On The Road to Passive House

By Amy Cornelius

Posted January 31, 2019

Imagine if all of the rowhouses in Philadelphia met the exacting standards of Passive House - fossil fuel combustion and its greenhouse gas emissions would plummet, solar photovoltaics would provide all needed power and utility costs would drop to near $0, indoor comfort and environmental quality would improve, and homes would be more resilient in the face of severe weather.

In 2018, The Passive House Community of Green Building United embarked on The Demonstration Project, an 18-month journey to explore how to make a typical rowhouse into a Passive House with the end goal of creating a replicable roadmap for anyone, be they homeowners, contractors, policymakers, or not-for-profits, to use in designing and managing rowhouse renovation projects and the eventual transformation of the city.

Over the course of the year, the Passive House Community conducted a series of eight charrettes with over 300 attendees, dissecting the typical rowhouse down to its component parts and explored how controlling air and moisture movement through the exterior is key to achieving Passive House.  Sessions included:

  • Exploring the rowhouse,
  • Evaluating the site,
  • Examining wall assembly types,
  • Maintaining continuity at material and shape transitions,
  • Understanding moisture movement through walls
  • Visualizing door and window installations
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6 4 2018 charette carlos table

These charrettes were augmented by two special sessions on Energy and Materials that were designed and presented jointly with the Living Building Challenge Community of Green Building United. These two sessions brought individuals from both communities together - and in many instances were meeting each other for the first time - to learn and find best practice solutions to thorny high-performance building problems. They also highlighted the fact that although the two programs, Living Building Challenge, and Passive House, are different in their approach and breadth, they have common goals and can be mutually beneficial.

Although sessions differed in focus, each offered in-depth learning followed by hands-on, small group collaborative workshops to identify building issues and develop strategies for resolving them. Sharing these solutions during the wrap-up period prompted discussions, arguments, and the realization that there are many paths to achieving the goal.  The documentation and finance teams have been busy assembling these strategies into a framework for the Passive House rowhouse roadmap.

In 2019, the focus shifts from constructing the exterior to verifying construction and optimizing interior systems. Sessions will include:

  • Optimizing and Verifying Assemblies
  • Heating and Cooling
  • Ventilation
  • Domestic Hot Water


The Passive House Community is a dedicated group who have committed over 1000 volunteer hours to-date with this project. 2019 promises to be challenging but also fun and rewarding.  A major part of each charette is coming together as a group over food and refreshments to get to know each other better, to strengthen the Passive House network, and to build community. We hope to engage even more Green Building United members and associates. Will you join us to strengthen the movement and build momentum behind the Passive House transformation of Philly’s rowhomes?


Want to attend an event or get involved with the Passive House Community in other ways? Please visit our Passive House Community page for more information! 


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