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Expert Interview Series: Lucas Johnson of foursevenfive.com on the Benefits of Passive Homes

Performance construction

Lucas Johnson, Western Regional Manager for 475 High Performance Building Supply, is an expert building scientist who is passionate about making buildings comfortable, affordable, healthy, durable, efficient and enjoyable through leveraging best practices in high performance construction.

Here, Lucas discusses the value of high-performance homes and how homeowners can make their homes more passive. Read on:

Can you talk about the mission of 475 High Performance Building Supply?

The mission of 475 is to provide the knowledge and resources necessary to reliably construct healthy, affordable and “call-back free” projects.

We aim to rid the built environment of toxic failure-prone materials too often included in conventional construction. I joined 475 to continue my personal mission of turning BS into Building Science.

What’s the definition of a passive house? How popular are they right now?

As a scientific standard, passive house is rather technical and nuanced definition. The basic idea is that you create a super-insulated airtight building envelope that needs about 90 percent less energy to keep it consistently comfortable and healthy.

Passive House is about using a scientifically proven approach to consistently deliver the highest levels of performance. Once people understand and experience a Passive House, they become passionate proponents of this new renaissance in building. Passive House is still a small part of the market, but the demand is absolutely skyrocketing. Once you build one, you just can’t go back to conventional crap.

How did you become interested in high-performance, low-energy passive houses? Why are you so passionate about these types of structures?

I come from a long line of architects, builders and energy efficiency professionals. I tried to escape this calling by becoming a Chemical Oceanographer (a great excuse to study sea mammals while surfing in cool places). I was getting my undergraduate degree at UCLA in Physiochemical Biology and working in a chemical oceanography lab researching ocean acidification. We were measuring rates of acidification that indicated phytoplankton would have a hard time surviving by around 2050. This is a terrifying result given phytoplankton provide 70 percent of the oxygen on our planet. If they die, it is game over.

So I decided I couldn’t be an objective scientist, but rather I should take my activist entrepreneurial spirit into the construction industry by joining the growing building science movement.

Why should home owners care about living in more high-performance homes? What are the benefits to homeowners?

Homeowners should care about living in high-performance homes since that is the best way to make your home your castle. High performance provides 24/7 comfort and health while minimized energy bills and minimized maintenance. It is the best first step towards energy independence, but more importantly towards keeping your loved ones safe in an unstable future.

Direct benefits would include no rot/mold failures, no indoor air quality “sick building syndrome” issues, and climactic spa level comfort all for about 70-90 percent less operating cost (energy bills/maintenance).

What are the biggest culprits for energy waste in the typical U.S. home today?

The single biggest culprit by far is air leakage in buildings. Healthy and durable air sealing approaches should be implemented in every single project. Current practices leave building five to 20 times too leaky.

Poor ventilation systems are another huge energy waste. They cause comfort and health issues by pulling in random unconditioned air through walls and floors and that incoming air must then be heated or cooled for comfort.

Thankfully, we have seen a huge shift towards LED bulbs and heat-pumps for space conditioning, which are best practices compared to incandescent and gas/oil/electric furnaces.

Airtightness and ventilation need to catch up.

Once all of these elements are combined, you can pretty easily make a net-zero projects by throwing in a few solar panels

What should home owners be doing to make their homes more passive?

Investing in airtightness, balanced heat recovery ventilation, LED lights, heat pump space conditioning and water heating.

You also talk about how passive homes can help occupants stay healthier. How can a home impact a person’s health? What are the health benefits of a passive home?

Homes tend to have health issues due to air leakage. This leakage leads to rot/mold as well as air pulling in air from walls, crawl spaces and attics. The air in these spaces often contains toxins from chemical treatments, mold spores, rat feces and other less-than-ideal elements. By making a home airtight, and pairing that with balanced ventilation, you can know that you will have consistent access to fresh healthy air. A Passive House can help keep you separated from unhealthy materials and other toxicity.

What is the future for passive building? How do you expect the industry to grow or evolve?

Passive House has such a snowballing effect, because as I mentioned above, once you design or build a Passive House you can never feel good about going back to something lesser. It is a scientifically proven way to address our urgent energy performance needs while also delivering comfort and health in an affordable manner. The sky is the limit and I wouldn’t be surprised if Passive House is a common code minimum in about half of North America by 2030.

What are the most exciting or interesting building innovations you’re following today? Why are you following them?

The most exciting building innovations I am following are more about systems integration than individual products. It is very challenging to hack together a high-performance building using a bunch of random products that may not interface well together. Therefore, it is part of our mission at 475 to assemble complete systems including durable zero-toxicity airtightness solutions, affordable balanced ventilation systems and deeply sustainable and healthy insulation options.

We also provide niche products like incredibly cool Passive House level skylights or even Passive House dog doors.

As a system, these solutions can be combined to simplify the creation of the highest performance buildings. You add some LED lights, an induction stove, some heat pumps, and solar PV…and boom, you get cost-effective zero-net energy buildings that can scale from custom homes to production builders.

Looking for other ways to make your home safe and better for your well being? Read about how clean gutters can help you stay healthy.

Written by Del Thebaud

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