Author Archive

Private Tour on July 8

June 18th, 2011 by Tim Eian

We are offering a private tour of the Passive House on July 8th. If you are interested to experience this home in person and would like to hear Tim Eian give you a personal tour, please send us an email or give us a call at 612-246-4670. RSVP only.


Student Tour

April 7th, 2011 by Tim Eian

We are welcoming students from the University of Minnesota this weekend for a tour and lecture at the Passive House in the Woods. Unfortunately, the event is not open to the public but we hope to offer public viewings again some time this year. Stay tuned.


Prep for Midwest Home Open House

September 12th, 2010 by Tim Eian

Passive House in the Woods interior renderingPassive House in the Woods interior rendering 2

This week has been full of activity – inside and out. There seems to be a craftsperson or contractor in every room as we near the big finish for the upcoming Midwest Home Tour. The Passive House is being sponsored by Midwest Home as a wonderful example of green living. The free tour takes place on September 18th from 1-4. Many of the house’s sponsors are working hard to have the house in tip top shape.

As the project nears completion, the design we created seems to materialize right before our eyes. The USON tile was delivered this week and is currently being installed in all three bathrooms. The wood floors, cabinets and counter tops are in. Lighting and furniture will be installed this next week. As these items are installed the project moves quickly from a work site to a living environment.nEven our patios and decks will have furniture to enjoy the vast St Croix views.

As with all projects, there is much to be accomplished in the last couple of weeks. I have included two renderings completed by Erin Heikkinen, a designer at InUnison Design, Inc. They demonstrate the design concept of this wonderful home and give a taste of what you will see when you visit the Passive House in the Woods.


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.


Interior Design

May 14th, 2010 by Tim Eian

The structure for the PHitW has been underway for sometime now.  Windows are being delivered soon, the ventilation system has arrived and the roof is on. All the while, the interiors team has been working on finish selections that include: Tile, wall treatments, floor finishes, cabinetry finishes, and elevations to detail all of this design. Some of the other details involve lighting and plumbing fixtures, appliance selection, counter top materials, and hardware throughout the home.

Tim Eian, Gary Konkol, Erin Heikkenen and myself have discussed function, durability, design and cost as all of these details have been massaged into a design concept that is consistent with the original architectural direction. A modern aesthetic is central to the overall design with a strong consideration of function for the home owner.

Of course, due to the environmental focus of this project, we have considered many variables when making decisions, ranging from where a product comes from, material and manufacturing process, to what happens at the end of its lifecycle.

The interior construction phase is one in which most people begin to understand the design concept, as it is realized inside the home.  Many hours of meetings with Gary (the client) and Tim (the designer) to finalize the selection of finishes and materials are now part of the construction document package Morr Construction will use in building the interior.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting additional blogs that show interior detailing as it is implemented.

Christine Frisk is the owner of InUnison Design, and the interior designer for the Passive House in the Woods.

Interior Finish Materials.

Interior Finish Materials.

Reviewing tile elevations with Tim and Gary

Reviewing tile elevations with Tim and Gary

Erin and Christine presenting cabinetry details

Erin and Christine presenting cabinetry details

Gary, Christine and Erin confirming tile and floor materials

Gary, Christine and Erin confirming tile and floor materials


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.


FSC Certified Lumber – a Positive Relationship with the Land

April 12th, 2010 by Tim Eian

The focus of the Passive House in the Woods is energy efficiency.  In this post however I would like to turn your attention to another important aspect of the project.  Though the house is built from Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICFs) and is sheathed with an Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) there is still a large quantity of wood used on the project for the floor and roof assemblies, the framing of interior walls, and the framing of the garage.  I tip my hat to Morr Construction for procuring FSC certified wood for all these applications.

FSC certified plywood sheathing FSC certified studs

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organization that Read on »


Minnesota GreenStar Certification

April 3rd, 2010 by Tim Eian

Upon completion, the Passive House in the Woods will be earning certification from MN GreenStar. MN GreenStar is a green building program that was developed to address the unique building conditions that exist in a cold climate region. The program sets the standard for sustainable design and construction in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, so through certification, the Passive House in the Woods will be documented as a leader in green building.

MN GreenStar uses a checklist to determine the certification level: Bronze, Silver, or Gold. The certification level is based on the number of points the project earns. The Passive House in the Woods is projected to earn a Gold certification, the highest level possible. The checklist system of MN GreenStar allows the builder to examine individual components of the project across all areas of construction throughout the construction process.

There are several challenges with using the MN GreenStar program for the Passive House in the Woods. Some construction methods and components critical to passive house design can not be accurately accounted for in the HERS Index, a performance rating system used with the MN GreenStar program. Also, those same construction methods and components are not all included in the program’s checklist, and in fact, are actually better then items in the checklist. The MN GreenStar program, however, does provide an opportunity to earn points not captured by the checklist through the submittal of a proposal for innovation points. It is our hope that MN GreenStar will recognize these challenges and help inform the content of the checklist as the program continues to develop and improve.

In using the MN GreenStar program, both the client and the builder benefit. The documentation required by the certification process provides verification that the house is constructed to the standard MN GreenStar sets for green building. The checklist format is easily comprehendible by the client and encourages their involvement in the building process. The checklist can also inform the client in decisions they are responsible for making. In the case of the Passive House in the Woods, the checklist has helped the client select finishes, appliances, and water fixtures.

In certifying the Passive House in the Woods by a holistic green building program like MN GreenStar, the opportunity to examine the construction process and building techniques is created. The program not only strongly encourages and promotes sustainable design and construction, but ultimately makes for a better way to build.

Amanda Spice is a project developer at Morr Construction.


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.