142: Passive (House) Aggressively – Net Zero at Scale

Matt and Sean discuss large-scale passive buildings and the different technologies available today to make it happen. Everything from regenerative braking on elevators, to solar panels plus battery energy storage, to ERVs and air tight construction. 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “How Big Can You Make a Passive House?”: https://youtu.be/J4aTcU6Fzoc?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7UWp64ZlOKUPNXePMTdU4d

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Hey everybody. On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about how passive homes aren’t just for homes. Wait, what? Hi everybody, as usual. I’m Sean Ferrell, I’m a writer. Write some stuff for kids. Alright, some stuff for adults. And I’m also just generally curious about technology and luckily for me, my brother is Matt.

Undecided with Matt Ferrell, a conveniently named podcast

Matt, how you doing today?

Pretty good. Pretty good weekend. Just a little personal detail. I was just out at my parents’ house, house helping them to move and it was chaos and the fact that they’re moving now and I’m gonna be moving in a few months, it’s a stressful few months .

Yeah, it feels like right now, the end of 2022 feels to me like it’s trying to pack all of 2023.

And it’s not fitting. I’m No, I’m right in the same boat with you, and it’s for me here in New York City. The New York City Marathon is currently running by outside my house. Those of you listening to this are listening in my future, but I am in your past. So right now, marathoners are going by and the crowds are going wild.

I like to pretend that when I hear the swell of cheers that they’re cheering for. For the Beal things that I’m doing in my home. So I just poured myself a cup of coffee and there was a, a massive swell of yays outside with bells and Als, and I thought, that’s right folks. I got myself that cup of Joe

but enough about me and the crowds that love me. Before we get into today’s discussion, which is gonna be about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about use of passive energy production in a hotel setting as opposed to a home setting. Yep. We’re gonna get to that talk in a minute, but before we do, wanted to share some thoughts from our most recent episode.

This is from our discussion about nanotechnology and its use in harvesting. Uh, lithium in a faster and more efficient means than other techniques, such as brine, evaporation. And there were conversations like this one, fortitude. The dog walker asked a very straightforward question. Can you use the brine from desalinization?

Matt, I know you’ve talked about this before. Yeah. But do you wanna weigh in on some of the uses for the Brine?

Yeah. There’s different things you can do with the Brine. There’s different salts and materials in there that can be extracted. The usefulness of it is kind of up in the air. It depends on what you’re getting out of it, but like you can extract lithium, then you can get other salts that could be used for like road salt for, you know, melting snow.

It could be for, um, creating kind of a grit that could be used for, you know, like you have those little pads that create traction. It’s like there’s different things that you can get out of it that you can reuse. The question is, can you make a use of all of it? That’s the,

the million dollar. That seems to be the million dollar question around most byproducts in our world right now.

Recycling projects being one of the biggest ways that recycling is pushed as well. We can reuse all these things and then everybody stands there and says, how. And we’re discovering more recently that that how has not really been answered even though we’ve been trying to do these things for a couple of decades.

So it does become a, that’s part of the scale of decision making. I think you have the desire to gain lithium, and maybe this is the best means of doing so, and maybe it’s worth the excess byproduct for the time being, even if we don’t know what to do with it. There was also this conversation or question from Ian Fisher.

This is in response to my revealing that I play Destiny. Ian asks Hunter Titan or Locke Simple. The answer for me is Hunter. Is, Oh no. Yeah. And here comes Matt with

Yeah. Titan, Titan all the way. That’s all I do.

So, Ian, let us know what you, what you play. We look forward to hearing from you. So onto Matt’s most recent video, this is the episode that dropped.

Uh, once again, Google is doing some interesting things with the date stamps on their videos. They’re not doing something where the date is embedded in. You have to hover over the number of viewers. Watched. So here’s your video. It says viewers, and then it says five days ago, it doesn’t sell. Say, say the date.

It just says five days ago. And you hover over that and it will say, November 1st, 2022. So once again, YouTube, uh, coming up with more and more efficient ways to really get under my skin. , how big can you make a passive house? That’s the title of Matt’s episode. It dropped on November 1st, 2022. And it is a building that as soon as you show it in your video, I was like, I’ve seen that building from a train.

