"5 Star Plus" Home Energy Rating Score

Our home was evaluated to determine its Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score.  This is a way to compare it to other homes, including old and new construction.  The home received a score of 5 star plus and the HERS index was 32. 

This means the house is estimated to be 68% more energy efficient than standard new construction and 100% more efficient than older existing homes.  The HERS report includes an estimate of the annual energy cost which was $1,249, broken down to heating ($256), cooling ($80), water heating ($104), lights/appliances ($692) and service charges ($116).  Knowing what our montly energy bills were for our last house, it's hard to believe those numbers are for the entire year!  The annual savings is reported to be about $2,840 over a comparable size existing home rated at 130.  Without adjusting for increasing cost of utilities over time, that's a savings of $85,200 over 30 years. 

While it's fabulous to see that we'll save money on utilities from now on, that wasn't our main motivation to build this type of house.   We were really impressed with the quality of construction and how comfortable the Passive homes were that we toured.  Once we learned about the Passive house concept, it really made sense to us to build a home this way.  Perhaps living in a century-old-home for 12 years put us in the right mindset to build for longevity, knowing this structure will be here long after we're gone.  It feels good and really makes sense to build a home that minimizes its impact on our environment, and will do so for well over 100 years.  In the meantime, we have the pleasure of living in it and enjoying its comforts as a family.

 

Nice Indeed

Our artistic friend drew a cute house cartoon and framed it as a housewarming gift.  We absolutely agree; it sure is nice to have a passive house!

Throughout the 4 frigid months that we've lived here, we've found that our Nordeast Nest is simply a super comfortable home.  There's no need to wear slippers to keep your feet warm on the wood or tile floors.  You can open a closet door and walk in without experiencing a drop in room temperature, even though the closet has two exterior walls and no heat vents. We appreciate the extra storage space in our mechanical room that has no furnace.  We've had our (electric) heat pump set to maintain a baseline of 64 degrees, and we let the modulating gas fireplace heat the house up to a cozy temperature during the day.  In January, with an average outdoor temperature of 19 F, our gas bill was $30 (which $15 is tax and fees) and the electric bill was $140 (which $21 is tax and fees).  We definitely use a lot less energy than we did in our old house next door, despite the new house having over twice the heated square footage.  We look forward to coasting through spring with even less heating (or cooling) needed.  Spring has to arrive at some point, right? 

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Artwork by the multi-talented scientist/artist, Lisa LaGoo.

The Photo Shoot

It's a good sign when your architect, designer and builder want to capture professional photos of the end result. The team hired an architectural photographer, Corey Gaffer, to document the home for their portfolios.  They all came for a fun-filled day of photography.  The designer unloaded an entire room full of props, including accent pillows, artwork, vases, flowers, oranges, and beautiful runner rugs. Everything supplemented our existing decor perfectly, and enhanced the rooms while matching our style.  Everyone contributed to polish faucets, re-arrange furniture and adjust dishes to look just so. A few days after the photo shoot, our 4-year-old saw me making his bed and said, "Oh, you're staging it." Yes, a lot of staging took place that day, and the end results are stunning. Corey is a talented photographer, creating magazine-worthy images out of our family home.    Here is our Nordeast Nest- looking particularly photogenic that day.  ;)

Living Room-

Kitchen-

Master Bedroom and Bathroom-

Kids' Bathroom-

Staircase-

Metal Roof

Our standing seam metal roof for the front porch was recently installed, as well as the corrugated metal roof over the back stoop.  We love the way they look and love that we'll never have to replace them.  The stone for the front porch was also completed.  The kids enjoy jumping off the porch into the snow.  We're looking forward to warmer weather to enjoy it. Check out the pictures below.  



Passive House Database Listing

Our architect let us know that our Nordeast Nest is now listed in the official Passive House database.  That makes our home one of 47 in the United States and 5 in Minnesota to be listed.  Now people interested in building a high-efficiency home in Minnesota or similar climate can learn about the thermal envelope construction and resulting performance measurements, such as air tightness and heat load.  To get the final air tightness number, we had a second blower door test performed after we moved into the home. The first test was done when there was still a chance to find and seal any leaks (see blog entry "High Performance? Check!").  The outcome of the second test was even better than the first.  With the house pressurized to 50 Pa, there was only 0.36 air changes per hour (ACH), equivalent to 133 cubic feet per minute (CFM) at 50Pa.  

