Renovating to Meet Passive House Standards : 1

Disintegrating Celotex.

In order to insure a continuous air barrier and thermal envelope, the brick exterior is being removed at the Foal House Renovation Project. During demolition, we are discovering layers of durability problems. Promethean Homes (the contractor) discovered Celotex sheathing directly behind the brick layer. The corners of the house were enhanced with plywood to counteract racking. There is no weather resistive barrier (Celotex was impregnated with tar to make it water resisting) and no air barrier. 

Renovating to Meet Passive House Standards

Demolition fun.


Liminal Architecture is renovating a 1980's ranch to meet PHIUS standards (Passive House Institute of U.S.). The project is an extensive update of the building envelope and systems to create an energy efficient, comfortable, durable and resilient home. The design reconnects the interior spaces to the site, the mountain & sky views, brings in copious natural light, and offers a compelling backdrop for the life of occupants.


Whitehead Research Building | A Commercial Case Study


Summary | The Whitehead Biomedical Building is home to three science departments for Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The building is the largest of its kind in the southeast, measuring in at eight stories high and 325,000 square feet. This building provides water and energy efficiency, daylight usage, and a focus on sustainable materials while serving a multitude of uses for staff and students.


Project Description | When construction was complete in October 2001, one month earlier than expected, the result was an eight story building that would foster collaboration and free flowing movement for staff and students alike. The $65 million building was constructed with energy and water efficiency, air quality, sustainability, and an LEED certification in mind. The structural engineers were Standley D. Lindsey of Atlanta, and the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection engineers were Nottingham, Brooke and Pennington of Macon, Georgia. The Whitting-Turner Contracting Company of Atlanta was the general contractor and construction manager.


Challenges | The Whitehead Research Building

The Architecture team had a large number of challenges in designing this type of building, including

  • Use of sustainable building materials
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy efficiency
  • Rely on natural Day-lighting and lighting
  • Obtain LEED certification


Liminal's Role | Liminal Architecture's principle architect, Mark Graham, was part of the team of architects assembled by HO+K


Results | With the challenges in mind, these are the results after the work of both the design and construction teams on the Whitehead Biomedical Research.

  • In the beginning months of construction, Emory University found that they wanted to create an LEED certified building, a certification that is often planned for when the designing process begins. Fortunately this was not hard due to the focus on using sustainable materials that would be environmentally friendly from the beginning. With just a handful of changes, the building successfully met the goals of silver rating for LEED Certification.
  • In order to protect the indoor air quality of the building adhesives and paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were used throughout the structure. The building was also designated as a nonsmoking facility. Before the Emory staff moved into their offices, the whole building was flushed with 100% outside air to help rid any residual contaminants that may have been polluting the air.
  • Water efficiency was very important to Emory and the designers once the decision to go for LEED certification was decided. A harvesting system was created to capture water from the roof and outdoor plaza, move the water to a large retention area underneath the plaza, filter the water, and reuse it for site irrigation. The designers also realized the condensation from the air conditioning system could also be used for make-up water. This idea diverts about 2.5 million gallons of water a year that would have otherwise been wasted. The building’s vivarium, an area to keep animals and plants for research, was also designed with a cage-washing system, one of the first of its kind installed in the United States. Through the counter-current rinsing process water, energy, and chemicals are saved and recycled.
  • To use energy as efficiently as possible, four 20 ft enthalpy wheels were used for energy recovery. The wheels recover hear energy from exhaust air and use the air to preheat the outside air in the winter, and cool the outside air in the summer. This preheating and cooling system is important because it lowers the energy level necessary to control the temperature in the building. A specialized penthouse was created at the top of the building, hidden by a sloped roof, to hold the wheels as well as intake the air being used.
  • Using natural daylight was one of the more important focuses when designing the Whitehead Biomedical Research building. Ninety percent of the lab and office spaces line the perimeter of the building with windows to the outside. The windows allow for natural lighting throughout the day, with a lighting system for when the natural lighting is not available. The lighting system has an automatic switch that determines whether or not the lighting system is needed based on the amount of natural lighting available at any given time. Each lab also contains motion detector lighting, and switches that control the lights when necessary.

