Ice Box Challenge Pgh

How Did 1800 Pounds of Ice Hold Up in the Pittsburgh Sun?

By Maya Henry Posted on October 10, 2018

               Photo by Marissa Dello Russo of AIA Pittsburgh

Curious to hear how 1800 pounds of ice has held up over the past four weeks in the Pittsburgh sun (and rain) while encased in two separate boxes designed to simulate conventional construction methods versus Passive House Standard?

If you’re an architect (and a gambler) you can feel pretty confident betting that the ice in the Ice Box built to Passive House Standard will win out.  And you would be right.  The Passive House Standard Ice Boxes consistently retain at least four times more ice than the conventional boxes.

Passive House Standard is a proven methodology for achieving high-performance from almost any building type and is the only internationally recognized performance-based building energy standard. The approach is becoming a more common solution for achieving high-performance buildings on the East Coast and beyond. Locally, it is championed by Passive House Western Pennsylvania.

Because of the methodology’s simplicity, passive house buildings are easy to maintain and for users to utilize. High-performance buildings remain comfortable during power outages and extreme weather and their maintenance and energy costs remain low over the long term.

The concept of the Ice Box Challenge began in Brussels, Belgium, as part of an educational campaign leading up to that city’s incorporation of Passive House into building code – any new construction in Brussels is built to PH standards.  The Ice Box Challenge scientific demonstration project has since spread across North America from Vancouver to Washington, D.C.

The boxes were designed and built in Vancouver and presented as part of the Vancouver Ice Box Challenge in Summer 2017. Stark Architects and Footprint Sustainable Hosting provided design and construction.  During the New York City Ice Box Challenge the Brussels Capital-Region commissioned Belgian street artist Oli-B to paint the boxes, creating a colorful interpretation of two alternate futures for building practice.

Each Ice Box sits tightly on its own platform. The Ice Boxes are both built with timber studs and plywood. The Passive House Ice Box is insulated with Rockwool insulation and its window is triple-glazed, according to the Passive House Standard, with Cascadia Windows. Both structures are clad in treated oriented strand board, which is painted and waterproofed.

The difference is in simple thermodynamics, says C.J. Thouret of Crux Homes, a Passive House construction company.  Thouret has been involved in the construction of Ice Box Challenges in Philadelphia and D.C. before coming to Pittsburgh for the most recent one, which was revealed last Friday, October 5th.

In Pittsburgh, the final Ice Block Weights were 84 pounds in the Code Box and 537 pounds in the Passive House Box, so approximately 6 times the amount of ice remained in the Passive House Box.  Thouret adds that he has yet to see an Ice Box Challenge where the Passive House Standard Box didn’t come out clearly as the winner.

While Ice Boxes use similar construction materials, the Passive House Standard box increases air sealing keeping the interior at a consistently lower temperature. This graph of the Philadelphia Ice Box Challenge compares the exterior temperature with the interior temperature of the Ice Boxes.

The Ice Box Challenge, brought to Pittsburgh by NK Architects, precedes the North American Passive House Network Conference + Expo taking place October 17-21 at the David L. Lawrenceville Convention Center.  Tickets are still available, and AIA members can receive a $50 discount on the 2-day registration.  Just enter the discount code: NAPHNAIA and write AIA Pittsburgh in the WEBSITE field of the registration.

Click here to see the construction and results from the recent Philly Ice Box Challenge.

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