Certified Passive House (Passivhaus) Designer course
I often get asked questions about becoming a Certified Passive House Designer (CPHD), and what’s involved in taking the course.
(UPDATED March 2022)
As I’m passionate about Passive House (or Passivhaus if you prefer the European spelling). I’m a “passivist”. I regularly answer questions and share my experience with other architects/designers who are keen to learn more…however this information could also be relevant for ANYONE who wants to do the training – an attendee at our course was a home-owner wanting to learn more, so it’s not necessarily just for professionals…
If you’re new to Passivhaus, this guide is a really good place to start! PLUS, this free book “Passivhaus in Australia” has a great overview of the benefits of the standard, plus examples of Australia’s first 30 Certified Passivhaus projects.
If you’re interested in doing the CPHD training, read on for my advice to the most commonly asked questions:
I did my training and passed the exam back in 2018 in Melbourne when all the courses were still face-to-face! Now you have the convenience of doing them online from anywhere in the world. I’m currently the Deputy Chair of the board of directors at the not-for-profit ‘Australian Passive House Association’ as I’m passionate about continuing to communicate, advocate, educate and build capacity within our industry to delivery better buildings.
Would you recommend doing the Certified Passivhaus Designer course?
Yes! This IS the way forward for more comfortable, healthy, resilient, future-proof and low-energy buildings.
Once you understand the building science, it makes so much sense that it is then difficult to comprehend how we ever did things differently.
“Once you ‘know’ Passivhaus, you can’t ‘un-know’ it.”
I would recommend the training for all built-environment professionals, however that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to sit the exam and receive the qualification to become “certified”. You could choose to work with a Certified Passivhaus Designer/Consultant as a secondary consultant – often an ESD engineer who has a passion for data/numbers. But, it will absolutely make life easier to have a thorough understanding of all the concepts/terms/physics underlying the standard.
Where should I start to learn about Passivhaus?
My first advice is to get involved with the Australian Passivhaus community:
- Follow APHA (Australian Passive House Association) on Facebook and LinkedIn
- Join the APHA discussion group on Facebook
- Sign up to receive the APHA newsletter which means you can keep up to date with Passivhaus in Australia (and I’d recommend becoming a member too!)
- Sign up to receive updates from Smart Plus Academy – Daniel Kress is a certified Passive House educator and was my teacher. He has a wealth of knowledge and also offers some free “mini-courses” on his website.
- I love Elrond Burrell’s blog “Passivhaus in Plain English” too.
- Passive House Accelerator in an excellent resource sharing global Passive House news, with weekly presentations, posts, plus the podcast too!
- Passive House Institute https://passivehouse.com/
- IPHA https://www.passivehouse-international.org/
- This awesome free book from New Zealand has loads of helpful details and info PHINZ construction detail handbook
- The ProClima Blue Book also has useful wall construction assembly details and considerations about condensation management
Why was it important to do the course?
I’d previously learnt a lot about Certified Passivhaus principles, but wanted to gain extra professional development, skills, expertise, to enable us to become more confident in our abilities to deliver high-performing buildings.
Understanding building science is fundamental for construction industry professionals. Australia is finally starting to wake up to the reality that we deserve better buildings – for our comfort, our health, and our climate. I’m one of the organisers of the Architects Declare movement, and if we’re serious about our declaration of a climate and bio-diversity emergency – and taking meaningful action – then this means ensuring our buildings are not contributing to more carbon emissions. We don’t need to wait until 2030, we have the knowledge to implement this on every building we are designing today. Certified Passivhaus buildings use up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling, and once you add some solar-panels on the roof this can very easily be a net-zero-emissions building. Looking into embodied-carbon of the building materials is not part of the Passive House standard, but of course can be incorporated into the design brief, along with other more holistic sustainability approaches (water use, transport, community, biophilia, waste, etc.)
This course provides the knowledge (with both theory and practical examples) to learn how to lead by example while we wait for the code to catch up. The 2019 NCC has already changed to start to include air-tightness, thermal-bridging, and better thermal performance for commercial buildings (with residential to follow in the next revision) – so why wait? Why not get a head-start and build better today!
Is an “Introductory course” necessary before enrolling in the full Certified Passivhaus Designer course?
Before doing the course I already had a good grasp of the concepts, and already had one Passivhaus home under construction – however this was done with a Certified Passivhaus Consultant doing the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) and advising on the building science, and it was being built by a Certified Passivhaus Tradesperson….so I was super keen to become a Certified Passivhaus Designer too!
