Breaking Ground

On one hand, it was just another in a series of gray, overcast days similar to what we’ve experienced for the past six weeks—underscored by the fact that May set numerous records for the amount of rain we’ve had this spring. On the other hand, it was the day we’ve been anticipating for three years—in fact, exactly three years since we bought our property and began this journey.

We broke new ground, today. The weather—as unpredictable as it’s been—trumped any plans for gathering those who have been encouraging and supporting us these past few years to break sod with a golden shovel. Instead, Stan our excavator, nudged his fork-tined backhoe into the top soil just enough to peel off the first few inches, and began building the first of many piles of rich black soil off to the side, carefully preserving it for the day it’s graded back into place around the house with the promise of bringing life to a crop of native prairie grasses and more.

Stan is one with his backhoe and bucket; they’re a natural extension of his hands, legs, and vision for how to prepare the land. You know what they say about boys and their toys—the bigger the boy, the bigger the toy? Well, that would be Stan. Watching him was like watching our kids in a sandbox with their diggers and bulldozers and Tonka trucks. He was amazing.

But had in not been for our main contractor—Jeff Vilen—and his helper Todd’s assistance, Stan wouldn’t have known what the ultimate goal was. Jeff and Todd were on site early – very early – today to begin the really critical work of siting the house. Carefully translating the architect’s detail, calculating and recalculating, they painstakingly set the dimensions and elevations, making sure everything was squared up just right. It’s really true that the foundation of a solid house is, well, its foundation. And it’s been Jeff’s goal from the beginning to make sure this foundation is as solid as they come, so their siting work was truly the first step in the building of this house.

And of course there’s the architectural design itself that everything hinges on…more on that in other posts (not because it’s not important, but because the design is so important it requires its own entries along the way).

As the day progressed, the clouds gradually parted and the sun began to make an appearance—how appropriate for the beginning of this part of the journey! Stan scraped out the trenches for the footings and dug out the ten feet of soil for the storm cellar, Jeff and Todd reset their strings, double-checked the elevations and made sure things were again squared up for the concrete team, scheduled to arrive Tuesday to get the footings poured. A good first day!

I was lucky enough to be on site this first day, but Nancy’s work kept her away, so we returned to the site this evening to pause for a moment, taking in the first steps of giving birth to this long-awaited new life. Okay, that analogy may be a bit of a stretch, but there sure are a lot of similarities! It’s felt like we’ve been in labor for months, so it’s extremely rewarding to see this day finally come. Besides, today is Nancy’s birthday, too—what a great gift!

A few of our friends also happened by this evening; Joe Deden, whose residence at the nearby Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center was the focus of a major deep-energy retrofit a few years ago, was passing by and stopped in with congratulations. He and his wife Mary Bell have provided a lot of inspiration and encouragement to us to see this project through – unwavering support at those especially critical times when we found ourselves struggling with that recurring question, “…so, why are we doing this?!?” Thanks, Joe and Mary!

And then there’s the supportive friendship of Phil and Heidi Dybing. We’ve live a lot of these “why are we doing this anyway?” moments with them over the past three years as they, too, were making tough housing choices. They’ve made their move and have settled nicely into a new home, and along the way invited us to rent their apartment so we’d have a Lanesboro ‘home base’ to work from through our own planning. No, we don’t agree on everything related to housing (which makes it not only ‘interesting’ but a lot of spontaneous fun, too!), but we’ve helped each other stay on track with living life to its fullest; so it was only appropriate that they were on hand this evening as we popped the top off a bottle of champagne and toasted to this momentous day!

So, we’ve taken the plunge. There’s no turning back now from building this super-insulated, net-zero, passive house—our “2030 home”. More details in the days and weeks ahead – stay tuned.



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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