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The Passive House solution

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Keeping up on the latest climate change projections can be downright depressing. But a local nonprofit offers a dose of hope with its new film on how to build homes that emit 80 percent less carbon dioxide.

“Passive House Revolution” tells the story of this aggressive new building standard from the perspective of the Germans who helped develop it and the American homebuilders and homeowners who are warming to the idea of a home built so thick and tight that it needs no furnace and can be heated with just a hair dryer.

The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions hosts the Ohio premiere of its “Passive House Revolution” at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 22, at the Glen Helen Building Auditorium (Vernet Ecological Center), 405 Corry St. The screening is free and open to the public and donations are welcome. Director and co-producer Faith Morgan, along with co-producer Pat Murphy, husband-and-wife filmmakers, will be present to answer questions.

With more than half of U.S. CO2 emissions emitted to heat and cool buildings, the Passive House is one of the best solutions to climate change out there, Morgan and Murphy say, and is a message to get out far and wide — especially with only 100 certified Passive Houses built in the U.S. to date.

“Buildings are the real problem because they are the lion’s share of CO2 emissions,” Morgan explained. “That’s what the statistics show. We felt that it should be addressed.”

But 60,000 Passive Houses have already been built in Europe, and the model has proved itself, the filmmakers say. The film shows how innovations like walls over a foot thick packed with insulation, extremely-efficient windows and doors, airtight construction and the use of a heat recovery ventilator, when combined, can lead to dramatic reductions in a building’s energy use.

While U.S. standards like LEED and the Department of Energy’s Building America only save 15 to 40 percent compared to a standard new home, Passive House is the only standard that meets the 80 percent cut climate scientists are saying is needed by mid century, the filmmakers added. And it does so with only a 10 percent up front cost, but with huge savings in utility bills for the life of the home.

“Passive House Revolution” showcases in 46 minutes a few dozen Passive Houses in Germany, Ireland, California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, Oregon, Ohio and in Yellow Springs, where the filmmakers have spurred a local revolution in Passive House homebuilding and retrofitting; the film includes interviews with local builders Andrew Kline, Jonathan Brown and Roy Eastman and local climate expert Bob Brecha. It also features the co-originator of the Passive House concept and founder of the Passivhaus Institut in Germany, Wolfgang Feist, and founder of Passive House Institute U.S., Katrin Klingenberg.

“Passive House Revolution” premiered at the First North American Passive House Conference in Vancouver, Canada last year in standing-room-only screenings to rave reviews. But not all builders are jumping on the bandwagon. Even though some building experts see the Passive House as the gold standard in the industry, they aren’t sure it is worth the higher costs, despite the future energy savings, filmmakers said. For years, the green building movement has been pushing the message that saving energy doesn’t cost a lot. But the higher costs of construction remain a big hurdle for the Passive House movement, which aims for deeper reductions than any other model, Murphy said.

“The Passive House is going for a big cut and the green building movement is out there saying it doesn’t have to cost more to be green, that it can be cheap,” Murphy said. “But it does cost about 10 percent more.”

The Passive House concept did have its roots in North America in the 1970s in the superinsulated house movement, which began with the energy crisis created by an Arab oil embargo. Later, those ideas were perfected in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s in what was called “Passivhaus,” so named because the buildings don’t require an external heating source. The first passive house was built in Germany in 1990, the first in the U.S. in 2003, and the first in Ohio in 2010 — on Dayton Street in Yellow Springs by Kline.

Community Solutions has, from its office on East Whiteman Street, been educating about small, local community living since its founding by Arthur Morgan in 1940, and more recently has tackled the energy and climate crisis with a unique brand of community-based low-energy solutions. Ultimately, the organization is out to spread hope in the face of environmental problems like climate change and fossil fuel depletion.

“Finding ways to be lighter on the planet are extremely important,” Morgan said. “We are encouraging people in that direction and encouraging them to see it as a positive thing rather than a loss. People see the solutions and think, ‘I can live this way.’”

Other local people involved in the film were Jeanna GunderKline, as narrator, Carl Schumacher, who created original music, and Eric Johnson, as the film’s editor.


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