Yep. Like I’ve gone past that building. I recognize it. It’s a very recognizable profile. It is located in Connecticut. And my first question was, how did you first hear about this project at this

hotel? One of my patrons and he’s become a friend of mine, his name’s Paul Bran, runs a website called Tinker Try.

He introduced me to Bruce. He’s Paul’s part of the, like a Tesla EV group and met Becker, uh, Bruce Becker through that, cuz Bruce Becker used to be the head of a, the EV association in Connecticut. And so the two of them had gotten to know each other and so he was like the matchmaker and brought us together and got me introduced so that I could get this tour and walk through of the.

And when did this revamping project begin? A

few years ago. It just opened. They finished just this this year, so it was like, I think it was opened in May of this year, but it took them several years to complete this project. So it’s been in the works for quite a while,

I’ll admit to years worth of work sounding surprisingly fast.

Mm-hmm. considering everything that is in this building. It’s now got solar panels on the. The wiring has been converted over to basically digital. Like computer cable? Yeah. Is what they’re Cat six cable. Cat six cable . The part of the video that made me kind of pause it for a moment, not because I needed to rewind and figure out if I’d heard it properly, but just to digest what he said.

when he said the entire hotel, when all the lights are on, use about 5,000 watts. You could run the entire hotel electric from a generator in the parking lot. And I was, Yeah, like, yeah. What, how? And the spikes on the graph on his phone when he pointed out. Yeah. And these orange spikes are when they’re running the.

That’s the thing that uses the most energy, the most energy in the building, the energy conserving, in some cases, energy producing things within the hotel, like the elevators. All of these things are available tech, and they, by definition, they have to be, They are in this hotel right now. They are all available right now, and he’s just one of the first to say, Let’s put them all together in a hotel.

Is it really that simple?

It’s really just that simple. What’s great is, um, one of my patrons, his name is Rav, sent me a message and a video to a apartment building in India from a couple years ago that basically did the same thing in India. So it’s like this is. These are techniques and technologies that have been available for years, but just nobody is taking the holistic approach and building from kind of the ground up of trying to make all these things work together as one giant organism.

And so in the US, Bruce is like the first one doing this at the scale, uh, for a hotel like this. And then, but it’s been being done for several years. In countries like India and over in Europe, there are different places that have examples just like this. US we’re number one except for this kind of stuff.

Um, we’re kind of lagging behind. So , it’s the first one here, but it’s not the first one in the world.

Well, as he pointed out, it is typical that when people approach a project like this, they follow the book, the book, which is now decades old, and is the creation of trial and error from different architects and developers across the country.

And across the world, and it’s obvious that they follow the pattern of, well, this is what’s proven to save costs and be most efficient. And it feels like right now the disruption of these new techs hasn’t yet filtered into the hotel. Industry and it’ll be interesting. He mentioned they’re gonna be doing sustainability and hotel conferences at this hotel.

I would love to be a fly on the wall because I don’t think this is something he’s going to be promoting like himself out in public. But I wouldn’t be surprised if for hotel developers there’s the push of, you know, just because you shave your costs with all of this doesn’t mean you have to shave your prices.

The profit margin yeah. Would go up. On a hotel like this that is producing its own energy, is running the entire electric grid of the hotel. You mentioned that this is basically like a micro grid, and it is kind of a proof of concept for a neighborhood as well as mm-hmm. , a hotel or an office building, but to say, Well, you’ve got this building which is running on only 5,000 watts.

It’s producing its own electric. It’s not completely net zero, but even if it’s not, Very, very close. Yep, exactly. And all of that is saving money. So if your room is $250 at a hotel that has to pay for all of its electricity and pay for all of its power usage, and this hotel doesn’t have to pay for all those things.


profit. Well, it, it all comes down to risk. It’s one of the reasons that all the hotels followed the playbook because all the risks have been proven. So it’s you, you go in knowing I spend X amount of money, I’m gonna be able to get this kind of return. You know exactly what’s gonna happen. And the reason that you don’t see what’s happening with Bruce happening at large is because nobody’s willing to take that risk.

It takes somebody like Bruce to kind of step outside the box and say, Screw the playbook. I’m gonna try something different. And now he’s basically helped to write a new book for hotels that he can try to educate and reduce that, that perceived risk by other chains and things like that. So it’s. It’s gonna take people like Bruce around the world to really kind of move the needle forward.

