much deliberation, the PHIUS board decided that continuing to offer the PHI exam was untenable. The board acknowledges that the original exam process had good intentions toward a unified international approach. But the PHIUS board has also concluded that the absence of collaboration on the conditions of the test and the exam questions is not serving the North American stakeholders’ best interests for reasons mentioned above. Therefore PHIUS will no longer provide the European Passive House Designer Exam; instead PHIUS will offer a standardized computer-based North American exam with a focus on practices in this building culture, using IP units, in North American climate conditions…

    …We are truly sorry for any inconvenience this change might cause you. We feel international cooperation is important–and cooperation will continue–but we feel even more strongly that North American education on the Passive House standard and the exam must be appropriately relevant to this market.

  8. Smithy August 18, 2011 at 3:02 am

    Seems like yet another reason for the US to catch up with the rest of the world

  9. PHbuilder August 17, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    There are many people unhappy with PHIUS’s lack of professionalism, undermining tactics, and poor/misleading educational classes. They have been leveraging the regional grassroots Passive House organizations with big brother tactics via chapter affiliation contracts all over the country. And when the local people questioned their odd organizational terms or speak directly with PHI, PHIUS would start another local chapter to undermine these communities. They are power hungry and their motives are not inline with the community that is actually building Passive Houses!

    If PHIUS wants to go it on their own, so be it. Most people I speak to would rather be affiliated with the international movement that has brought these amazing structures to fruition. Better air quality, massive energy reduction and longer building shell life are just a few of the elements that are gained by sticking to the PH plan. And America would have none of these without PHI’s commitment and effort.

    Thank You Dr. Feist!

    (diff between SI and metric units? seriously?)

  10. AAC August 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Please understand that PHIUS has stricter standards then PHI and the real split is over the use of SI units versus IP units. The PHI is insisting that all projects use SI units and will not expect the US imperial calcs any more. PHIUS will continue to certify projects

  11. lazyreader August 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Betcha it had something to do with money. I say good, we don’t need some Germans breathing down our necks. The first US passive retrofit project was certified in July 2010: the remodeled 2,400 sf craftsman O’Neill house in California. I don’t know what they’ve done, they took an existing house and modified it. I’m sure a small group of contractors can do just as good a job without worrying themselves over such lengthy criteria. America can stick with traditional architecture and boost the environmental performance of the house using their own money and their own time and if the people want them they can have construction firms adapt to fill that market. I don’t want to live in some house that looks like an IKEA. Theirs a surplus of various houses that are available for purchase that could easily be retrofitted, and goodness knows they should be. Builder magazine unleashed in 2010 it’s supposed house of the future as they do every year. They call that years model the “Home for the New Economy”. Really passive houses rely on readily available technology, most notably multi pane windows and high-efficiency ventilation systems, and interior insulation all of which building managers are embracing.

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