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!