Archive for the ‘Vision’ Category

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: 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


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


The Client’s Vision

March 7th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

My vision is to build a house that is:

  • Efficient in the use of energy, space and water
  • Healthy in air and water quality
  • In harmony and an enhancement for nature outside while inviting nature inside
  • Sustainably built
  • Easy to maintain
  • Fun to live in

I believe Passive House design is the best tool to achieve my vision.

I never envisioned building a house.  I anticipated the process as too stressful in addition to the negative environmental impact of another piece of land being removed from it’s natural state to be developed.

My wife’s cancer journey, resulted in the selling of our home of 19 years and our planning on building a very healthy and energy efficient new house.  Although many we met believe that they design and build “green”; we did not find their definition sufficient.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune article in December 2008, referencing an earlier New York Time article, introduced me to Passive House.  I ordered the Passive House Institute’s book (Homes for a Changing Climate); after reading it I knew I found my house.  Resource listings in the book led me to Certified Passive Houseâ„¢ consultant and professional building designer, Tim Eian, located in Minneapolis.  Tim and his assistant, J Chestnut, have a passion for their work, particularly Passive House and sustainable living.

Tim’s passion for Passive House is infectious.  He has helped me assemble a team to build my house that has similarly become infected with this passion.  Being surrounded by such enthusiasm has resulted in a “fun” planning and building environment that has greatly reduced the stress of this process.  The people of Morr Construction have continued this “destressing” with their competency, honesty and experience.  I’d particularly like to mention Sean Morrissey, Josh Crenshaw and Steve Swanson; the latter two are the producers and stars of the construction videos on this web site.  Christine Frisk and her assistant, Erin Heikkinen of InUnison Design have been invaluable with suggestions about colors, styles and design in the interior and exterior.  Carol Chaffee of Chaffee Lighting, has been helpful with lighting both inside and outside, but lighting that will do the task creatively without using energy excessively.  Laurie McRostie of McRostie Landscape Architect, has been very helpful with integrating the outside of the building with the nature scape and providing a plan of restoration when the building is completed.

Passive House is a concept that has not been applied in my cold climate in reproducible, residential housing.  We are confident we will attain this goal and continue the process with the Appleseed project of North Minneapolis.

Unfortunately, my wife will not see the results of this effort as her illness overtook her last year.  But the initiative she started has led to a building that will be very efficient, very healthy and fun to live in.  I build with the hope others will learn from this building project about how they can enhance their housing options also.

Gary Konkol