If you want the pulse on the Passive House industry in North America, you’re in luck — today we’re recapping all the latest passive house statistics from NAPHN’s Market Survey Responses Report.
At the North American Passive House Network 2020 Conference, nearly 300 industry attendees gave NAPHN their insights in an industry survey over the course of 6 weeks, and we’re breaking down the results for you.
Who participated in the NAPHN survey?
- 48.8% architects and engineers
- 16% building consultants
- 11.3% manufacturers
- 6.3% building developers, owners, and managers
- 3.9% policymakers
- 13.7% identified as other
- Most of those surveyed were in management or executive positions (58.7%)
- Fewer than 30% were team members
- Fewer than 3% were students
Passive House growth in 2020
Everyone agrees — Passive House is growing in North America.
- 81.8% of industry members believe the Passive House market is growing faster than the overall construction industry.
- 42.9% believe Passive House is growing slightly more than the construction industry.
- 39% believe it’s growing moderately or much greater than the construction industry.
- 18.2% claim Passive House construction is growing the same as the general construction industry.
What this means: Despite the effects of COVID-19, Passive House construction is continuing to grow across North America. However, the construction industry often lags behind other more reactive industries. We’ll see the impact or non-impact of Covid-19 on the building and construction industry more in 2021.
Overall, Passive House growth is likely due to building codes and energy initiatives rolling out in cities, states, and provinces to slow climate change. We can expect to see Passive House and high-performance construction continue to grow with initiatives like the NYC Climate Mobilization Act.
How many Passive House projects are being built?
- 62.3% of conference participants said that less than one-quarter of their builds are Passive House.
- 7.5% report that between 25-50% of their builds are Passive House.
- 16% said over half of their builds are Passive House.
- 14.2% of survey respondents said that all their builds are Passive House.
- 52.2% said they only seek Passive House Certification for 0%-10% of their projects, while the rest of the time they design to Passive House principles.
What this means: Many of us have a lot of potential to increase the number of Passive House projects we’re working on. We need to focus on education, information, and reducing barriers to Passive House in order to increase the number of projects being built to the Passive House standard and/or getting certified.
Who’s driving the bus and pushing a project toward Passive House?
- 72.2% of attendees report that building owners are driving a project to Passive House.
- Architects make up 24.7% of project drivers.
- 3.1% of project drivers fall into other job roles.
What this means: If we want to grow Passive House construction, we need to reach building owners and developers. This isn’t new news for members of the Passive House community. The puzzle we struggle over is reaching building owners and making Passive House as desirable as granite countertops.
To see real growth, Passive House conversations will need to speak beyond jargon and talk to property owners about benefits: Comfort, improved air quality, quieter buildings, lower utility bills, etc. These conversations need to be held outside industry conferences and webinars and instead marketed where property owners go for inspiration.
Commercial vs. residential passive house construction
What buildings are most likely to achieve Passive House certification?
- 35.1% of conference participants said that Passive House buildings are split evenly between single-family and commercial.
- 52.7% said that it is mostly single-family buildings.
- 12.2% said that their Passive House buildings are mostly commercial.
- 53.8% of attendees said they had a multi-family project happening soon.
New construction vs retrofits
While there seem to be a fair number of Passive House retrofits, the majority of Passive House construction is new.
- Only 6.4% of participants reported that most of their work was in retrofits.
- 67% reported most of their work was in new construction.
- Just over a quarter of participants (26.6%) claimed their work was equally split between renovations and new construction.
How do industry professionals like to learn?
- 46.7 said in-person trainings were their favorite way to learn new skills and info.
- 36.7% preferred video.
- 12.6% like blogs and email newsletters.
- 4% use social media as their primary education source.
Favorite educational resources include:
Visual and interactive resources were a crowd favorite, including continuing education classes, YouTube channels, video series, drawing sets and “websites with easy search features.”
What this means: The construction industry needs visual news and learning methods. If COVID-19 continues to cancel events into 2021, the best way to replace them will be through videos or video conferencing.
If you’re creating content in this industry, whether to teach or share news, add visual elements to your content, such as video clips, graphics, or infographics. While social media isn’t the industry’s favorite place for learning, it’s a valuable tool for discovering new educational resources out there.
What our industry knows — and doesn’t know about healthy materials
- 44.3% rated themselves as knowing a moderate amount about healthy materials.
- 30% of respondents rated themselves as knowing little or very little.
- 26.3% rated themselves as knowing a lot or a high amount.
What this means: When it comes to healthy materials there’s a lot of room for education. Healthy materials are generally known about, but the industry could use even more information (or more in-depth information) to help increase proficiency ratings.
Check out the AIA Healthier Materials Protocol to learn more about selecting healthier building materials.
Real-time energy management
Real-time energy management (RTEM) sends a building’s performance data into cloud-based software. That data is then translated into actionable insights to help increase the building’s efficiency and reduce its energy usage as much as possible.
- 42.6% think real-time energy management is an integral component of building operations.
- 44.1% of survey respondents didn’t know anything about real-time energy management.
- Only 13.2% already knew about real-time energy management and are investigating options for integrating it into their buildings.