And the, the sad part of this is, this is stuff been, it’s been run for years and it’s just only now being put into practice. So it’s, it’s very frustrating to me to look at this and go, Okay, well you can do passive house on a house. You can do passive house stuff on a, an apartment building, a hotel, hospital, commercial building, whatever you want.

Why are we not doing this everywhere is the thing that keeps, I keep coming back to again and again and.

There was a lot of conversation in the comments around just what you spoke about. The question of how do we take this and use it in other locations like this one from Save Money, Save the Planet.

What I like most about this is that the hotel was a retrofit on an already existing building. I was reading the study the other day by a group in the uk. They found that even if we make sure that a hundred percent of new buildings are net. , that won’t be enough because most of our missions come from our already existing buildings, so we have to aggressively pursue retrofits like this one on all buildings if we want to hit our net zero goals.

It really is like the, the secret that’s out in the open, like talking about, mm-hmm. , like you, building a passive house is fantastic. You know, you building a house that’s as anti geo efficient as possible is fantastic. The neighborhood with the a hundred other homes, In it that are not even close to being passive, that you know you in isolation.

No one builder, no one owner, no one hotel developer can solve this. This is really a collective issue that has to be embraced neighborhood wide citywide. It has to take the approach of encourage. to get people to retrofit. I work in an office where we have in fact taken that approach. There was a major.

Redevelopment of our building where the entire building, the entire staff of the company I worked for, we had to relocate for about, it was about a year and a half, two years, and they did massive changes to the way the building is run. And the goal was to take it as close to net zero as possible. So it was energy efficiency.

It was how does solar impact our building? just in the form of heat. Like, you know what? Where can you put the desks in order to create environments where? There would be enough ambient heat in the winter and there wouldn’t be over production of heat in the summer. Simple things like that. Seeing the use of breaking technology to create electricity in the elevators, like something like that is so obvious the moment that he pointed it out to you and you were like, Wait a minute.

So this is just something as simple as the breaking in a car, which has used now. In all types of cars. It’s not just cars that are, Yeah, ev, that’s technology that’s been used in cars for a long time at this point. So the adaption of that to something as simple as, Well, let’s put it in our elevators,

it that, that part of the tour was the funniest to me.

Cuz not only did it kind of blow my mind, cuz it hadn’t crossed my mind, but it was the very first thing that we did on the entire tour. I had just met Bruce. We were talking a little. Okay, let’s get started. And we walk over to the elevators, like go see where the battery rooms and yeah, we used the Coney elevators, which do the regeneration break, and it was just like, okay, this is the start of the tour.

And the fact that he just dropped that. Mm-hmm. like an side, like a, Oh, it’s no big deal. It was just like, he just kind of rattled it off and was gonna start talking about the, the batteries that we were about to go see. And it was just kinda like, Whoa, whoa, Bruce, slow down. I don’t think you understand that most people like myself did not know that was a thing.

Right. Can we talk about that for a second? . But, so it’s, it’s, to me it was. That’s something that’s been around for a long time and being used in a lot of places, but nobody talks about it, like the public doesn’t know that this is happening. And it’s just fascinating to me that, I mean, we keep saying it again and again.

These technologies exist and it’s not like this is a brand new thing. These are things we know how to do. It’s like, why are we not doing this?

Yeah. Everywhere. And it, and it does come down to public information, has the ability. To sway the needle toward acceptance. Yeah, because I think what happens with a lot of people is the argument is made.

We need to make adjustments to the way our world works in the name of climate change. And there’s a pushback from one side that is partly driven. You’re gonna be asking me to radically change everything about my life, right? Public information like this, what this hotel is incorporated and the things that your channel is talking about is an opportunity to educate the public about these things already exist.

You may have in fact, ridden in on an elevator that does exactly what this elevator does. So

on top of that, it brings, It brings additional comfort. Yes. It’s like to kind of tie back to when we’re talking about the windows, And the quiet, the quietness of the hotel is something that every person visiting a hotel craves.

