A few observations on being a ‘Certified Passive House Designer’…

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m a massive believer in the Passivehaus model; I’ve gone through the PHPP course and I’m hoping to complete a certified Passivehaus later next year. So this blog post isn’t intended to belittle the great work done by the Passive House Institute or the training academies throughout the world.

It’s just that I’m a little concerned that care should be taken by the general public when employing someone with the qualification offered by the Passive House Institute (Certified Passive House Designer). I appreciate that Passive Houses can take many forms and it’s great to have a recognised qualification in the subject but being able to construct a house to the Passive House requirements may not result in a great building. Obviously the building will have incredibly low heating bills but where is the joy, the spirit, the architecture ?

If we’re not careful the result will be a succession of boxy, houses, designed by people with no formal architectural training that are admittedly highly insulated and airtight !

If you look at the prescribed professions that can register on the Passive House Designer course (below), would you honestly want your house designed by a bricklayer ?

Civil engineer
Building physicist
HVAC engineer
Timber construction engineer
Master Bricklayer
Building technician
Engineer for environmental protection in the building industry.

What I’m saying therefore is to be careful when choosing someone to design and construct your biggest asset – your house. The most important person to employ is a good architect; if he/she is a certified Passive House Designer then that’s brilliant but if not you should be looking at appointing someone acquainted with the Passive House requirements as part of your team.

The gripe I suppose is that I’m now living in a country (Ireland) where the Architect profession has been so emasculated that there is now an outcry over the technical assessment required by people wanting to included on the Architects register that have nil formal architectural training. And if we’re not careful the architectural profession will be hit again by ‘Passive House Designers’ in the same way as other ‘house designers’ that have no formal architectural qualifications or training. See the link here about why it’s essential to oppose the John O’Donoghue Bill that wants to remove the technical assessment ENTIRELY !

I’m not even going to start on the lack of government assistance given to the self-employed that are currently struggling with the mess Ireland is in compared to the official unemployed that get their Passive House training course paid for in full (incidentally 120 possible, additional Certified Passive House Designers could be qualified in Ireland by the end of this year).

0 thoughts on “A few observations on being a ‘Certified Passive House Designer’…

  1. When I saw the title of this post I thought your concern would be about the depth of knowledge demonstrated by the qualification! I didn’t see your actual concern coming but then I had not seen the CEPH certificate as a building design qualification.

    As I’m an energy consultant rather than a carpenter or Architect my certificate says ‘Certified Passive House Designer – Consultant’ – rather than Designer.

    I think this is a translation issue from the German and had never seen it as an architecture or building design qualification!

    My concern is that just as clients should check that the designer is competent to design their dream home, regardless of qualifications, they should not assume that someone with a CEPH qualification knows everything there is to know about low energy building. That takes a bit more than 10 days to learn.

  2. Hi Nick

    Thanks for that, I think you’ve made some excellent points. I rechecked the Passivhaus PH Designer listing and it seems to split into 2 groups:

    1. Passive House Designer, qualifying professions below:

    Civil engineer
    Building physicist
    HVAC engineer
    Timber construction engineer
    Master Bricklayer
    Building technician
    Engineer for environmental protection in the building industry.

    Passive House Consultant:qualifying professions

    Electrical engineer
    Wood technician for window construction
    Real estate agent
    Environmental engineer
    Energy consultant

    But when you look at your listing the designers and consultants are all lumped together – what’s going to happen (here in Ireland) is you’re going to get houses designed by just a single person that purports to do everything – it’s not unusual for the ‘house designer’ to do the design, structure, percolation reports and energy calcs and now he’s also a Passive House Designer- and this emasculates further the architectural profession

  3. I must say that as both an architect and a Certified Passive House Designer that I support your concerns. In many respects I think that it was these same concerns about design quality that prompted PHI to introduce the architectural competition to the proceedings of the International Conference. Thank you for this timely reminder that PH is only part of the answer and that a house that is beautiful and brings joy to peoples lives is all so very – if not more – important. (Wolfgang Feist has said almost as much in his video interview that is found on the AECB website.)

  4. Hi Mark,

    A couple of comment on this, firstly I’m an Architectural Technologist I specialize in the technical detailing of buildings, I would say that alot of Architects should not detail it has become a specialist discipline, just like engineering, site assessments, energy analysis, visualization and so on. The professions associated with architecture are an eco system, a single person regardless of being and Architect or not is not capable of being at the top of each discipline. It is always better to have person that specializes something than a jack of all trades. However on the other side of the coin it is essential if your an architect designing a passive house to be certified designer. Just because your an architect doesn’t give you the ability to do so. There alto of architects designing passive and they have never been educated formally to do this.

