Passive House, Local Materials
Grant County, Wisconsin

Passive Solar Design
Above: Passive-solar design with south-facing windows and clerestory. The design and orientation of the building also include the use of photo-electric and domestic hot water solar systems.

Good ideas don't go away - they're just recycled. Extremely energy-efficient homes have made news for at least two generations. The newest version, branded "Passiv Haus" by it's German importers, is a package of design ideas mostly culled from Canadian research into super-insulated homes from the 1970s. (The context: most German homes are very well-built by U.S. standards, but few have much insulation. Even in the late 1990s, most German designers and builders were still relying on cheap Russian gas rather than searching for ways to conserve it.) Broadly described, the method uses high levels of insulation and excellent windows & doors, and rigorous attention to air-sealing details coupled with careful energy-efficient ventilation, plus a tiny heating system, to achieve good comfort with annual heating bills of only a few hundred dollars or less.

Design Coalition designed several super-insulated homes in the '80's, and ever since we have continuously sought ways to improve energy-efficiency in buildable, affordable ways. The wisdom of spending somewhat more money up-front for design and construction to save a great deal more over the life of the home often ran counter to conventional lending and builder practice.

This tidy, modest second/retirement home combines super-insulated house concepts with local materials. Trees from the surrounding land will be harvested for heavy-timber main posts and beams, as well as for flooring, trim and hand-made cabinet work. Walls will sport R-40 insulation, ceilings R-60, all recycled. Skilled local artisans will apply natural earthen plasters inside. The owner has long familiarity with renewable energy sources, so the home is designed to support both photoelectric and domestic hot water solar systems.

Above: The undulations in the home's exterior walls create more-livable outdoor microclimate zones such as the sunny wind-sheltered area accessed easily from the interior by double doors which extends spring and fall liveability. The design also calls for a shady, screened porch on the north side for summer use (not pictured). The owner chose a simple carport for it's resource-efficiency when compared to an enclosed garage.


Above: The elevated volume of the north half of the house utilizes a clerestory to bring light deep into the sleeping spaces as well as encourage natural ventilation during the summer cooling period. The additional spaces are utilized as a sleeping loft (as shown above) as well as for storage and mechanical equipment.

Below: A pergola structure creates a more intimate space, delineating the dining area. This structure continues on the exterior (as shown in the exterior photos above) creating a more integrated connection to the outdoors.