Interview with an Architect

In this, the next installment of our interview series, we’re super excited to be able to talk with Graham Irwin. Graham was one of the first Passive House Consultants certified in the US, as well as a founding board member of Passive House California and the Passive House Alliance, US (PHAUS). He was subsequently trained by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany as a Passive House project certifier.

You can read more about Graham and his company Essential Habitat here.

Graham is also the architect for our own remodel here at Gimpy Dog Ranch, and we’re very fortunate to have him on board.

Graham, I took a look at your bio on the Essential Habitat website, and I see you’ve got some interesting things in your past, including a degree in physics and a background in software development. How did you first get into construction and architecture, and what made you continue your career in that direction?

Hmmm, long and winding road. I left college (with a degree in Physics) determined to be a musician. I plugged away as a starving artist for ten or so years. During that time, I sought cheap rent, and my strategy was to find dilapidated apartments and fix them up myself. That led on to handyman work, then construction and contracting. Along the way, I felt I had design insight and that led me toward architecture, which now serves as my principal artistic outlet and allows me to support my family! Ironically, discovering Passive House made my Physics degree relevant to my architecture practice in a way I had not envisioned.

Is there something about the Passive House methodology that especially intrigues you (beyond the obvious, bigger picture benefits of being healthy, sustainable, environmentally sound and extremely energy efficient)?

I had long been interested in sustainability and environmentalism but, frankly, found much of the discourse around “green” building and architecture flush with grand visions but lean on practical application. Passive House is a holistic and idealistic approach that is also extremely analytical, pragmatic and quantified. It brings solid science to the idealism of sustainability.

Is there anyone who has been a source of inspiration for you in the Passive House community?

I am inspired by many of the people involved in the Passive House community. I attend and present at yearly national conferences on Passive House and am continually inspired at awed at the astounding collection of like-minded, well-intended, talented, dedicated and hard-working friends and colleagues from all over the continent, and the globe.

Given that “what do you do for a living?” is such a common question in casual social circumstances, do you ever get tired of explaining what Passive House is?

No. I am always seeking a clearer, simpler explanation. That keeps me motivated and inspired to talk about it.

Andy and I met you by happenstance, and even though we knew we wanted the things that a Passive House remodel would provide, we didn’t know there was a building standard (or a whole movement) around it. Is it typical that your clients are relatively new to the concept, or at this point, have most of them sought you out specifically because of your Passive House expertise?

Mostly they’re seeking me out based on my expertise and reputation in Passive House circles. I was extremely lucky to find the two of you!

Can you share any thoughts about what you think will be especially interesting or challenging about our Gimpy Dog Ranch Passive House remodel?

As with most projects, budget is a concern. The project is very interesting because the property is interesting and compelling, and the “before and after” is an incredible narrative in the making.

There’s a steady stream of spiders and mosquitoes showing up in our trailer…can I look forward to an insect-free environment in our passive house?

There won’t be any cracks in the building. Provided you have window screens, you should be in good shape!

If you could nominate one spider species for the 2015 Spider of the Year Award, which one would it be, and why?

I don’t know that it’s technically a spider, but the “mosquito eater” is a favorite of mine!

3 thoughts on “Interview with an Architect

  1. Hurray for Crane Flies!! You can look them up if you don’t already know that they don’t eat mosquitos (or anything for that matter), but they are so odd and dramatic and strangely beautiful.


    • Hey Tyler! Nice to see you here! I just did some wikipedia-ing and learned that not only are they odd and dramatic and strangely beautiful, but also have very short lifespans in adult form (hence the not eating). At least I think I will recognize one if I see it now.


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