During the fifth North American Passive House, held Nov. 4-7 in Portland, Ore., the newly formed Passive House Alliance (PHA) elected its first president. Sam Hagerman, president of Portland design/build firm Hammer & Hand, will lead the new organization in its mission of promoting the Passive House high-performance building standard for a period of three years.

Hagerman has operated Hammer & Hand with his partner, CEO Daniel Thomas, since 1995, and he constantly strives to keep it at the forefront technical innovation, building science, and craft. Hammer & Hand emphasizes sustainability in all its projects and is affiliated with several sustainable building organizations, including the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and local organizations such as the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild and Solar Oregon. The firm maintains a full complement of professional certifications with the aforementioned sustainable building organizations, and it also operates a handy man division, a home energy services division, and an upcycled furniture studio.

Hagerman shared with CUSTOM HOME his motivations for getting involved with the PHIUS, some of his goals while serving as PHA's president, as well as some future possibilities for the Passive House standard.

When did you become interested in the Passive House standard and what motivated you to join the Passive House Institute?

"I first found out about Passive House about two and a half years ago through the wire, and watched for about a year from the sidelines. As I learned more about it, I realized how powerful a model it was in terms of building science and real metrics around energy use. There wasn't another model that used real measurements of energy consumption and combined them with modeling so that, on the front end [of a project], you can predict how much energy the house will use. What also appealed to me as a builder is that it's all about the metrics—it doesn't care how you meet the performance goals. I'm not locked into using one building system. I can take any construction methodology to fit the project's parameters and tweak it to conform to the Passive House performance goals.

"I've always emphasized staying current on the latest techniques and studying building science and high-performance components, and trying to be aware of different types of building methodologies. Having been in business for 20 years, I've developed a great general knowledge base of building science principles, as well as some of the hotter topics. But I felt like I had a thousand points of light and no constellation map. The Passive House model allowed me to take my knowledge and organize my thoughts around some really clear performance metrics. Once you have a goal to aim towards and a way to measure your progress towards that goal, things seem to fall into place. That brought a great deal of clarity to me as a builder and as someone interested in building science, and it allowed me to define my mission and helped me clarify what I was trying to do."

What are the primary goals of the Passive House Alliance, and what do you personally hope to achieve while serving as its president?

"It's great to be the first president, although there is some flying blind involved. We know what our mission is, but we don't yet know what it looks like. There's a tremendous amount of energy and goodwill in the movement right now. About 400 people attended the conference recently—really smart people who are really dedicated to meaningful, aggressive shifts in energy use in construction.

"What we need to develop is something that's been lacking in the movement heretofore: a really simple, powerful message that explains what Passive House is, that can be digested easily. The beauty of Passive House is that it's such a simple idea. You control three metrics—temperature, air quality, and energy usage—and you get a really beautifully performing, livable house. But the benchmark is so stringent there's nothing simple about how you accomplish those goals.

"I think our core goal is to simplify and promulgate our message. We need to get people talking about Passive House. We need to quickly get past the initial reaction of people—even professionals within the building industry—that Passive House is the same method they dealt with back in 1970s.

"My goal personally is to see Passive House in the Northwest get more and more structures built. That, at the end of the day, is our goal. Because the more structures we can get built and get into the public, the more opportunity we have to promote Passive House from the user up. The best way to appreciate these houses is to visit them and spend time in them. The more radically high-performing buildings we build as a nation, the better the pool of housing stock becomes (when averaged over the whole pool).

"The presidency of the PHA allows me to do good work in the world while allowing me to work at my business, and combine the two into a productive marriage. "

What might the near future hold for the Passive House standard and PHIUS?

"PHIUS and PHA are moving toward forming a partnership with the USGBC to address some of the blind spots that exist in the Passive House model. The leadership at PHIUS is reaching out to the USGBC during Greenbuild 2010 to discuss this. I think they could use us as much as we could use them. Because they need to really emphasize the performance metric, and we really need to get a green building component built into our model, in terms of the sustainability of the materials used. Then we'll have a perfect mousetrap.

"Also, many Passive Houses actually approach the net-zero energy threshold. There's discussion in the movement about whether it's worth it to add an active component, such as photovoltaics or ground-source heat pump, to achieve net-zero performance."