Passive House Days

The weekend of November 12th was Passive House Days, and once again we opened our home for people to explore and ask questions.  With over 60 people attending we had a great agenda lined up and went as follows:


  • Introduction & Passive House Crash Course with TE Studio. We saw many new faces this year and Tim Eian took advantage of that by spending a good amount of time providing information about the performance of our home over the past two years as we tracked gas and electrical usage since day one.  At this point we are happy to continue reporting as-expected results of about 1/3 of total usage of utilities compared to a home in same climate and size.


  • Passive House Building Envelope Construction with RJ Stegora Construction.  As always we did have a few builders attend the presentations, comparing and contrasting their projects currently in the works with our home.  It was great to see a cutout of the walls that Ryan put together to help with visualizing what is behind our walls. 
  • Passive House Mechanical System with TE Studio and Zehnder Ventilation Systems. New to the tour this year was a rep from Zehnder Systems.  He took the time to explain the process of installing and the inner-workings of our Comfoair 350.  It was a testament to the air exchange system that at the end of the day the air was fresh in the house even with the large number of guests visting for the day.


  • Passive House Windows with Tanner Windows and Doors.  The demo included a few different models of windows available in the market and a cross section of each to explain in-depth detail of how they preform.


  • Interior finishes, fixtures and appliances with InUnison Design.  We concluded with a unique look on the process of researching and choosing green interior materials and finishes.  I especially found interesting how far ahead industrial use of green materials is for interior/exterior finishes, and how one would benefit from looking to commercial suppliers as well, not only for solutions but wider options available.

That does it for 2016!  We look forward to a happy holiday season and will be bringing more product evaluations and sharing new performance statistics in the coming year.

FAQs from the Minneapolis St. Paul Home Tours

We had about 345 people tour our house during the Minneapolis-St. Paul home tour a couple weekends ago.  During the tour, we fielded many recurring questions about our home. Maybe you're wondering the same things too, so here are answers to the frequently asked questions about our nest.

1. Why is the porch roof at an angle? Does it have a function?  

It really just adds a touch of whimsy.  While designing our home, we told the architect that we wanted asymmetry in the design, and wanted a home that combines modern design with traditional elements, such as an open front porch. The angled porch roof was a unique design element that Tim came up with and we love it.  It wasn't meant to have a function, but ultimately we have noticed that the higher porch ceiling to the south allows more light into our large front window, and the lower porch ceiling over the front door makes it feel cozy and welcoming.  (Link to blog post)

2.  Are you happy with the house?  Does it perform as you expected?

Absolutely, yes.  It's probably impossible not to be happy with a house you put a lot of time and energy into designing, and the Passive House approach just makes it extra comfortable. As far as the utility bills, they are far lower than we used to pay next door, despite the much larger finished square footage and volume.

3.  It feels so spacious inside!  How many square feet is it?

The home is 900 square feet per floor, so a total of 2700 square feet.

4. Can you use the attic space?

Nope, there is a 24 inch blanket of cellulose insulation up there, providing an R value of at least 70.

5.  Do we recommend our architect/builder/designer?

We absolutely highly recommend our architect (Tim Eian), builder (Ryan Stegora) and designer (Christine Frisk).  To have a successful home project, keep in mind that you need a rock-star team, and as the homeowners, you are the leader of the team.  The more precise you can be about your design preferences, the better.  While exceptionally talented, they are not mind-readers, and so if you clearly communicate your expectations, everyone is happier and the project is a success.

6.  How much more  does it cost to build a Passive House?  

This is a hard one to answer.  Not only is our Passive House comfortable with low utility usage, it is also extremely durable and requires minimal maintenance over the long-term.  As far as up front costs for extra building materials and labor, the estimate is about 15 to 20% more expensive for the cost of construction.  

7.  Is the basement floor heated?

No, it's not heated but is does have 6 inches of foam insulation below the slab. This provides an R value of about 30.  The cement floor doesn't feel cold, which is why people ask.  This is just another example of a low-tech (simple) way to provide comfort without active heating.  It costs more up-front, but the difference is noticeable and will last the life-time of the building without maintenance.

8.  Do you have solar panels?

Not yet.  The angle of the south roof is the optimal pitch for flush-mount solar panels when the budget allows. For now, we have signed up for the Windsource program through Xcel Energy which means we pay a little more on the electrical bill to ensure the kWh we use is generated by wind, a renewable resource.  By putting extra money into the construction of a low energy home based on Passive House, we dramatically reduced our family's carbon footprint and that of future families that will call it home.  

9.  Why are there 2 back doors?

We asked for a design with a strong connection to the backyard.  One door is our everyday entrance to the mudroom.  The second door acts as a giant kitchen window providing a direct view of the backyard garden from the moment you enter from the front of the house.  This door also functions as the entertainment door to get to the backyard patio from the kitchen with ease.

10.  What would we have done differently?

It seems like there should be a few obvious answers to this question, but we both can't think of anything that we would have done differently.  

Have we missed a burning question of yours?  Let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to answer.  Thanks for reading!




Minneapolis/St. Paul Home Tour 2016

This weekend our home will be open for the Minneapolis-St. Paul home tour featuring "Real homes. Real people. Real ideas." At our house this means real bubble gum to scrape off the ceiling before this tour. All are welcome! We'd love to see you. Our architect and builder will also be here to answer questions about Passive House construction. Open Saturday, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, May 1 from 1-5.  LINK HERE

Alkatout family photo March 2016 MSP home tour.jpg

Now we're cooking...with Induction!

