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Passive House taking an aggressive approach to energy efficiency

Gary Konkol's Passive House in the Woods in Hudson is the first of its kind in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of passivehouseinthewoods.com)

By Ann Knoedler

In late October the proud owner of a new, energy-efficient house in the town of Hudson officially moved in. By all accounts he has a beautiful view — the house was built on a bluff overlooking the St. Croix River.

But there’s something different about this energy-efficient house: Not only has it been given a name, Passive House in the Woods, but it’s the first certified Passive House in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest.

I feel compelled to write about it because it has generated a lot of attention and is little known in the U.S.  It’s been written up in “Remodeling Today Magazine,” “Eco Home Magazine,” in the books “Recreating the American Home,” “Homes for a Changing Climate: Passive Houses in the U.S.,” and several Wisconsin newspapers. Plus, about 2,000 people took the opportunity to tour the completed house during a six-week period in October and November.

According to the Passive House website, this is the most rigorous building energy standard in the world. Developed in Germany, more than 10,000 buildings in Europe — from single and multifamily residences, to schools, factories and office buildings — have been designed and built or remodeled to the Passive House standard.

It hasn’t taken off in the U.S. yet, mainly because Europe’s temperatures, in general, are more moderate than ours.

The architect for Gary Konkol’s house, Tim Eian of TE Studio Ltd., Minneapolis, and general contractor, Sean Morrissey of Morr Construction, Arden Hills, Minn., knew that this would serve as a pilot project since there has been little or no precedent for the Passive House standard in extremely cold climates. The house they built in Hudson exceeds the Passive House standard.

Both the owner and the architect are sharing their experiences and data on the World Wide Web. In fact, Konkol posted his first full month (November) of Passive House in the Woods experiences, including background information describing the journey that brought him to his construction decision.

It will be interesting to see how it performs over the course of the winter.

Ann Knoedler is the lead data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She’s looking forward to turning her house into a Passive House.

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