Survey respondents who knew about real-time management at the time of the conference, identified the following barriers:
- The main barrier to utilizing RTEM is that the person who wants to implement it is not a building owner (51.1%).
- The second-largest barrier is budget (23.3%).
What this means: About half the industry isn’t on board yet with real-time energy management. The Passive House industry should increase access to entry-level information to improve knowledge. This could increase the number of construction professionals actively investigating how to incorporate it into their buildings.
Barriers to Passive House
The certification process
Industry members weighed in on what improvements and clarifications they would like to see in the certification process:
- “Window comfort pass/fail in PHPP (and when it is acceptable to modify the temperature factor associated with this check).”
- “Window comfort criteria.”
- “Window performance criteria vs. passive house certification.”
- “How appliance usage is modeled.”
- “Guidelines for modeling the performance of mechanical systems.”
- “PER target for a large commercial building.”
- “Ventilation commissioning.”
Conference participants also agreed that communicating the benefits of certifying client buildings as Passive House was a key challenge. Clients would be more interested in Passive House Certification with accelerated processing, less hassle for certification, and lower cost.
What this means: Certification is still a hurdle for many. To put it bluntly, many industry professionals have the impression that certification is an overpriced hassle with a lengthy processing time.
Improving some of the confusing aspects of certification and creating clear, concise, data-driven outreach materials on cost savings and marketability could go a long way toward convincing more clients to buy-in.
Working with sub-consultants
There were three main threads of discontent in regard to working with sub-consultants in the Passive House industry.
- They are not informed well enough on changes within the industry and technology and fall back on their old ways of doing things.
2. Lack of coordination, integration, and communication was the second most prevalent issue. Sub-consultants were called “disorganized” and one person said their sub-consultants have a hard time “seeing the overall design picture.”
3. It’s difficult to find qualified sub-consultants with enough experience.
What this means: We need sub-consultants who are up to date on developments in our industry, understand the bigger picture of the project, and have enough experience to make projects successful.
There’s a huge opportunity here to develop custom training materials and certifications for sub-consultants. Instead of using PowerPoints created for architects or consultants to teach subcontractors, this group needs its own targeted training.
Sourcing building materials
When it comes to the most difficult components to source for Passive House projects, there seems to be a lot of different items on everyone’s wish lists. However, the most common is windows hands down:
- “Since they have to come from across an ocean they are problematic in terms of lead time.”
- “Historic windows.”
- “I think it is windows — fire-rated, hurricane compliant.”
- “Windows perceived lack of availability in the country.”
- “Would be great to have US-made aluminum PH windows.”
- “Windows — challenge to select for the optimum balance of features, NFRC ratings, and cost.”
What this means: Windows are the squeaky wheel here. It’s sometimes difficult to acquire domestic windows that meet Passive House industry requirements. Shipping windows overseas can further complicate building timelines.
Additionally, a lot of builders find Passive House components prohibitively expensive, too large for the space they have available or are difficult to install without “messing up” or ruining their value. Building material manufacturers take note – there’s still room for improvement and invention when it comes to component design.
One of the main barriers to electrification is how affordable and widely accepted natural gas is. Building clients tend to be attracted to natural gas in the event the electrical grid goes down, as well the desire for gas stoves.
For electric heat pumps, some of the specific concerns include:
- Integration of hot water and air conditioning.
- Availability of cold climate heat pump technology.
- The lack of heat pumps with single unit heat loads.
- Increasing cost and complexity with renovation projects and multi-family buildings.
Financing passive house projects
Energy-efficient projects have reduced utility bills, which increases net operating income (NOI) in addition to increasing the project’s property value. As a result, you can underwrite a portion of the predicted energy in order to gain additional financing.
Unfortunately, this path to passive house financing is not being fully utilized – yet.
- Only 17.4% of those with Passive House multi-family financing have tried to underwrite a portion of the predicted energy.
- 36% did not try to underwrite any of their predicted energy.
- Over 46% of those with funding didn’t even know this was possible.
What this means: More outreach and education are needed about existing ways to access funding for energy-efficient projects. Funding and rebates programs are likely to become more available as more take advantage of available programs as more states and cities in North America adopt stricter energy standards for new construction and retrofits.
New building occupancy
Shifting from construction to occupancy can sometimes lead to a few hurdles.
- Only 2.2% said they have difficulty achieving high occupancy rates.
- 30% struggle to complete construction on time.
- 67.7% struggle with handing off the building to operations teams or training the operations staff to properly operate high-performance equipment.
What this means: We know it’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks. The Passive House industry may need to develop materials to teach property managers, maintenance teams, and building owners how to operate these buildings.
But good news, occupancy rates are exceptional for completed projects.
Passive House building materials
- Local supply and manufacturing were reported as mandatory by 14.7% of participants.
- 82.5% said local supply and manufacturing was preferred, but not required.
- Roughly 3% said it wasn’t important at all.
When it comes to product service life, most conference attendees (90.2%) said it was either very important or extremely important. Only 2.5% said it was unimportant.
Building envelope materials and components
Here are the top qualities industry members demand in a thermal insulation product (participants could select up to 3):
- 22.7% said long term R-value (products that do not degrade in R-value due to off-gassing, thermal drift, etc.)
