Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

The Green Roof Has Arrived

May 3rd, 2012 by Tim Delhey Eian

Passive House in the Woods Green Roof

The green roof on top of the garage has just been installed. I captured this image in the afternoon hours so it is a bit hard to make out the little plants with the shadows of the trees to the West obscuring the view. The early spring, warm temperatures and frequent rains should help it fill in quickly. This vegetated roof will be very pleasant to view during the ascent to the rooftop terrace, which was also partially planted.

On an unrelated note, I captured the image below of the shadows of the trees on the stucco of the West facade. I always liked how shadows animate the stucco facades and create an interesting visual interaction between the house and its natural surroundings.

Passive House in the Woods: Shadows on Stucco Facade


Photo Gallery

October 18th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

Passive House in the Woods, plank

My talented wife Amy Eian put together a beautiful slideshow based on the gorgeous photos Chad Holder took. You may find the gallery by clicking on this link or the image above.



October 8th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

I finally took some photos that show the exterior of the home. Enjoy.


Mechanical Systems

May 28th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

The building is currently in the “rough-in” stage, which means that electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems are being installed.


Passive House in the Woods wiring

Wiring bundles

Passive House in the Woods electrical box

Electrical box

Both line and low voltage wiring are installed by EHS. They take great care in a clean installation that is easy to understand. Low voltage and line voltage lines are run in separate bundles in an effort to keep signals within undisturbed.

The electrical system in a Passive House is similar to ordinary electric systems with the exception that any protrusion through exterior walls or the roof are being sealed for air-tightness and uninterrupted insulation.

Gary chose to have a lighting control system by Lutron installed. This is not required by the Passive House standard but can help reduce lighting-related energy loads.


Passive House in the Woods, air admittance valve

Plumbing with air-admittance valve

Passive House in the Woods insulated water supply lines

Insulated water supply lines

Passive House in the Woods wall-hung toilet rough-in

Wall-hung toilet rough-in

The plumbing system is very simple. The design of the home puts most of it in one single wall that extends vertically from the basement to the second floor throughout the home. This means short waste and supply pipe runs, and an economical installation. The supply lines are copper, and continuously insulated for efficiency. The waste lines are PVC, and mostly insulated. Warm waste water is used to pre-warm the well-water that is being pumped into the hot water tank, upping the efficiency of the hot water system. Additionally, hot water is being pre-heated by a solar thermal collector on the roof. Last but not least, an electric on-demand water heater can boost the water temperature if the combination of waste-water heat recovery and solar thermal pre-heating do not make it hot enough. 85% of the hot water needs will not require the on-demand unit.

The plumbing system in a Passive House is similar to ordinary plumbing systems with the exception that pipe runs are continuously insulated, and that air-admittance valves are being used instead of vent stacks.


Passive House in the Woods ventilation system

Ventilation system (duct and ceiling box)

Passive House in the Woods Passive House certified Luefta ventilation machine

Passive House certified Lüfta ventilation machine

The ventilation system is at the heart of each Passive House. This building will utilize a Passive House certified Lüfta heat recovery ventilator from Germany, supplied by Peak Building Products. It will be combined with a 600 foot PEX earth loop provided by Rehau—buried below frost on the property. This system will pre-warm, or pre-cool and dehumidify the incoming ventilation air and boost the system’s efficiency to well above 90%. The Luefta machine will supply the entire home with outside air year-round, and exhaust air from the bathrooms and kitchen. The ductwork comes from Inno-Products and is comprised of a home-run layout with 3″ diameter plastic flex-ducts. The systems throughput is being adjusted by sensors that measure both CO2 and humidity levels in the air. This setup means that the homeowner does not have to adjust ventilation rates, and that the system will ramp down when it’s not needed to conserve energy.

Backup Heating

Nuheat standard mats, product image

Nuheat standard mats

Nuheat is supplying electric in-floor heating mats on room temperature thermostats. There are 7 zones throughout the home that can be individually adjusted. The entire system is sized to supply a peak heat load of 10 kBtu—about 3,000 Watts, or the equivalent of running 2 hair dryers at the same time. This represents a 90% reduction in heating system over most conventional construction today.

The heating system in a Passive House is very different from ordinary heating systems. It is merely a backup for long stretches of extremely cold and cloudy days in the winter and does not compare to conventional systems in terms of its capacity.

