PNC SmartHome Cleveland Achieves Passive House Certification: First Building in Ohio to Attain Leading Standard for Energy Performance

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PNC SmartHome Cleveland, a project of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, has become the first building in Ohio to achieve passive house certification, the world's most rigorous building energy standard.

PNC SmartHome Cleveland is the first building in Ohio to achieve passive house certification

PNC SmartHome Cleveland, a project of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, has become the first building in Ohio to achieve passive house certification, the world’s most rigorous building energy standard. The certification was approved in June by the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), the nonprofit organization committed to making high-performance passive buildings the mainstream market standard in the United States.

“Passive house certification is based on some of the world’s most rigorous energy performance standards for residential buildings. This accomplishment reflects the hard work and creative talent of both Museum staff and our many partners—this was a true community project,” said Evalyn Gates, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “The PNC SmartHome is a landmark green building for Cleveland, as well as a wonderful demonstration of how smart design can create a home that is beautiful, functional and inspirational.”    

Passive house certification, which is common in Europe but new in the United States, is based on the design of the house—the physics of the construction, insulation, windows and solar orientation for heat gain in cold weather. The design must meet three performance tests: Energy use for heating and cooling, total energy use for all needs, and building air tightness as measured by a blower door test. When properly designed and constructed, passive buildings use 60 to 80 percent less energy than comparable conventional buildings.

“Not only did we meet the certification standard, but we did it in Cleveland’s cold and cloudy climate, which is one of the most challenging climate zones in the country for a passive house,” said SmartHome project coordinator David Beach, director of the Museum’s GreenCityBlueLake Institute. “Passive houses like the SmartHome are solutions for the future. By dramatically reducing building energy demand, they show how it’s possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to reduce the risks of climate change.”    

PNC SmartHome Cleveland was originally built as an exhibit next to the Museum in early 2011. PNC was the presenting sponsor of the exhibit. It was moved to its permanent site at 11601 Wade Park Ave. in October 2011 and installed on an insulated basement foundation. The Museum sold the home in 2012 but continued working with the new owners to further improve the energy efficiency of the house and complete the passive house certification process.

“We feel very lucky to have the opportunity to live in the SmartHome,” said homeowners Jocelyn and Martin Schaffer. “We have felt completely comfortable in the home in every season of the past year—proving that a passive house can function perfectly in Cleveland’s chilly winters and warm summers, without a traditional furnace or air conditioner. We hope that the house will continue to educate not only those who toured it as an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, but those who continue to read and learn about smart building techniques. We appreciate the vision, planning, expertise and generosity of everyone involved in the construction of the house. Their work to build a passive house and to encourage others to use passive house design principles will help to protect the environment for us all."

Founded in 2007, PHIUS has trained more than 1,000 architects, engineers, energy consultants, energy raters and builders. It also is the leading certifier of passive buildings, with more than 100 single and multifamily projects certified or in process. PHIUS has also established strategic relationships with key government, educational, corporate, and affordable housing organizations including the U.S. DOE, RESNET, Carnegie Mellon University, Parsons College, University of Oregon, Habitat for Humanity, Rocky Mountain Institute and others.    

“We’re thrilled that the PNC SmartHome earned PHIUS certification,” said Katrin Klingenberg, executive director of PHIUS. “With rigorous scrutiny from design through construction, PHIUS certification ensures the building will perform as designed. And that’s the best possible advertisement for passive buildings.”

“The PNC SmartHome project changed the way we do business,” said Chuck Miller, principal of Doty & Miller Architects, the firm that designed the SmartHome. “The intense collaboration between the Museum, the passive house consultant, the builder and the architect has pushed us to create a separate company called Parallel Partners Architectural Construction. Owners now benefit from a team approach from the beginning design concept to the project completion of energy-efficient design and construction.”

“For our hometown to achieve this milestone clearly puts Cleveland at the forefront on innovation,” said Paul Clark, regional president of PNC Bank in Cleveland, the presenting sponsor of the SmartHome.    

PNC SmartHome Cleveland was a catalyst for community conversations about the future of green building and neighborhood redevelopment in Northeast Ohio. It inspired and influenced other building projects, including Near West Theatre’s future home planned for the Gordon Square Arts District of Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.

“We’re grateful to everyone involved with the PNC SmartHome for successfully demonstrating passive building technology,” said Hans Holznagel, chief operating officer of Near West Theatre, which plans to break ground this fall in the Gordon Square Arts District on the world’s first passive performance center. “Conserving energy resources over the long term is good for the environment and good for nonprofits like Near West Theatre, which are always looking for solid, creative ways to sustain our community mission. We’re glad to be part of the passive building movement, grateful to donors who are making it possible, and encouraged by the PNC SmartHome’s certification.”

About The Cleveland Museum of Natural History
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, incorporated in 1920, is one of the finest institutions of its kind in North America. It is noted for its collections, research, educational programs and exhibits. The collections encompass more than 5 million artifacts and specimens, and research of global significance focuses on 11 natural science disciplines. The Museum conserves biological diversity through the protection of more than 5,400 acres of natural areas. It promotes health education with local programs and distance learning that extends across the globe. Its GreenCityBlueLake Institute is a center of thought and practice for the design of green and sustainable cities.

For more about the PNC SmartHome project:

For a list of other certified passive house projects in the United States, visit the PHIUS website:


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