A Company that cares about the future of the planet


FOAL STUDIO | Liminal Architecture

FOAL STUDIO | Liminal Architecture

Charlottesville, VA — Liminal Architecture is pleased to announce its new presence within the world wide web. The company was founded years ago with a mission to bring environmentally positive architectural design to the Central Virginia area and beyond, and now, presents its new Educational blog, in an effort to stay on mission and help to contribute interesting articles for other architects, builders and developers, and people generally interested in helping to make the world a healthier place to live.

Liminal encourages those who are interested in environmentally positive architecture and architecture in general to sign up for email notifications when you they have posted news and new educational articles. 

Inspire. Inform. Design+Build. Green.

Some resources to consider when your client cares about their environment and ours.

Passive House and LEED Platinum certified by Holst Architecture and Hammer & Hand.

How often are Architects approached by their clients and potential clients with their desires to create modern designs for their buildings, particularly with plenty of large floor to ceiling windows, on a budget. Liminal offers a quick guide to assisting future modern home and business owners and their architects in how to marry their budgets with beautiful buildings. The short answer is architecture using LEED standards and passive house principles. Herebelow, is the slightly longer answer.





There are a multitude of ways to inspire clients to think about sustainable architecture and building for the sake of the environment. Liminal has found that utilizing rich photographic images of modernly designed properties is a great beginning. Perhaps, in this stage of the process, the words environment, health, sustainability, passive, etc, do not have a place in the dialogue. This stage is about collaborating on an agreeable aesthetic and getting to know their taste. However, when creating the look-book for your clients, why not consider consolidating your pictures to those which are strictly from Passive House, LEED certified buildings. One great resource for locating these types of photos is HOUZZ, and they have a great collection of just this sort of thing | HERE |.





Your clients have identified their design tastes and their budget, which don't equate mathematically. Perhaps, now, the architect can begin to review options and alternative or simply make an argument that using Passive House design principles may make their ideal property more feasible than what their budget may be indicating. The higher costs of these building will provide a long-term financial gain, particularly when utilizing solar panels and materials that better insulate and designs that minimize thermal bridging. In the design phase, the architect may begin to consider alternative and more environmentally friendly and energy efficient materials (see BUILD, below) and how they will be incorporated into the construction of the actual structure. Here are a few resources to share with your clients which speak about the affordability of environmentally positive architecture





Now it is time to construct the architecture and here are some quick links to building materials which tend to be produce more energy efficient results as well as improved environmental benefits.





This property designed by Holst Architecture is an award-winning example of the benefits of combining the beauty of modern architecture with environmental design principles. Remember to consider the benefits of these environmentally positive measures

  • Sustainability. A Passive House building requires as little as 10 percent of the energy used by typical buildings. Passive House structures do not require heating and cooling systems on conventional scales, meaning that the money that would have gone towards larger heating and cooling systems can be spent instead on better windows, thicker insulation and a ventilation system.
  • Affordability. Passive Houses not only save money over the long term, especially in light of rising energy costs, but are surprisingly affordable to begin with. The investment in higher quality building components required by the Passive House standard is mitigated by the elimination of expensive heating and cooling systems.
  • Comfort. An extremely well insulated building envelope as well as triple glazed windows and insulated frames keep the desired warmth or lack thereof inside. This means that the floor and all interior walls stay at the same pleasant temperature. Even the fresh air supplied to Passive Houses is brought to a pleasant temperature before it enters the house. The ventilation systems in Passive Houses consistently supply fresh air, making for superior indoor air quality and these systems provide plentiful fresh, pollen-free and dust-free air which maximizes comfort, especially for those with allergies or respiratory problems. Additionally, temperatures and ventilation prevent moisture build up limiting condensation and other factors which contribute to mold growth.
  • Versatility. The Passive House Standard is also increasingly being used in retrofits as well as for non-residential buildings such as schools, administrative buildings, manufacturing plants and hotels. Generally, these standards and principles can be applied to all forms of architecture and design.