Passive Proponent—Q&A with Brandon Weiss
President and founder of Chicago-based Weiss Building & Development, Brandon Weiss is a third-generation builder who credits time spent in Europe to his sustainable approach to life.
While he’s built more than 90 high-performing homes since he started his company in 2005, it wasn’t until recently that he started work on his own family home. Drawing from his most memorable project to date—building the first certified Passive House in Chicagoland—Weiss is working on a Passive House for him and his family that has a goal of net zero energy and overall health.
Weiss has received several awards in his career, including 2012 Northern Illinois Home Builder of the Year and the 2012 Gold Key Award. His impressive career path and love of building science left us wanting more, so we decided to ask him a few more questions—here’s what he had to say.
Home Energy: You come from a long line of builders—what would your grandfather say about how you build homes versus how he did?
Brandon Weiss: I think he would appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into our buildings. Taking pride in my work, continually advancing my knowledge in the industry, and pushing the envelope are all things he would be proud of.
HE: Is there a home you've remodeled that surprised you by how much energy you saved when it was complete?
BW: We have done two major gut rehab remodels that improved energy efficiency by 300%.
HE: I read that you received an award for a Passive House project. Do you often work within the Passive House standards?
BW: We just completed the first in Chicagoland, but now that we have that one done, we have more people interested in pursuing that type of home. We will probably do 2–4 more Passive Houses starting this year. We also work with LEED, NAHB Green Building Program, and DOE Challenge Home.
HE: Why Passive House?
BW: Passive House is the world’s most stringent energy certification so it allows people that have a net zero goal to get there in the most feasible, economic, and sensible way. It also has many benefits with regards to comfort, health, and durability. Passive House definitely takes the deepest look into building science, and requires modeling that assesses certain risks, such as moisture risks in walls. This makes so much sense because over 95% of buildings fail due to some type of water.
HE: Tell me a bit more about the home that you’re building for your family—what are some of its energy features?
BW: We are actually in design for a Passive House. Our goal is net zero with both solar PV and solar thermal. The home will not only be built to this strict of energy guidelines, but will have a goal of building as healthy of a home as possible. We will aim to build a completely non-toxic house. We would like to build it to be Living Building Challenge certified too, but local codes may complicate that too much to be able to achieve.
HE: What is your advice to newcomers to the home performance field?
BW: To make sure they study building science. Good intentions without proper knowledge and education can cause more problems than it solves if is done incorrectly or with a blind eye to physics and science.
HE: What advice do you have for those who have been in home performance for decades?
BW: If you have “mastered” building energy efficiently:
- Study up on Passive House and take the builder training if you are a builder, rater training if you are a rater, or consultant training if you are an architect or engineer.
- Start trying to build energy efficient while also using the healthiest materials available. Test your projects post construction for sVOC, tVOC, and all ‘-aldehydes.’
HE: What do you think is the most important step in the next 5 years for the home performance industry?
BW: I think the industry needs to understand the science behind what they are building better. When building to a higher level of energy efficiency, the science plays an even more crucial role. When you tighten and seal up a building well, you better know how moisture is going to flow in that assembly and how it will dry out.
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