    With regard to the Bill I do not agree with it, if your an architect your an architect and you should have the right to call yourself such without someone pretending to be one getting the smae respect. However and this is a key point, there is no other way of becoming an architect other that by fulltime education and the recently introduces ARAE in UCD. This is unacceptable that there are not partime course in the country to cater for the this category which ultimately leads to an situation of “house designers” plaguing the country and on the other hand just because your a qualified architect doesn’t mean you can design nice building I have seen some awful building design by architects. Design is more nature than nurture !!!!

  5. architects have no acedemic qualifications in therodynamics or physics and shouldnt be getting involved in building services engineering. All this passive house and energy conservation falls under this profession

    1. Incorrect, a big percentage of the 5 year academic course covers building physics, M/E and building environment. Obviously not as in depth as an M/E engineer but the architect is ideally qualified (with additional training) to design and build passive houses,

  6. incorrect, physics is not even an acedemic requirement to train as an architect. The architect is not ideally qualified as they have not got the fundemental tools, specifically thermodynamics. They are not scientists, their degree is an arts qualification and they should leave those practices to suitably qualified professionals especially when they are seeking sympathy from people as other agents are doing their job.

  7. John, I agreed ! as Mark stated he doesn’t like other professions stepping on his toes and should take a learn out of his own book and afford them the same respect. However progression should be encouraged. Mark, “good architects” should be able to detail I agree, but I have only met a handful that can, they usually have someone to do that for them!
    There is alot of snobbery around architecture which doesn’t breed good feeling, develope relationships, or foster a sense of respect for other professional. At the end of the day builders are the one that actually do it and solve at of problems on site, not enough praise or credit is given to them when they do a good job!

    1. Again, talking personally – we did a stack of detailing as part of the course. Builders shouldn’t be solving problems on site, admitedly the builder is part of the team that creates the building but the architect should have detailed it sufficiently well that the builder justs builds. I’m not an architecture snob; if I’ve got something wrong, I work with the builder to get it solved.

  8. you have a BA (arts) as all architects do, it is an art not a science, you dont even need a science to qualify for it. I am not putting it down, but it is frustrating listening to, on one hand, you lot complaining about the “house designers” and there you are advising people about energy conservation when you couldnt even state the 3 laws.

    1. Again, incorrect – not sure what the split would be but the same architecture degree could be a BSc or a BA. A few places were it’s a BSc include: Cardiff, Belfast, Coventry, The Bartlett – the list is endless. I got a BA but the similar course, similar content could be a BSc. Architecture is the fusion of art and science and the ideal applicant would have a blend of arts and sciences (I personally did A levels in Mathematics (Pure & Applied), Chemistry and art.

  9. I agree John, it is distastefull lecturing about ethics and professional competence on one hand and then engaging yourself in practices that you have not got the appropriate training for

  10. That last comment makes no sense! They would be really efficient! Like a world where the building are design by architects only with no other professionals helping them. The might be nice to look at but poorly performing !! Maybe the physicist should be the lead designer and the architect should help him with making it pretty ????

      1. I don’t want people to think that I’m the egotistical architect that does everything – I love working in a team and if there is an energy consultant on board BRILLIANT – the problem here (Ireland) is that already the architect has been usurped by ‘house designers’ – now the same thing is going to happen with ‘passive house designers’ with no training in architectural design, designing our buildings.

  11. I think there are a few bruised egos bouncing around the comments…

    I completely agree with the points Mark has made, which in itself wasn’t reason enough to comment (I’m sure Mark doesn’t need the clarifications of a stranger).

    What made me comment was the number of posters who have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is an architect does.

    I don’t really wish to wade into the argument regarding what is and isn’t in an architects training, but rather WHY an architect becomes an architect. Whilst we may not have a have a degree in physics, the sciences are things that can be learnt, by anyone with a brain and dedication to understanding the topic. What an architect does is take knowledge from many different areas, and along with a natural ability to understand aesthetic arrangements of space and shapes use this to create buildings. I’m not suggesting for one moment that every architect is a good designer, but what I am saying is that to be an architect takes more than the ability to learn the bearing load of steel, or an intimate understanding of thermodynamics, it is about having an eye for what looks good.

    So to all those suggesting architecture is an art, you’re right, and that is something I’m truly proud of, as an architect. BUT it is so much more than that, its an ability to bring all the science and mathematics together within a structure that not only stands up and does its job, but does so with a style and presence that ensures it wont look like it was designed by blind soviet engineers.

    I’m not knocking the sciences, but god only knows I never had the urge to go on and study more than is necessary for my job, but that is the point – I can learn the aspects of your job that are relevant to mine, can you learn mine? I think not.

