Passive House Expert, TE Studio Sharpens ArchiCAD Tools

Passive House Expert, TE Studio Sharpens ArchiCAD Tools






More than a decade of experience and design in ArchiCAD as well as a solid educational footing in Germany has given Tim Eian of TE Studio the tools he needs to produce extremely high performance buildings. Recently he took time to chat with us about Passive House, trends in the industry toward building “green” and how he’d like to run all Cowboy Green practices off the ranch – so to speak.

MinnePHit House (Passive House retrofit—EnerPHit), Minneapolis, MN: Before and after entry elevation

MinnePHit House (Passive House retrofit—EnerPHit), Minneapolis, MN: Before and after entry elevation

Having built his firm around a holistic method of designing homes, Eian says he not only focuses on the green building elements of design – but also pays attention to off-gassing, embodied energy and building materials. Though educated in an age when most architects were still drafting by hand, Eian was inspired by the capabilities of 3D design and its ability to properly represent spaces. “We take into account the whole life cycle of a home, including ‘unbuilding’ it at the end – that strategy has worked well for us so far. ArchiCAD assists in the way it works with the sets. We use it every day to make sure no systems collide in a bad way and on larger projects we visualize it in 3D.”

Passive House in the Woods, Town of Hudson, WI: Southwest perspective

Passive House in the Woods, Town of Hudson, WI: Southwest perspective

To date, TE Studio has designed several Passive House certified homes in the United States. Currently finishing up their sixth home, the creation of homes that require zero energy to heat, has definitely become a sweet spot for the firm. It is a trend Eian says is very important to the architectural industry as a whole.

Passive House in the Woods: Kitchen Island

Passive House in the Woods: Kitchen Island

“When you consider that even as the economy in the United States began to suffer started its downturn, green building was on the rise. I felt it was time to really adopt a system, establish a method to the madness. Passive House goes by the numbers, there is no wiggle room.”

While TE Studio is considered an expert in Passive House design and certification, the architects are always looking for ways to streamline their processes. “I just took part in the EcoDesigner webinar and decided to add it to my workflow. I expect good things from that, even though the addition is so new.” The advantage of EcoDesigner will eliminate the need to input of building volume data into an excel based system making leap. EcoDesigner is intended to offset some of that workload. EcoDesigner is a part of the Graphisoft offering, which helps architects plan elements of a building in consideration of a wide variety of variables that impact energy use and consumption – such as weather, sunlight and shading.  “So far, what we’ve been doing is adding sheets to the BIM designer and exporting lists in ArchiCAD in excel format for PHPP (Passiv Haus Planning Package) and linking them back to the cells. Since PHPP is used to calculate everything, being able to instantly gauge the efficiency through EcoDesigner will certainly speed things up.”

Private residence: Minneapolis, MN

Private residence: Minneapolis, MN

Eian explains that his firm’s methodology is based on the idea of delivering an impressive performance cost rating, (MPG is energy per sq/ft per year) and by following the standards that are part of Passive House certification – they can produce a universal performance model for any building. “We began implementing the system to evaluate energy performance so that we could more accurately predict what the the building would do over the long term. We’ve now leapfrogged to performance based design – it represents a change from I now call ‘cowboy green’ – where we once followed no rules and the results were too random. We couldn’t aim for that sweet spot for our clients. As a Passive House designer, I can change the way I approach my design and open up my mind to a bigger vision and a greater understanding.”

“I see potential for ArchiCAD in that realm – others solutions to me are glorified electric pencils. ArchiCAD is where BIM can shine. Controlling the data and specifying it is the real key to integration. Having a single stock of numbers if we can get to the point where there’s only one set of numbers and data is the way it needs to be.”

Rural Passive House Lake Home, MN, schematic design, entry elevation

Rural Passive House Lake Home, MN, schematic design, entry elevation

Passive House certified homes are built to the highest energy standard and boast a reduction of annual heating and cooling energy consumption by an average of 80% – 90%. Though super insulated, and virtually air-tight – Passive House homes are mechanically ventilated and can claim superior air quality to most traditionally built homes. These homes do not just recycle air over and over. In order to achieve the air freshness quality of a passive house home – traditional homes would need to open every window every three hours and leave them open for at least half an hour – all year round. Designers take advantage of where to pull in outside air and actively blow out pollutants.

TE Studio is currently working on a 5,500 square foot family home called “The Minnesota lake home” – that brings clean, modern lines into a rural setting. Over the next year TE Studio intends on having three designs completed locally. The firm’s commissions are for private homeowners and the number of homeowners looking for that level of efficiency is growing in America even in tough economic times. Eian says Passive House certification is an element of energy efficient design that is coming full circle here in the United States. “While Passive House as a certification may have its rules and structure in German engineering, the roots of energy efficiency actually began here in the United States. Its beginnings were not only born from a ‘save the earth’ attitude, but a financial model. Energy efficiency saves money in the long run.”

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