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Sub-contracting for Passive House

by Skander Spies

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to present a paper at the North American Passive House Conference (NAPHC). The thesis of the paper was that sub-contractors are often overlooked as essential players in delivering the ultra-low energy bills and exceptional thermal comfort associated with Passive House.

Skander presenting National Passive House Conference

Sharing knowledge strengthens our buildings, and our community.

Often architects and builders develop and implement great designs, but that the final performance is undermined by subcontracting work that does not reflect the Passive House goal. We believe that Passive House represents the future of construction standards and value to homeowners and we continue to develop our abilities to deliver sub-contracting services that support the performance goals of our clients.

quality construction, integrated construction team, insulation performance, performance goals, energy performance

Real performance starts with great people who are deeply committed to the greater goal.

One of the big points in the talk was that buildings get built by people. To get the highest levels of performance, you need a team of well-educated, detail-oriented, and thorough sub-contractors that are committed to the performance goal. That said, even with the best team there will still be things that aren’t perfectly built and installed. Designers have an opportunity to use assemblies and materials that are easy to work with- that way the sub-contracting service providers in the field have a better chance of getting the very best install quality possible. Construction work is hard, and designs that are easy to build make Passive House projects more accessible to everyone. We shared a number of common design details that are difficult and/or expensive to construct to a high quality standard.

passive house conference attendance, packed house, rapt attention

There was a lot of interest in our topic!

Another essential point of the talk was to share some of the systems and designs that haven’t performed the way that we had hoped. A few examples:

  • Mechanical system noise that stood out to clients because the rest of the super insulated building was so quiet
  • Roof details that were really expensive to insulate properly
  • Framing strategies that prevented the installation of a high quality insulation package

At Energetechs, we take every lesson- good or bad- as an opportunity to offer our next client an even better experience. It’s not flattering to admit your mistakes in public, but we believe that sharing the hard lessons we’ve learned result in better buildings for everyone. We were grateful to share lessons from projects with Natural Dwellings Architecture, JMS DesignBuild, and Mast & Co Builders. We shared the time slot with Sam Hagerman from Hammer & Hand Construction and Zach Whitt from Zola Windows. Many thanks to Meghan Hanson for shooting all of the photos in this post.


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