We want a quiet room. Right. I just, I just stayed in a hotel when I was vi visiting our parents and it was so noisy. The gap underneath my door was like this big, with light coming in and every morning at like five 30, people were getting up and leaving to go to whatever jobs they were doing, and it was just a cacophony of noise coming into the door.

Hotel like this, those kinds of things are sealed. The windows are triple paned and you can’t hear the highway. And it was like stepping into that room was like this cocoon of just this soft quietness surrounding you. And it’s like, that’s something that we all want when we go to a hotel, right? So not only does it save energy, but it makes it more comfortable and enjoyable to stay there.

So it’s like there’s a benefit from a user experience point of view as well as from a saving money point of view. It’s, it’s, it’s a win-win, win

across the. Yeah, so I think that making more information like this readily available to the public and letting the public know that these things exist and provide the kinds of comfort and that they aren’t alien to us is an important step.

And then the next step beyond that are people like wild picks. Who is suggesting that there’s always gonna be the vanguard, the people on the edge who are experimenting with the next step, the next evolution. Wild Picks shared this conversation. Dryers using heat pumps are available. That’s what I have in my home.

It uses less power and has no vent, rather than generating hot air to increase evaporation and vent all the humid hot. It condenses moisture from the air onto the coils, which then drain away. I’m sure a commercial use version can be found or made. Hopefully they could have their current dryers retrofitted.

So you’re talking about wild picks is pointing out here, the spike and energy use that this gentleman showed on his phone. There are other technologies that might be available to actually take one step further to remove some of those spikes. So thanks wild picks for that comment.

There is one thing about that.

He’s a hundred percent correct for consumers, right? Not for commercial scale. And what’s funny is I probably should have been more explicit in the video about that, but like after the video came out, we were seeing that thread of why not a heat pump? Dryer. Mm-hmm. . Cause I’ve done a video about heat pump dryers in the past.

I was on an email chain with Bruce, and Bruce is like, they don’t exist. Like they don’t exist at the commercial scale the hotel would be using. So it’s like he’s still looking. So it’s like if somebody can figure out how to make this at a commercial scale or some company does offer it, he’s gonna be right there in line to buy one.

But they just don’t really exist. Which leads right

to the final comment that I wanted to share. This one’s from a user whose username is simply an underscore, so I’m calling them underscore, but that is not the word underscore. It is literally the symbol underscore. Underscore wrote. I have a special kinship with experimenters like this gentleman.

I’m about to retrofit a residential home and have been wondering why no one inside the US is manufacturing vacuum insulated panels for residential structure. After doing some research, it looks like I can make my own panels for this particular project, there are no examples online explaining how the panels are made or how to install them on residential structures.

So I’ve already got some materials arriving in the mail this week to practice making some small scale VIPs and test their effectiveness against closed cell polyurethane foam and fiberglass. Sometimes you just got to experiment yourself to see if an idea is viable, Underscore. Please come back and share the results of your testing.

Yeah, you may be onto something for the residents that is available for corporate and large scale construction, but maybe it is a gap in the residential buyer’s market. Let us know how it goes. That,

that actually makes me think of, uh, somebody else reached out to me about a new type of window , that it goes beyond the performance of a triple.

A triple uh, glazed window because what they’re doing is the, between the, the panes of glass, they’re creating a vacuum seal between the panes of glass and it gets a better R value than filling it with some kind of other gas. And it’s . You can get up to, I think the windows go up to an R 22, which.

Extraordinary for a window. Like if you get an R 12, R 15, that’s like amazing. That’s like astonishing and they can get up to R 22. Mm. So I’m, I’m really curious underscore to, to hear how your experiment goes because this is really cool. I love it. So

listeners, what do you think about all this? I think that for me, I would like to stay in this hotel.

I don’t have a reason to go to Connecticut and stay overnight, but if I ever do, I think that this would be the hotel I would pick. What do you all think? Are there other things, other technologies that you think would benefit from being in the public eye more so that they would just become part of how people assume our days are going and become more available and accepted by the public in our attempts to improve energy efficiency?

Let us know in the comments. You can do that on YouTube just by going to the comments below the video. Or you can reach out to us directly through the contact information and the podcast description. Don’t forget whether you’re on YouTube or getting this podcast via Apple, Google, Spotify, or anywhere else.

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