It's hard to believe that with such an air-tight home, we literally get a breath of fresh air when we walk into a room, thanks to the heat-recovery air-exchanger. We never expected our boys' bedroom to smell so fresh and clean.  It's definitely a treat to have fresh air throughout the year, even in the middle of a freezing cold MN winter. 

Check out the Passive House database entry for the Nordeast Nest here:

  http://www.passivhausprojekte.de/index.php?lang=en#d_4349

Home Sweet Home!

We moved into the house on Saturday, November 8th with the help of our supportive family and friends.  We would have loved to move things little by little, but with the first major snowfall due on Monday, we moved it all that weekend.  Talk about good timing to move into a ultra-energy efficient, super-insulated and airtight home.  The temperature outside quickly plummeted to single digits this past weekend, but we were cozy as could be in our home.  In fact, with all the sunshine, we had sufficient solar heat gain to turn off the heat pump system yesterday morning (Nov. 16) around 10 am, when we noticed the 70 degree room temperature, which was 2 degrees above the set point.  The glazing on the Optiwin windows was doing its job, and bringing the solar heat into the house.  The house stayed warm all day without active heating and the temperature outside was only 12 F.  In the evening we had our family over for Sunday dinner, and turned the gas fireplace on for ambiance.  That was the only active heating for the day.  When we went to bed, the temperature in the house was 72 F.   As an experiment, we left the heat pump system off through the night, during which the outside high temperature was only 7 F.  When we woke, the house temperature was 63 F.  Impressive!  Tim Eian did a great job designing the high performance home and Ryan Stegora did a fantastic job building it!

On a personal note, we feel so fortunate to be able to raise our family in this home.  The design is everything we wanted and we are in the neighborhood we love.  Yesterday, I watched the boys have a snowball fight with 5 other neighbor kids, ranging in age from 4 to 14.  They had a blast with their friends.  Our dear back-alley neighbor, Silke, surprised us with a beautiful evergreen arrangement for our front porch, which she made herself with gold/yellow accents to perfectly match our front door.    After all our searching for the perfect place to build, the spot was right next door the whole time.  Coincidentally, our address changed from 2331 to 2335, and 2335 is the address of my parents' home, where I grew up and have countless great memories.  My parents are no longer with us, but they always helped steer us in the right direction.  


Home Stretch

We plan to move into our new Nordeast Nest this Saturday!  Notable progress was made when the gas company finally showed up to put in the new gas connection.  Now our instant hot water heater is fired up, and the gas fireplace can heat the house when needed.  Other finishes have been going in, and everything looks beautiful.  Our inspection for occupancy was last Wednesday, and the city inspector provided a short list of safety requirements before we could move in.  Among these requirements were:  screens on the windows, carpet in the bedrooms, and sod in the backyard.  Needless to say, we absolutely do not view window screens as a safety component in our home.  That said, we planned to have them ready to keep bugs out in the summer, but we don't deem them necessary for any other purpose.  In fact, it's almost heartbreaking to drill holes into our pristine Optiwin windows and cover them with screens.  The carpet went into the bedrooms as previously planned today, and the backyard has the (also previously planned) sod.  Now we will just hold our breath during the (second) final inspection for occupancy this Friday.  


Plumbers under pressure

Just 24 hours before the final plumbing inspection, we had no toilets, wall-mounted sinks, faucets, shower heads, or water-connected appliances installed.  How many plumbers does it take to do all this in a single work day?  The answer is seven.  Everything got installed and the house passed the plumbing inspection.  We let out a sigh of relief after that.  All of the fixtures are ultra low-flow, which caused some confusion during ordering with the supplier.  Apparently, low-flow fixtures are not what they're used to supplying.  That was surprising to me.  Next time you install a new faucet, get the low-flow!  They provide plenty of water and will reduce your water usage and your water bill.  It's a win, win.