Renewable Systems

Passive House in the Woods PV tracker, underside

PV tracker, underside

Passive House in the Woods stand-offs for solar PV and thermal systems

Stand-offs for solar PV and thermal systems

Energy Concepts helped with the design of the renewable energy systems. There are three systems that will go into the building: A solar photovoltaic tracker, a photovoltaic panel array, and a solar thermal domestic hot water system. The photovoltaic systems are scheduled to produce about 6,750 kWh of electricity annually, while the solar thermal panel has the capability to pre warm enough domestic hot water to provide 85% of the annual demand. The remaining portion of heat needed will be supplied with the help of a Stiebel-Eltron booster heater.


Pinch Me

May 23rd, 2010 by Tim Eian
Passive House in the Woods on 5/10/2010

Passive House in the Woods on 5/10/2010

For Morr Construction Services Inc. the Passive House in the Woods has been a ‘pinch me’ moment from the time the plans were originally brought to our office. The overall concept of a house that can maintain its internal comfort at the highest level with a net positive energy production seems almost impossible unless you live in southern California where the sun shines almost constantly and the weather is nearly perfect to start with. To build this concept in the upper midwest with some of the harshest weather in the US is a daunting prospect, but one we at Morr Construction Services Inc. were extremely interested to pursue. A few years ago we were presented with a project that was to be site-neutral in terms of energy use. Some of the technology was not quite ready and the overall design, being very large and luxurious, seemed somewhat antithetical to the concept. Although we succeeded in building a very efficient home for its size, the building was not ‘engineered’ so much as ‘designed’ and the energy production and efficiency took a back seat to architectural design and amenities. The Passive House design is a modern architectural statement where the engineering is an integral part of the design process, not an added component on a traditional plan. This seems to us to be a more holistic approach and appeals to us on the level of a building systems approach, where all aspects of a design are evaluated for performance as well as aesthetics.

Passive House in the Woods southwest elevation

Southwest elevation on 5/10/2010

It has been both a privilege and an education to be involved in the discussions concerning construction details, weighing in with cost and durability concerns as well as feasibility and implementation. Our work qualifying subcontractors bids has put Morr Construction Services Inc. into the role of educator as well as overseer because many of the subcontractors are operating on a different level than what they are used to. The protocols concerning durability, sustainability, and indoor air quality are not universally applied in the homebuilding industry and we have had to search out the most technically advanced participants in our area. With the windows on the way and the framing completed, we are looking forward to sharing some of the details and concepts of the Passive House in the Woods with our colleagues and associates at upcoming tours. On that note, we had a great time explaining the thick wall section we brought to the Living Green Expo that replicates the exterior wall construction of the PhitW. We’ll take it again to the Greening the Heartland show at the convention center next week and see if we can raise a few more eyebrows.

All the best,
Steve Swanson,
Remodeling Project Developer,
Morr Construction Services Inc.


Mini Series Part 4: Powered by Electricity?

May 13th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

Yes, the Passive House in the Woods home is powered by electricity; and yes, electricity is predominantly a dirty fuel in this country—mostly generated by burning coal. However, electricity is a universal fuel that will likely prevail when other fuels become unfeasible. In addition, it can and is being generated in many different ways. Some of these options are NOT dirty at all and one of these cleaner options is photovoltaic power made with the help of solar panels.

Passive House in the Woods, footing for solar tracker

Pouring a footing for the solar tracker

PV Tracker

PV tracker similar to this project

Gary decided to use solar electricity and generate it on site with the help of a solar tracker as well as a Read on »


Mini Series Part 3: Assembly Design

May 12th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

As Passive House designers, we are concerned with air-tightness and insulation value, as well as indoor environmental quality, hygrothermal performance, embodied energy, and green interior design. We selected construction methods and materials that combine highest performance with durability, robustness, and reasonable environmental impact. We preferred local product where suitable, and specialized product as needed to meet performance and aesthetic goals–always with a focus on the client’s vision, sustainable design, and the greater good.

Passive House performance is in the details. We meticulously defined air-barrier, vapor barrier, and insulation thickness at any junction, and made sure that they are continuous throughout.