- 21.4% chose embodied carbon
- 18.3% selected combustibility/non-combustibility
- 14.8% said price
- 14% chose nominal R-value per inch
- 5.2% said the capacity to provide multiple control functions besides thermal (for instance, spray foam can serve as an air/vapor control layer)
- 3.5% selected acoustics quality
When making thermal insulation decisions for high-performance buildings:
- Nearly 30% said acoustics didn’t matter or they felt neutral about acoustics.
- The majority (43.6%) said acoustics were important.
- Over a quarter (27.3%) said acoustics were very important.
When it comes to requiring support, guidance, and direction in thermal insulation, industry members were clearly split as to where they need it most in their buildings:
- 27.8% said flat roofs.
- 18.5% said above-grade walls.
- 18.5% said below-grade walls.
- 18.5% said under-slab.
- 11.1% said pitched roofs.
- 5.6% said they needed support for a different area of thermal insulation.
When it comes to drained, back-ventilated façades, the industry members varied hugely on their ideal cavity depth:
- 15.4% said the ideal cavity depth is less than 1 inch.
- 15.4% said the ideal cavity depth is 1 inch.
- 23.1% said the ideal cavity depth is between 1-2 inches.
- 30.8% said the ideal cavity depth is 2 inches.
- 15.4% said the ideal cavity depth is 4 inches.
What this means: There’s a solution, product, and best practice for every situation according to survey respondents. More training and standardization may be necessary with such a large variety of recommendations and practices being followed in North America.
Windows and doors (oh my!)
- When selecting windows, 55.3% said Uf (thermal transmittance of the frame) was more important, while 44.7% said Uw (thermal transmittance of the window in total) was more important.
What were conference attendees’ biggest hurdles for including high-performance windows and doors?
- “Cost! Developers are constrained by cost, and code does not require looking into frame or spacer values, so there’s a lot of pushback.”
- “Product cost and the cost of shipping.”
- “In NYC retrofits, a special order item results in high cost.”
- “Lead time.”
- “Local availability.”
- “Limited availability of indoor choices.”
- “Availability of North American cold climate PH certified components.”
- “Integration details.”
- “Industry support, e.g., distributors…who can supply data.”
- “Lack of accurate PHPP input data from manufacturers.”
- “Lack of understanding of value.”
- “Heating and ventilation equipment units, not enough manufacturers provided.”
Industry members also named the performance characteristics they value the most in high-performance windows and doors:
- Frame insulation connection
- Air tightness/sealing
- Structural durability/longevity
- Sound sealing
- Thermal transmittance
- Ease of successful installation, especially with waterproofing
- Great hardware
What this means: There’s a lot of room for growth of Passive House windows in the US market.
Limited local availability of window components means high-performance windows are often being shipped from overseas (or Canada), which is often leading to costly delays for a project.
For selection, U-factor is the biggest criteria for window and door selection. Industry members are also looking for windows that install easily, seal well, and interface with exterior building insulation.
HVAC building materials and components
- 86.3% of survey respondents said they are trying to make their buildings all-electric utilizing heat pump technology.
- 48.7% follow the multifamily residential design suggestion to include variable ventilation air with normal, boost, and away modes, while 51.3% do not.
- The majority (58.2%) said they are using a ventilation system with VRF.
- 20% use a ventilation system with water.
- 10.9% use a ventilation system with a fan.
- 10.9% use a ventilation system with chilled water.
Participants named the following as their main challenges regarding ventilation in Passive House buildings:
- Heating, cooling and humidity control.
- Air flow rate design and cost.
- Ductwork layout doesn’t agree with space provided above the ceiling.
- Coordination with local fire code.
- HVAC design starts too late — should be parallel with architectural design.
- Passive House database doesn’t list rough equipment size, which makes it difficult to find equipment for smaller mechanical closets.
- Locating both equipment and the proper skill set to design the system.
- Limited number of choices in PHI-certified H/ERVs.
- Certified ventilation equipment is too expensive.
- Clients see that +60% efficiency units cost much less than the +75% efficiency units.
In light of COVID-19, industry members are considering the following air-cleaning technologies:
- Increased ventilation rates
- Operable windows
- Upgraded mechanical filtration
- Counter-flow ERVs/HRVs
- UV lights in office space for overnight use
- MERV 13 & higher
- Halo LED UV system
- Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization
- Air Oasis
What this means: The industry is moving toward all-electric buildings that use electric heat pump technology.
When it comes to HVAC, unit availability is an issue. There aren’t a lot of choices on the market in terms of features, sizing and competition.
Designing HVAC systems isn’t happening early enough. Finding someone well versed in designing a high-performance HVAC system can be difficult.
In order for the Passive House market to continue to grow, it requires doers and stakeholders across the construction industry to work together toward a common, sustainable future. We hope these Passive House statistics and insights can help everyone in the industry get a clear vision of where we’re at so we can continue moving toward what needs to happen next.
Thank you to NAPHN for using the opportunity of the conference to get more data on the current state of Passive House construction. If you’re interested in learning more about this great organization you can visit their website here.
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