Page E1.1 . 19 January 2011                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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Postcard from Passive House Portland

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Thorsten Chlupp of REINA, LLC chose the shape of the Octagon House to optimize solar heat gain in the living space, which has extensive thermal mass. Photo: Thorsten Chlupp

Dear ArchitectureWeek,

There were 345 attendees (including me) at the North American Passive House Conference in Portland, Oregon, held from November 4 to 7, 2010. Twenty-six sessions focused on all aspects of the Passive House building energy-efficiency certification system, ranging from detailed conceptual overviews led by Passivhaus cofounder Dr. Wolfgang Feist to technical sessions about specific aspects of certification in our region.

One of the most intriguing sessions was a three-part case-study presentation focused on projects in cold climates, such as those of Wisconsin and Ontario — and even the Alaskan interior, where Thorsten Chlupp builds highly energy-efficient homes with his firm REINA, LLC.

In Fairbanks, a primary obstacle to passively heated homes is the several months of continuous darkness in winter, just when sunlight is most needed for heating. Chlupp presented two REINA-built projects that address this issue for remote sites that lack the benefit of access to the full range of energy utilities that most U.S. homes enjoy.

Along with tremendous care in sealing and insulating these homes — his latest passively heated house has an estimated roof insulation value in excess of R-100 — Chlupp has developed an intricate hydronic heating system that uses water to both store and deliver heat.

Using huge insulated water tanks as large (as 12,000 gallons, or 45,000 liters) to provide long-term thermal mass, this hydronic system is tied to three independent energy sources: an electrical source, powered by a wind turbine; rooftop solar water panels; and a wood-burning masonry heater, which provides heat directly to the building's thermal mass and also heats water for storage and domestic purposes.

Chlupp's homes also have extensive south-facing glazing positioned to allow sunlight to heat the concrete floors when sunlight is available. Because of the huge heat loss through even the most efficient windows and doors in Alaska's extreme cold, Chlupp has built operable interior and exterior window insulation panels for his latest home, and has built his own exterior doors with as many as seven latch points to reduce air leaks.

The conference ended with a closing plenary session cohosted by Wolfgang Feist and by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), who spoke via live web conference from his home in Snowmass, Colorado. Dr. Lovins made a compelling presentation for radically rethinking energy consumption, citing examples from his consulting work through RMI, including micropower generation, energy conservation through careful computer-code optimization, and the use of composite materials in car design.

With best wishes from Portland,

David Owen


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During construction of the Octagon House in rural Alaska, some of the plumbing for the hydronic heating system was visible, along with the home's buried 12,000-gallon (45,000-liter) water tank (foreground). Photo: Thorsten Chlupp

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TE Studio designed the Passive House-certified Konkol Residence in Hudson, Wisconsin. Photo: Chad Holder

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The exterior walls of the Konkol Residence are composed of an 11-inch (28-centimeter) insulated concrete form (ICF) encased within 11 inches (28 centimeters) of exterior insulation and finishing system (EIFS), producing an overall insulation value of R-70. Photo: Chad Holder

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