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Code Supports Builders Using Passive Standard

By Lee Van Der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon

Supports of the passive trend achieved a landmark in Oregon this month when a committee charged with drafting the state’s building code adopted a standard recognizing passive house construction.

The Oregon Reach Code Committee, a group that develops Oregon’s building code three years in advance of its implementation, adopted an amendment allowing certified passive houses to meet the state’s energy compliance standard for commercial buildings. They say a similar move related to residential construction is on the horizon.

The Passive house Building Energy Standard, which cuts traditional energy use by as much as 90 percent, is the world’s most rigorous standard to energy efficiency. It’s the yardstick for certifying passive houses. Its proponents say it has been widely practiced in Europe, where it is being phase in as minimum building code, but it is a relatively new in the United States, making Oregon’s move historic.

“I think it’s the first time that the passive house standard has been recognized properly by any kind of code in the United States” said Sam Hagerman, president of the Passive House Alliance, a national group focused on advancing the standard. He is also president of hammer and Hand, a Portland-based contractor and homebuilder.

“It’s a way of recognizing a really high performance building standard without requiring it.” Hagerman said.

When Oregon’s Reach Code is formally adopted by the State’s Building Codes Division later this year, the Passive House Building Energy Standard will be part o the new optional code. That will allow guilders of certified passive houses to leapfrog state investigations for energy compliance of buildings by showing their certificate. Allowing the standard into law also paves the way for these energy efficient buildings to capitalize on green-building incentives in Oregon.

“If Oregon’s truly going to lead the nation, this is how we can do it,” said Dylan Lamar, an architect and energy consultant at Portland-based Green Hammer.