In the news…

Activity at the house is moving as quickly as humanly possible these days and while the crews have a nice break this Memorial Day weekend, Nancy and I are still going full-tilt as several things near completion—and that’s great news! More on that in subsequent posts…but there’s other ‘news’ being reported this weekend that we also want to share.


Our Root River House captured a headline in this weekend’s “Travel & Style” section of the Rochester (MN) Post-Bulletin. It’s a nice overview of what we’re doing and why—though at first glance, the ‘Tiny House’ headline might have some thinking about the Tiny House Movement, an approach to living in houses that are typically less than 500 square feet.

The online version of the headline is “Not too big, not too small — just right,” which is really our story. As writer Melissa McNallan points out, by comparison to many other homes, our 1500+ square feet is relatively small—and compared to other houses we’ve lived in, it’s a significant downsizing. And that’s what it’s about—sizing a house to meet the basic needs of those who occupy it. If you’ve kept up with our blog, you already know that our basic needs include having spaces to prepare food, dine, read, sleep, shower, do laundry, make things, watch movies, and work.

As the article suggests, downsizing means there’s very little “space without purpose.” Every room in this house serves at least two functions—no guest rooms sitting idle between family visits as they also serve as home-offices and a den; a multipurpose kitchen/dining/living room; combination bath/laundry room, with a second bathroom that fronts for our mechanical room; and a hallway that includes the front entry on one end, the side entry on the other, and a ‘gallery’ of bookcases, artwork and keepsakes sandwiched in between.

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[Scenes captured by photographer Jerry Olson, Rochester Post-Bulletin; clockwise from upper left: looking northwest at the house and garage against the distant bluffs; our main builder (and consummate professional), Jeff Vilen; us.]

The multipurpose theme also carries into our detached garage—two-car size—connected to the house by a combination breezeway/porch, with shop, storage, and project-room space tucked into various open spaces in the garage. The multipurpose use even extends to the storm cellar, under part of the garage, which is designed to hold a cistern for collecting rain water and to serve as a root cellar for wintering over garden produce.

All in all, ‘tiny’ is relative and I’m not here to debate the definition…only trying to put ‘size’ in perspective as it relates to our goals. But small does have its advantages…it minimizes the need for materials, reduces the impact on the environment, and it’s designed to be net-zero: It’ll pay its own way—that’s a great bottom line!

Speaking of net-zero…

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There’s news this week that those behind the U.S Passive House movement are working to clarify the role net-zero design can play in building a Passive House (PH). The report, posted by Katrin Klingenberg, executive director of the Passive House Institute U.S., explains that this update stems from a debate going on behind the scenes for the past couple of years regarding criteria for PH certification in this country.

Originally based on European Passivhaus criteria, PH designers in the United States have often found it challenging to meet certification criteria based on a one-size-fits-all climate model—not surprisingly given the weather variables that stretch across the 48 contiguous states. What appears to be emerging is a revised set of criteria that takes these climate variables into account, identifies net-zero as an appropriate PH goal, and acknowledges the role that alternative energy systems (solar-driven photovoltaic, primarily) can play in meeting the criteria.

At first blush we applaud the direction this appears to be going and anxiously await the final report later this year. Who knows—our project may be closer to having actually met PH certification than we’d imagined! (See our architect Christi Weber’s Project Overview for background on this.)


Also in the news, details of this year’s Midwest Renewable Energy Fair—including presentations by our architect, Christi Weber, on Passive House design and our own Root River House project. A Pre-Fair Guide  is available with an overview of what’s planned; the final guide is expected to be available early in June. The gathering takes place June 20-22, 2014 near Stevens Point, Wisconsin. We recommend it as a great primer for anyone thinking about sustainable, net-zero, energy-efficient housing projects—new or old!

weber youtube pic

For a preview, of sorts, watch Christi’s 2012 Passive House presentation, available on YouTube. We’re looking forward to this year’s update!


WTC pic102_1442-1102_1438-1102_1448-1

…we note that commencement at La Crosse, Wisconsin’s Western Technical College (WTC) was in the news this past month; among the graduates were several who had helped test the air-tightness of our house earlier this year. Students in the Center for Building Innovations program, along with their instructor and Passive House Certified designer Josh VandeBerg, conducted two blower-door tests as our project progressed, affirming that we were staying well within PH guidelines.

swipht houseSwiPHT banner

These WTC students were also busy keeping an eye on their own project this year—WTC’s SwiPHT (Structures with Integrated Passive House Technology) house, La Crosse’s first certified Passive House. You can learn more about the project in WTC’s Essential Experience magazine (pages 14-15)  or in this interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Newsmakers program.

Next up, the Luther College (Decorah, Iowa) alumni magazine is sending a writer to report on the project; the appeal: Nancy and our lead builder, Jeff Vilen, are both Luther graduates…imagine that!

So, that’s the news—congratulations and thank you everyone for helping share the story. We hope it inspires others to follow their dreams!

PS: News stories often have a sidebar—here’s ours: We celebrated our wedding anniversary this weekend…persisting TOGETHER!





Lanesboro, Minnesota
Climate Zone 6 (cold/moist)
Latitude: 43° 44' 18'' N
Longitude: 91° 54' 48'' W

House Size

Net Treated Floor Area: 1,514 SF
Gross Square Footage (House only): 2,210 SF

Building Envelope

Roof: R-99
Wall: R-61
Ground: R-53

Windows & Doors

Glazing: U-0.10 BTU / hour / sq. ft.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): 0.48”
Frame: U-0.19 BTU / hour / sq. ft.

Modeled Performance

Specific Primary Energy Demand (Source Energy Demand): 12.1 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Specific Space Heat Demand: 7.0 kBTU/sq. ft. / year

Peak Heating Load: 7,047 BTU / hour

Space Cooling Demand: 0.44 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Peak Cooling Load: 3,625 BTU / hour

Pressure Test Goal: Whole House Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) = 0.4 ACH 50


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