NW Passive House experts visit Karuna – reflections by Holst Architecture’s Cory Hawbecker

Passive House practitioners see the construction site first-hand at onsite seminar.

The Karuna House owner’s main purpose for pursuing the multi-certification project is to provide a case study and learning tool for the greater high performance building community, so when we learned that Passive House NW’s Spring Conference would be held in Portland this year, we set to work to organize a seminar for participants at the Yamhill County site.

Two Fridays ago, over 100 NW Passive House practitioners and home builders gathered at PSU for the conference itself, and the next day a capacity-crowd of two dozen joined our project team at the Karuna House for a morning seminar.

Karuna House - passive house onsite seminar
The onsite seminar at Karuna House.  (Photos by Skylar Swinford.)

Hammer & Hand’s Sam Hagerman, Skylar Swinford and Scott Gunter were all on hand to present at the event, as was Cory Hawbecker, designer with Holst Architecture.  Cory’s perspectives as Holst’s Karuna House project manager were a highlight of the morning, received with much interest by the Passive House designers and builders in attendance.


Holst Architecture’s Cory Hawbecker (center).

I spoke with Cory recently about his impressions of the event and the community of practitioners he met there.

“As I was talking to folks in the van on the way down, I was surprised by the distances people had traveled to be here,” said Cory.  “Obviously a really dedicated group.”

Karuna House - passive house onsite seminar

Sam Hagerman (center) describes Passive House details at the Karuna House.

“I was also impressed by their spirit of sharing,” Cory continued.  “Folks weren’t afraid to share their mistakes and lessons learned.  A lot of times architects don’t want to do that, to call attention to their errors.  But with everyone in the Passive House community really pushing to reach new levels of building performance, folks were really forthcoming.”

“That’s encouraging.  Of course you have to protect intellectual property, but this effort is for the greater good,” Cory said.  “And the exchange of knowledge helps everybody.”

Karuna House - passive house onsite seminar
Two dozen Passive House practitioners joined the project team for the event.

“There were a lot of architects out there, so I got some sharp design questions posed by really smart folks,” he told me.  “At one point a participant asked about how a certain window was going to line up to a beam, and I really had to pause a moment and think through how we addressed the issue.  It took some pretty intense three-dimensional thinking to even ask the question.”

Karuna House - passive house onsite seminar
The project’s mechanical contractor Jonathan Cohen (right, with baby) of Imagine Energy is joined by fellow uber-efficient mechanical expert Russ Hellem of Montana-based Energetechs.

“I was inspired to meet a group of people so into Passive House and high performance building, and so sharp about it,” he continued.  “It was a good process for me, meeting everyone and discussing the design challenges we’ve tackled on the project.  In sharing that with others I came away with a better understanding of how we’ve arrived where we are now.”

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ for being part of the event,” said Cory.  “I really enjoyed connecting with Passive House folks with the Karuna project right there, literally surrounding us.”

And thank you, Cory, for playing such a central part in the event’s success.

– Zack

P.S.  Thanks also to Tom Schneider of Building Envelope Innovations for driving a van-full of participants to the event and then providing a guided tour of his facility after the seminar.

P.P.S.  And thanks to Mark Miller, Interim Executive Director of Passive House Alliance US, for videotaping the session.

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