    1. Well said, and it seems it has shut the others up. Clearly one of the commenters has no clue about the different degrees one can obtain while studying architecture. At least here in the states, there is a difference. In order to qualify for a Bachelors in ARCHITECTURE (that’s an actual degree; a PROFESSIONAL degree might I add) you must complete 5 YEARS of studies! Not all schools offer this degree. Some schools offer an architecture program that is only 4 years and those people only get a Bachelors in Arts and Science. In order for that 4 year student to get a professional degree, they have to continue onto a Masters of Architecture program.

  12. Just happened on this discussion via Twitter, Mark, and am also astonished at the lack of understanding of architectural education shown in some of the comments above. I trained at one of the top design schools in the UK – one renowned for its conceptual approach to design – yet that training also included physics and structures, environmental science, history, sociology, law and professional practice. The idea that we are simply concerned with aesthetics is a misunderstanding – the Architect is a 3-dimensional thinker and must understand every aspect of the building process in order to direct it in a competent and professional manner. When I graduated, I worked in practices in the UK where every member of the office project team was an architect – ensuring we each had all-round ability that could be used on any project, at any level. I did not encounter technicians or technologists until I began working in Ireland, four years after qualifying as a Part 3 Architect and six years into my professional career. Undeniably, these disciplines have a key role to play. When you have a member of staff who is a trained Architect and qualified to a professional standard, it is simply good economics to use that person at their highest capacity within a practice, and use other staff to perform the supporting roles. What I don’t understand is the level of resentment this seems to generate in these supporting disciplines. None of us benefit from this kind of dissent. I agree with your original concerns which put the client first. There needs to be clarity in role descriptions for people wishing to build to a Passive Haus standard because where these people are misled or misinformed, their poor customer experience damages us all. Instead of taking pot shots at each other, we should focus on working together as members of one industry to improve the customer experience and ensure our continued relevance and employment at this difficult time.

  13. An Architectural Technologist is an equal not and economic helper to be used in a supporting role ! I find it shocking that you and your profession still have this belief that you are the chosen ones and as I have previously stated, buildings has become too complex for a single person to be competent in all aspects. Then you say that we should all work together…. I have meet some utterly incompetent architects in my 12 year since qualifying,on the flip side literally, I worked on the biggest project in the southern hemisphere and worked along side some well respect architects which treated me as an equal a luxury not afforded in Ireland ! These architect were capable and experience and forward thinking, Architects generally in Ireland want to keep a closed shop. If your an qualified architect there is nothing to say that your good at it ! That applies to technicians also !!! I have plenty of friends that are architects, some are good designers some are good technically some are good business people, its rare that you get a mix of these qualities, which is NO failing its just human but not accepting that is. I have this debate with them regularly and I hope they respect me for raising my concerns, I know they respect me when I help them and likewise. Mark I’m sadden by this forum, it shows that nothing has changed in the mindset of Architects in Ireland.

    1. I fully agree; the problem in Ireland is that there’s too many people fighting for too few projects. In an ideal world we should all be working together but the economic situation with less money and smaller projects means that there’s more fighting (unfortunately)

  14. Lol oh where to begin …..Architecture design in normal residentual homes is a joke to be polite . Its just a big con the same way as most of the renewable market has been misled in the last few years .
    Now if i required a bridge to be buit i would consult a Structural Engineer ..If i wanted a large shop or hypermarket then i would employ a Architect but for a house? Talk about a over inflated sense of importance …

    I am a Brick/stonelayer πŸ™‚ who spent 4 years serving an apprenticeship. I then travelled in Germany for a few years and through out Europe learning other methods of Home structures and physically taking part in the Process from start to finish ..
    After returning back to Ireland i then spent a while doing Night courses and obtaining Auto CAD certs …Spent more time and money completing a BER Assessors course ….Air Permability and Thermal imaging Course with recognised companies. I have completed a Home Energy Consultants course wiht DKIT and another course in renewable energy with CREDIT who are also in Dundalk and I am awaiting acceptance for an honours degree course all going well .. This is just a mere instep of experience i would have .
    My main credentials is the hands on experience that a client knows they get when they first meet for a consultation on what to do ..Building a House isnt rocket science its simply a matter of placing an envelope of a building towards a benefitial oriantation , calculating the loads and making the house pleasing to the eye .

    Now apartments and pile driving wet sites are well beyond the scope of my experience but dry sites with a private dwelling requiring a passive house standard of work …SIMPLES !!!!

    So please dont tarnish what is your image of a man who slaps a few concrete blocks down in the ground as a real Bricklayer ….Some of us are quite good in what we do and enjoy our work .

      1. We will agree to disagree then Mark with no ill will .

        Incidently I came across this link to your blog looking for a recognised Passive house trainer not to qualify to draw plans but to keep my own personal development up to date . Have you any recommendations .
        Best of luck on the blog Eamonn

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