Careful assembly design and detailing plays a huge roll in high-performance buildings. This is our specialty and we bring years of experience to this process. During the construction process, we assist the general contractor with site observations to help see details all the way through production. After all, it is on the job site where the performance is built.

Passive House in the Woods continuous insulation below the slab

Continuous insulation below the basement slab

Passive House in the Woods, air and vapor barrier at basement slab

Sealed air and vapor barrier below the basement slab

Passive House in the Woods, basement slab

Finished basement slab

Tomorrow: Powered by Electricity?


Mini Series: 5 PHitW Highlights

May 10th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

This week we’ll embark on a little mini-series, highlighting 5 reasons why the Passive House in the Woods project is a sustainable project.

The leapfrog design of the Passive House in the Woods is based on integrated design and the holistic idea of building and living. Gary approached us with a vision of carbon-neutral, low impact building. That in itself does not sound like much. But we quickly realized how serious he is about it, and embraced the idea by assembling and leading a team of experts to deliver on all fronts of sustainability.

Highlight #1: Low Energy Footprint and Carbon Emissions:

We chose Passive House design—the world’s leading building energy standard—to create a building envelope that is extremely efficient to begin with. It is, in fact so efficient, that even in climate zone 7 it can be heated with two hair-dryers on the coldest, darkest days of winter. The energy model we created shows a predicted energy consumption of 4,200 kWh per year. This will be offset by a 4.7 kW photovoltaic system, generating an average of 6,750 kWh per year—making the building net energy positive (makes more energy that it consumes), and delivering carbon-neutral operation for two people in the home. (calculated with the Passive House Planning Package 2007)

Tomorrow: Highlight #2: Site Integration


Plants, Life, Bugs and Beauty

May 7th, 2010 by Tim Eian

You can build a sustainable, energy efficient, healthy, home that will contribute to a lifestyle that is economical, carbon neutral and comfortable but you might be killing all the bugs! What has made me so excited about the Passive House in the Woods project is that we are not killing the bugs, or the soil, or the existing trees, shrubs, plants and sedges, or the water.  You are probably wondering – “so bugs are a hassle why are they so important?”

Douglas W. Tallamy wrote a book “Bringing Nature Home” published by Timber Press He describes the ecology of native plants and how critical plants and bugs are to life. All our food comes from plants (even if you eat animals, those animals eat plants!). If we don’t have bugs plants are not pollinated and flowers, fruit, and our food don’t grow. Bugs make soil alive and all plants live in soil. Can you start to see just how important bugs are? No bugs, No plants, No food, No life.

This is a pretty brief description of the connection between bugs and life, and I would encourage you to explore further. It will help change your perception of landscape, gardening, our environment and finally beauty.

This brings us to a point where we need to reconsider and actually relearn what we think about beautiful.  I believe an environment that supports life and is thriving, healthy, and sustainable must be a place where abundant populations of insects exist.  This kind of landscape will not look like the gardens and lawns we have come to expect in our world. Look at a landscape or garden that has been designed full of native plants and trees, where no herbicide or insecticide has been used to control weeds or bugs. See a place that is sustaining life, a bug’s life, your life.

This garden, at first glance, might seem a little messy or unplanned but we can learn, we must learn, to love how it looks because it is life and life is beautiful.

Laurie McRostie is the landscape architect for the Passive House in the Woods project.


Solar Power

May 3rd, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

by Peter Henry, Energy Concepts

As sustainable design moves out of its infancy and tries to establish norms and standards for new construction, one of its central challenges is how to create energy that can power an entire house–and where possible–feed any surplus back to the grid.

Energy Concepts (ECI) was contacted early on as the Passive House in the Woods project concepts were being explored. As 2009 Focus on Energy Market Provider of the Year, ECIʼs veteran engineer Craig Tarr has the kind of experience and technical background to make a “carbon neutral” building become “carbon negative”–that is, a building that produces more energy than it consumes.

There is nothing more sustainable than creating a building that is a net producer of energy rather than a consumer. Given the problems of fossil fuel electricity production, this is likely to be the “gold standard” in sustainable design going forward. Quite simply: if we are not part of generating societyʼs solutions, than we are part of its problem; or at least, are certainly subject to its problems.

With that in mind, ECI set out to design a system that would meet a high standard: producing at least as much energy as it consumes. Read on »