When we went shopping for appliances, we were surprised to learn that an induction cooktop was recommended for our energy efficient home.  We were used to cooking with gas and didn't have plans to change.  Once we learned about induction cooktops, we were pretty excited about the concept.   We tested our relatively new cookware for magnetism, a requirement for induction-ready pots and pans, and luckily they passed.  If you're considering making a switch from your beloved gas cooktop or old-school electric cooktop, you really can't go wrong with induction.  Here's why we love it.  

The heat is generated in the pan itself (through the resistance to electromagneticlly induced currents) and so the cooktop does not heat up and glow red like old-school electric cooktops or have an open flame like gas cooktops.  The major benefits to this approach are:  

1. Safety for the kids

2. Efficient use of energy- it generates the heat where its needed.

3.  Precise control- You can make a boiling pot immediately go to a gentle simmer and back up to a boil just as fast.  It's amazing- really.

4.  It's Quick!  We get a large pot of water to boil in 5 minutes!  The "speed boost" button is my favorite.

5.  Timers to turn off the heat.  Each burner can individually be set to a timer, and the cooktop will turn off the burner, essentially stopping cooking because it is so responsive.  This feature surprised me one day when I was distracted by the kids, and my pasta was not overly cooked to mush.  I was impressed.  

6. Easy to clean- We sure do not miss cleaning those gas grates that actually never looked as nice as on day one.  This induction cooktop looks clean and fabulous, and you can even safely wipe up messes while cooking because the heat doesn't transfer beyond the bottom of the pan.

7. Comfortable cooking- no sweating over an overly hot cooking surface.

If you ever visit the Nordeast Nest, we'd be happy to do a demo! 







New Car- It's Electric!

All of a sudden, our 2001 VW Jetta needed many costly repairs to keep going. We decided it was time to replace our commuter and errand vehicle, and began looking into environmentally-conscious options.  We started researching hybrid cars, but then considered all-electric cars.  The main concern with electric cars is their limited range before needing a recharge. Our home in NE Minneapolis is centrally located in the Twin Cities and only 6 to 10 miles from work, which limited the miles we drove the VW Jetta in 14 years to 135,000 miles.  That's 9,642 miles a year on average, or 26 miles a day. We've heard that the typical average is 15,000 miles/year, so we use the car about 40% less than average, in large part due to our strategic urban home location.   After looking at our daily use needs for a small car, we decided an electric car with a full-charge range of 65-100 miles would be a good fit for us.  We ended up finding a 2014 BMW i3 with 5,000 miles on it, and took it for a test drive. The rest is history.

All we can say is, Wow!  The car silently and effortlessly zooms to the speed limit...or beyond.  It is how I imagine driving a space ship would feel.  It is a fun bonus that the color of the car we found is "solar orange" and matches the back doors of our house.  Perfect.  We've owned our electric car for 2 weeks.  We plug it into a regular outlet at night and it's ready for the next day. There's a smart phone app to monitor the charging status and estimated range, and to schedule pre-conditioning times to automatically heat the interior before departing on cold days.  We are excited to eliminate the need to visit the gas station for this vehicle, and we haven't needed to fill our other vehicle since we bought it. (It is definitely our preferred ride.)  We've calculated that it will cost about $7 per week to charge the car with our typical 30 miles per day usage. This is based on 4.1 miles/kWh (info from our app) and our electricity rate of $0.14/kWh.  We are part of the Windsource* program through Xcel Energy, which means that we pay a little extra to ensure the amount of electricity we use is wholly generated by wind power, a great source of renewable energy.  Our electric car is a dream to drive; we absolutely love it.         

Mom, how do you tell an electric car from a gasoline car, just by looking at it? ... It doesn’t have a tailpipe!
— Our 9-year-old son, Malik


   *The Windsource program is an easy way to commit to clean energy to reduce emissions.  Currently, the Windsource program has 96,000 supporters who funded the production of 345,000 megawatt-hours of emissions-free energy in 2015.


Tour our Nest!

Our Nordeast Nest will take part in International Passive House Days on Sunday, Nov. 15 from 11am to 3pm.  The architect (Tim Eian), builder (Ryan Stegora) and interior designer (Christine Frisk) will all be there, along with us- the homeowners (Julie and Tarek Alkatout).  Come and see what Passive House is all about!  A guided tour will start at 11:15 am.  

P.S. We still haven't turned our heat pump on this fall!  

Heat Pump Chilling Out

From Top down:- Outside Temp, Second Floor, Basement Temp, and Main Floor.

From Top down:- Outside Temp, Second Floor, Basement Temp, and Main Floor.

This is our first fall in the home, and so we're curious how long we'll go into the season before needing to turn on the heat pump.  So far, the house has stayed extremely comfortable without active heating.  The average high temp for October 2015 so far is 58 F and the average low temp is 43 F.  We had a night or two when the temperature dropped to 31 F, and we were still warm inside.  According to a weather website, there have been 12 heating degree days in MN this October, defined as days cool enough to warrant heating. Last night our oldest boy actually said he was too warm sleeping at night.  Let's blame that on heat rising to his top bunk.

The Photo Shoot Part II

A few weeks back we had Corey Gaffer back to our home to take final pictures of the exteriors.  The results were amazing and the process was enjoyable to watch and experience. We have become accustomed to cars driving by the front of the house and minutes later to see the same car in the ally.  Most enjoyable is the foot and bike traffic as we get a chance to chat and answer questions about the roof lines, build process and Passive house building methodology.

Day Shots ...

Dusk Shots ...

Summer break

We have had a very enjoyable and busy summer taking some time off from updating the blog, but it is back on!  There have been a few house tours we hosted early and mid summer for a group of people from Fresh Energy, the City of Minneapolis and a few others.  It is always fun to share with the groups and educate on Passive house design.  It turns out our oldest son enjoys giving tours as well and he impressed a group of people when he explained what blower door testing is, how it is performed and why it is important (see old post for more information on how it went).