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Industry Trends: The Principles of Passive House

By Project Executive Mike Pryzbylkowski and Lead Superintendent Derek Geisinger

You hear of passive house buildings popping up everywhere from California to Pennsylvania, but what exactly is passive house? Passive House is a green building trend that focuses on design principles and construction practices to provide energy efficient buildings, creating a comfortable and sustainable building for owners and residents.

In 2003, the first home in the United States was built with passive house principles and the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) was founded. Since then, the market standard of PHIUS+ certified buildings focus on creating energy efficient buildings, while also considering occupant comfortability and indoor air quality.


To obtain PHIUS+ Certification, a passive building is designed and built in accordance with these five principles:

  1. Employs continuous insulation throughout its entire envelope without any thermal bridging
  2. The building envelope is airtight, preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air
  3. Utilizes high-performance windows and doors
  4. Uses some form of balanced heat and moisture-recovery ventilation
  5. Uses a minimal space conditioning system

Currently, there are only five PHIUS+ multifamily buildings located in the State of Pennsylvania. Harkins’ Northeast Region is proud to be joining this short list of multifamily projects that are built with these concepts in mind. Located in Hatfield, PA, the Susie Clemens project will be a 60-unit affordable senior care building. Being developed by Advanced Living Communities, with Kramer + Marks Architects, this project will be implementing the passive house concepts to reach PHIUS+ certification. Steven Winter Associates, the PHIUS+ Rater, and the Susie Clemens project team have been working together through preconstruction and the project is currently in the precertification stages.


In December 2019, Lead Superintendent Derek Geisinger of the Susie Clemens project attended the Certified Passive House Builder Training conference in Washington, DC. Derek worked with the PHIUS representative at the conference to review plans and details relating to this specific project. Along with utilizing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) with a dehumidifier to provide heating and cooling, a continuously insulated slab, hot water recirculation pumps, reduced thermal bridging, and air sealing are also designed into the building.

One of the challenges the project team will face will be completing the whole building blower door test. PHIUS+ standards for the blower door test require the whole building be tested and the baselines for air leakage are more stringent than any other energy standard.

We look forward to building an energy-efficient, durable, and resilient building for the future tenants of the community. The team anticipates breaking ground in early 2020.