Making certified Passive House tradesperson training even better Ideas we brought home from THRIVE 2024

30 May 2024 by Jason Quinn

Ideas on how to make certified Passive House tradespersons training even better: that’s one of the things I took away from the THRIVE 2024 Passivhaus Conference in Melbourne. UK architect Julia Bennett gave a presentation called “Tackling Challenges in Passivhaus construction: Notes from the UK” and given Sustainable Engineering Ltd delivers training to the Passive House community in New Zealand, Julia had 100% of my attention. Three things leapt out: Ah-ha moments, structured processes for builders’ to follow and how to scale training.

Julia described a number of A-ha! moments (“hotspots”, she called them) where practical exercises lit up the builders and really helped them grasp some of the more difficult concepts. We already include many of these exercises in New Zealand, like table-top rigs to demonstrate airtightness, showing lots of clear examples of good and bad workmanship and we have sometimes set up blower door tests. But we haven’t always blower door tested a leaky building and I take Julia’s point that it’s easier to learn what to avoid when you see the shortcomings of a Code-minimum building. Our team is now working on how to include mini-rig airtightness testing, which would be great fun.

Julia talked about the need to teach a structured process to builders and this was reinforced by what I heard in subsequent presentations from builders themselves. One builder said he’d taken the Passive House designer training just to understand the design process so that he could build the on-site processes needed for success. That showed extraordinary commitment but shouldn’t be necessary. Speaking to this milestones slide (above) Julia emphasised the importance of having a design, construction planning and construction process all the way through to completion.

(Here’s the Aldas link for you from the slide. The page will take you to a 11-page document by UK airtightness expert Paul Jennings, who says he developed the process “more than a decade ago, in response to continuing frustration at seeing the same mistakes and omissions giving rise to leakage issues and unsatisfactory airtightness test values in a range of low energy buildings across the UK.”)

The third key point was about scale. As the UK and particularly Scotland move into Passive House in a big way, they need more and more of the industry trained properly. Scotland needs 100% of its builders and subbies to be confidently building to the Passive House standard, that’s thousands of contractors. Julia talked about a major English project, St Sidwell’s Point Leisure Centre, a certified Passive House pool complex. More than 2000 site workers were put through structured training by the main contractor to equip them with the skills and knowledge they needed for the project to succeed. 

Julia also made the point that the Certified Passive House Tradesperson needs to include practical hands-on training. Why is this something to comment on? This is how we do it in New Zealand already! But in the UK, Australia and most of the rest of the world, the certified Passive House Tradesperson course is theoretical only. It’s a bunch of lectures and then boom! go sit the exam. New Zealand stands out for having always included a hands-on component to the course, thanks to the insight of Dr Kara Rosemeir who delivers this training via PHANZ.

Responsibility for PHANZ training is transitioning to Sustainable Engineering Ltd as Kara gradually retires and we will be solely responsible for the certified Passive House Tradesperson course from January 2025. Our goal is to significantly increase the number of certified Passive House Tradespersons in New Zealand; we don’t want a lack of skilled tradies to throttle much greater uptake of Passive House building projects. 

All photos (© 2024 Sustainable Engineering Ltd) show selected slides from Julia Bennett’s presentation at the THRIVE 2024 Passivhaus Conference, entitled “Tackling Challenges in Passivhaus construction: Notes from the UK”. Used with permission.

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