Archive for March, 2010

The Drive By

March 26th, 2010 by Tim Eian
J and Josh in front of the Passive House in the Woods

J Chesnut and Josh Crenshaw

It has been fun to be coming to this job site from the very beginning. Driving up the road each morning and seeing the square, white, Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) cooler rising from the ground between the rows of suburban homes. It is this first view through the trees that draws people to take a left turn and drive to the end of the road for a closer look. Most people just sit in their cars for a moment, then turn around and drive away, one so quickly that they took out the neighbor’s mailbox. Not to worry, it was easily fixed. A few have been brave enough to get out of their cars and ask a question or two. One resident of the neighborhood actually showed a keen interest in the project and grew more excited as we laid out the grander vision for the Passive House design. The most cautious have been the dog walkers; they only come to where the pavement ends half way down the block.

I think it must be the modern design that causes the curious to come in for a closer look: the flat roof, square sides, and not a diagonal in sight. You wouldn’t think that a white box would cause that much attention.  ICF is not new, it has been around since the 70’s in commercial construction and has made great strides in the residential market in the last couple of years. Thermal mass makes a lot of sense in our climate, especially in the swing seasons. Maybe word about this project is starting to get out. We have yet to install the ultra high performance windows that tilt and turn inward, or the 11” of exterior foam on the outside of the ICF. The steel deck structure and stair tower will certainly get some attention and people will surely slow down and take notice when we install the photovoltaic and solar thermal systems.

People always take note when a new house goes up, or when a new product is tried for the first time, or when a new design ends up in a traditional setting. Our curious nature causes us to seek out things that are different and we often pass judgment on it. Will it work? Is it better than the old thing I had? What do you have to sacrifice to get it?  Do I like how it looks? There is always a risk in trying something new, of changing the paradigm, or raising the expectation.  When we shift the paradigm or change the level of expectation we expose ourselves to failure and success. Yet we will often be judged by what people see as they drive down the road and they see us from a distance. The true success of this project will be when people take that left turn, come down the road and into the driveway, get out of their cars and start talking about what makes this house special. Only then can we start to have the conversation about how we live and how to improve the homes we live in.

Josh Crenshaw, Tim Eian, Steve Swanson at Passive House in the Woods

Josh Crenshaw, Tim Delhey Eian, Steve Swanson

Josh Crenshaw is the site supervisor for the Passive House in the Woods project. He works with Morr Construction.


Shape Shifting

March 20th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

Passive House in the Woods and Garage

The exterior shape of house and garage are now near complete. What we are missing is the exterior insulation package, which will add almost one foot to the overall size of the house. The front entry area will also be sheltered by a canopy roof and side wall structure. All in all however, this image gives us a first glimpse at the final geometry of the two buildings side-by-side.

The garage is built using conventional stick-frame construction. We are using advanced stick-framing to reduce the amount of FSC certified wood. The shell is clad with an exterior grade gypsum sheathing. This is the more common substraight for exterior finish and insulation systems.

There will be two east-facing garage doors, and a south-facing side door. This is the only access to the house. There is no interior door connecting the two structures, to avoid both thermal disruptions, as well as a potential for interior air pollution from exhaust gases in the garage.

On top of the garage, the flat roof will be filled with sedums, planted in a tray system. This will minimize storm water run-off and create a more pleasant view from the roof top terrace up above. Remaining run-off is slated to be captured in rain barrels for use on site.


Through the Woods

March 20th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

Through the WoodsPassive House in the Woods from the woods

The client took these photo, offering a new perspective of the house from the woods.


The Buzz

March 15th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

The Passive House in the Woods project is currently featured in the spring edition of Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine in the Buzz section. The article is called: “Zero Footprint”.


Site Considerations

March 15th, 2010 by Tim Delhey Eian

Passive House in the Woods building site

The Challenge

The first person to join the Passive House in the Woods team was Laurie McRostie—a south Minneapolis landscape architect. Laurie brings years of experience with sustainable landscape design to this project. The site, while beautiful, provided a fair challenge for any professional. Heavy woods and shrubbery filled this southwest facing slope. A huge front setback governed by the Hudson Township pushed the area in which any building can be placed well down the hill from the front elevation. A hefty elevation change added to the challenge of placing a house, garage, and driveway in an earth-friendly manor.

Collaboration and Strategies

At TE Studio, we collaborated with Laurie and the client to complete a detailed analysis including the existing significant trees and plans, drainage patterns, slope and grade changes, soil types, and the location of views on an off site. We determined the easiest and most welcoming entry point to the site, while maintaining maximum solar exposure. The elevation of the building was set such that minimal grading and site disturbance would be required. We focused on our client’s needs to maximize the enjoyment and use of outdoor space.

The Result

As a result of these efforts, we were able to save significant trees and control tree loss. Kiln-dried wood from the site will actually go back into the building as trim and flooring. The access to the home is welcoming and clear. We captured maximum solar exposure and limited the amount of grading necessary. Our design captures stormwater for reuse and infiltration in rain gardens. The garage features a green roof to further minimize storm water runoff. Our client preserved plants for site restoration. Laurie’s new site plan includes native landscape preservation and restoration to prairie and woodland. In addition, the site will be used for intense, localized food production. The exterior deck structure and rooftop terrace capture dramatic views of the woods and the St. Croix river valley. The choice of materials is based on durability, local sourcing, and the use of recycled content.

Passive House in the Woods landscape master plan

We look forward to sharing impressions of these efforts later in the year.


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