In my case I didn’t think it was helpful to do the Introductory Passivhaus course as well as the Certified Passivhaus Designer Course (and I couldn’t afford more than 2 weeks away from my practice and my family!). Having said that, I know others who did it find it useful to start with this Introductory Course first – but it depends how much you understand about building physics as this is the most challenging aspect of the course/exam.
What are my options for the course? It seems expensive.
When I attended my course back in 2018, it was through Box Hill TAFE in Melbourne-based courses, taught by Daniel Kress. Daniel then started the SmartPlus Academy to deliver courses online courses. Future training/course options have become available as the demand is growing! APHA now also offers online courses (with discounts for members) with different teachers – all of whom are passionate, experienced professionals in the field. New courses are being added as APHA grows and responds to the needs of its members. It’s worth looking into the options and seeing what is the right option for you, in terms of time-commitment, duration, and cost.
It does initially appear expensive, but it’s also the equivalent of an entire uni-subject that’s crammed into an intensive so there is A LOT of content (it can’t be compared to a short-course CPD)… and we found it good value for money and a wise investment in our practice (both I and my employee did the course together), as we’re now focusing predominantly on Passive House projects.
What were the best things about the course?
– A passionate and knowledgeable teacher, who was dedicated to doing his best to ensure success in terms of our understanding of the course content which was at times complex!
– Fellow classmates who were also open-minded, inquisitive learners, and were willing to share their knowledge in a collaborative and supportive learning environment (and who have become good friends!)
– An appreciation that the learning about building science, and passing the exam, would enable us to be leaders in our industry.
Should I prepare before the course? Any suggested reading?
In terms of pre-course reading materials or study-time, I did allow about 4 weeks before the course to read up on these:
– The Passivhaus Handbook: A Practical Guide to Constructing and Retrofitting Buildings for Ultra-Low Energy Performance (Sustainable Building) by Adam Dadeby (UK-based but very relevant for theory and understanding building-science concepts and exam)
“As we move towards the zero carbon target in house building, Passivhaus construction looks like becoming not just popular in the UK, but commonplace. This is a no-nonsense and engaging introduction on how to do it.’ Kevin McCloud The Passivhaus Handbook is an essential guide for anyone wanting to realise a supremely comfortable, healthy and durable home with exceptionally low energy costs.”
– Positive Energy Homes: Creating Passive Houses for Better Living by Robin Brimblecombe and Kara Rosemeier (looks the same as the book above! But is for the Australian/New-Zealand region, so I found this helpful for our context).
“This book explores the Passive House ‘fabric first’ approach, as well as the science and practicalities of effective ventilation strategies, smart options for heating and cooling, daylight harvesting, and efficient lighting and appliances. Positive Energy Homes provides home owners world-wide, architects and builders with an understanding of the principles and technical details of building these houses.”
– The Passivhaus Designer’s Manual: A technical guide to low and zero energy buildings by Christina J. Hopfe, Robert S. McLeod (Lots of physics! This was recommended for the course, but it wasn’t really referenced during the 2-weeks, so I only dipped into it. But it was a helpful cross-reference for studying.)
This “Cheat sheet” in the shape of a house is also super-cute and a great way to study all of those Building-Science formulas – Nadia Kravtcova from the Hellenic Passivhaus Institute made it freely available to all – download here.
And I’ve since bought these which were recommended to me:
– PHPP Illustrated: A designer’s companion to the Passivhaus Planning Package (which we’re about to get stuck into with learning the PHPP)
– Passive House Details: Solutions for High-Performance Design (great construction details and case studies from around the world)
Just how intense is the course?
If you haven’t really dealt with physics, specialist-maths, or algebra since secondary school, I’d advise giving yourself plenty of ‘space’ during the course to understand these concepts as they can appear challenging at first. I essentially shut down my practice for two weeks and gave my clients advance warning that we were attending this training. This meant we were not stressed with the day-to-day practice demands, plus family-life, plus trying to digest all this new knowledge. I would recommend leaving ample time to study in the evenings and over the middle weekend, so the exam feels less daunting. You’ll find that Certified Passivhaus Trainers are passionate about the subject matter and want you to succeed and will do everything they can to clearly explain complex topics in ways that make it easier to understand. Embracing a “can-do” attitude (growth-mindset!) is a must.
Any other tips to help me on my way?
I strongly encourage you to start your learning with a ‘glossary’ of the relevant physics terms as this will make your life so much easier over the two weeks! Here’s a helpful starting point, but there will be more: https://sustainableengineering.co.nz/glossary/ https://passivehouseplus.ie/glossary
I hope that all helps. I’m happy to answer any further questions if you have any! Let me know and I’ll add the answers here.