Author Archive

One month of occupancy in my Passive House, an update

December 5th, 2010 by Gary Konkol

Passive House in the Woods winter impressions

1940 square feet seemed large, but when it comes to filling the spaces with furniture and possessions, it didn’t take long to realize I had more than I needed.  Goodwill has been the beneficiary.

Having three house levels plus a roof terrace, leads to lots of steps, just like a built in stair master.  I thought I was exercising prior to my move, but my legs tell me I wasn’t exercising enough by their aching, however, it didn’t take long for this to resolve.

The views are wonderful.  The snow has really cleaned up the landscape while coating the trees.  Star gazing is great from the roof terrace, as is the “living” in the tree tops during the day and watching the birds in trees as well as soaring overhead.  So far the herd of 6 neighborhood deer have not been a frequent visitor of my yard, we’ll see how my deer fence fares when the plants start sprouting and looking more tasty for the deer.   One nervous 8 point buck, was walking on the outside of my fence a few weeks ago.  He hasn’t returned; yet.

My biggest surprise has been the amount of heat the windows allow into the house.  Sitting in the sun a few weekends ago, it was clear that this was not a typical indoor sun experience.  The sun was warmer than what I had previously noted in my other houses.  It was comfortably warm.  Listening to Tim Eian during a house tour the next week, I finally heard the window stats in context.  64% of the sun’s heat is transmitted through the windows into the structure, more than twice as much heat as a standard window will allow.  Earlier in the Fall, I needed to lower the exterior shades to prevent the house from overheating.  After this experience, I thought I would see how long I could have my in floor heating mats unplugged before the house became too uncomfortable.  On Sunday, 11/28/2010, after a mostly cloudy 8 days, I plugged in the heating mats with the house temperature at 60 degrees.  It took about one day for the temperature to normalize at 67 degrees.

On sunny days the house temperature goes up 10-15 degrees using only solar heating through the windows along with the heat my two dogs and canary contribute, with an outdoor temperature of 10-30 degrees.

Similarly, the solar hot water and photovoltaic systems are very sensitive to the cloud cover.  But even on the 10 degree days, the solar hot water tank gets up to 100 degrees.

This relationship of the house to the sun, outside and weather has heightened my awareness of the outdoors in my day to day living.  The large windows and grand views only add to this awareness.  It is a comfortable awareness and increased connectedness to the larger world; even if it is only outside my window.

The cold weather brought house contraction sounds; some quite loud.  It took a me a while to determine this was the cause of my dogs being skittish and on a hunger strike last week.  Fortunately, they and I have become accustomed to this “house talk”, as well as having less of this settling as time has passed.

As the weather turned cold, I noticed Box Elder bugs on the windows.  Unlike my previous houses, this time the bugs were on the outside.  Certainly, a nice change.

As I was shoveling this morning I saw little footprints of a mouse or vole had circled my garaged looking for a crevice to gain entry.  No such luck for the little rascal, he’ll just have to stay in the woodpile this winter.  Such a nice perk of a Passive House, it’s built very tight and by extension, so is my garage, at least for rodents!

Have an enjoyable Holiday Season, stay warm, but do get outside!


Earth Day—One Planet, One Earth, One Home

April 22nd, 2010 by Gary Konkol

Passive House in the Woods, oak leaves
Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  So much has been done by environmental pioneers Rachel Carson, Jacques Cousteau, Wisconsin’s own United States Senator and Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson and others; but much remains to be done.  Our visible pollution has been greatly reduced, but the less visible greenhouse gases, endocrine disruptors, pesticides and herbicides remain.

How small our planet has become was made evident to me by a volcano erupting in Iceland.  A “rush” air freight order of the ventilation system for Hudson’s PHitW from Germany, is no longer the certainty it was two weeks ago.

Smoke stack exhaust from a coal fired electric plant in the Ohio Valley deposits mercury in the lakes and therefore fish I catch in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota.  Minnesota’s Department of Health recommends limited consumption of these wilderness fish for health reasons.

Our world is too small to continue to treat it like a waste receptacle.

We can do better.

We must do better.

Despite overwhelming evidence, some believe the world’s climate is not warming, but undergoing “normal” variation.

The Arctic ice cover is melting.  Wildfires burn out of control.  Ancient trees are dying.  Storms grow more violent.  Deserts spread.  Clean water gets scarce.  Farmland turns to dust.  Worldwide, March 2010 is the warmest month of March in the recorded history of the planet.

Even the Shell Oil company states on its website:  ” The scientific evidence is now overwhelming, climate change is a serious global threat, one that demands an urgent worldwide response “.

The ecology of carbon was disrupted by the burning of fossil fuels over the last two hundred years.  The genie is out of the bottle or in other words, the carbon is out of the ground.  Our planet’s homeostasis is disturbed, change is now inevitable.

Some believe that it is too late to alter this warming trend and the anticipated problems it will create.  I disagree.  I believe we all want a healthy environment in a healthy planet with healthy people.  We just don’t agree on how to get there.

We are in an environmental crisis.  Crisis is represented by two symbols in the Chinese language.  One symbol represents DANGER, the other OPPORTUNITY.  Thirty years ago we had an acid rain crisis.  We resolved that problem with a cap and trade solution.

I believe that global warming is our crisis or Dangerous Opportunity of today, one we must not fail to resolve.  A carbon neutral house is a step in the right direction.


Gary Konkol


Site Observations

April 15th, 2010 by Gary Konkol

Spring Ephemeral Woodland AnemonesPassive House in the Woods, Blooming Sedges

I was walking around the lot where the PHitW is being built and found some blooming sedges and spring ephemeral woodland anemones.  I thought I’d share a couple of photos of them with everyone.

The house is looking good.  Even with leaky plastic on the windows, the top two floors of the house were quite warm Sunday afternoon, making it very clear that a ventilation system is needed.  The basement was nice and cool.

The neighbor to the north was impressed with the work crews at the site, he said that he was not inconvenienced at all by the construction.