Nobel prize winning lighting

 The recessed LED lights that we're using in our home.

The recessed LED lights that we're using in our home.

It was exciting to see 3 scientists win the 2014 Nobel prize in physics last week for their invention of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs).  Their invention makes energy efficient and environment-friendly bright white LED lighting possible. Our Nordesast Nest is outfitted with recessed LED lights in the living room, kitchen, master bedroom, bathrooms and basement. They cast a pleasant white light and are controlled with dimming switches.

 S14 Clear LED Bulb

S14 Clear LED Bulb

All of the surface mounted lighting fixtures also have LED bulbs.  Some of our fixtures come with the LEDs built-in, but we found that purchasing regular fixtures and using LED bulbs to be more cost effective. They even make decorative LED bulbs for the pendant lights. Here's what we're using for the fixtures where the bulb is visible:

 

The new LED lights are around seven times as efficient as conventional light bulbs and about twice as efficient as compact fluorescent bulbs. That means big energy savings. It’s just huge — worldwide we could close or not build over 500 large power stations, if everyone used LED light bulbs.

Check out the link to the NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/10/07/354282468/led-lights-shine-in-nobel-prize-now-how-about-your-home

More finishes! Like icing on a cake.

What's happening at the Nordeast Nest?  A lot of hard work, day and night.  We have the final inspection for occupancy scheduled for October 29th.  We're excited and exhausted at the same time.  This has been a super fun project for us to design and build our family home together, and we are thrilled to be so close to moving into it!  We have LED lights functioning in the living room now, and the air exchanger is now quietly and continuously bringing in fresh air.  The exterior is painted and we await the installation of the metal porch roof.  The quartz counter tops were installed in the kitchen and bathrooms.  The tile in the master bath was completed, and the mudroom cabinets are installed now too.  So beautiful!  This weekend, Ryan installed the Brazilian Walnut flooring in the upstairs hallway, and it is gorgeous.  We look forward to seeing the hardwood go in on the main floor this week.  Hardwood is a slight understatement; Ryan showed us how a strong hammer hit to the Brazilian Walnut barely made an indentation.  We figure it should hold up well in a house with 3 kids.  Our new garage is currently the workshop for sanding, priming and painting all of the trim, and Tarek has been helping Ryan out with this big task.  Next up... priming and painting all the cabinetry doors.  Also, the appliances will be delivered on Wednesday!

No, that's not air conditioning...

Tile, tile and more tile installation is what's been happening at the Nordeast Nest.  It's incredible to be at this point, watching the house become the home we envisioned.  With Ryan and Kurt tiling in full swing upstairs, Tarek took on the task of painting the basement ceiling and walls.  A few days later, the basement is bright and one step closer to becoming the kids' playroom.  Exterior painting is also in progress, and that should be done next week.

Last time we wrote, it was cool outside and warm inside the passive house.  Now we know that the house performs well in the reverse circumstances too.  The cabinet-maker commented that the air-conditioning felt good as he carried in more kitchen cabinets on a hot and humid evening.  Ryan responded that we didn't have the air conditioning fired up yet, but "it was just cold two days ago."  After the house gets electrical service this week we could put the minisplit AC/heating system to use, as needed.

Cool outside, comfortable inside

There were several items checked off the long 'to do' list this week.  Among them include:  all the siding installed and ready for paint, some kitchen and bathroom cabinets installed, kitchen and bathroom sinks ordered, garage door installed, steel cap on garage roof installed, mudroom and bathroom floors prepared for tile, kids' bathroom floor tile down, master bath shower water-proofed and ready for tile, drywall and taping done in the basement, hardwood flooring delivered, bedrooms measured for carpet, plumbing for the tankless water heater finished, and the house is now connected to Minneapolis city water!  Phew. 

Cooler fall weather kicked in this week, and we had our first glimpse of how the solar passive house behaves.   It was chilly on Wednesday and Ryan closed all the windows in the morning.  When we entered the house in the evening, we went from the cool outdoor air into a comfortably warm environment inside the house.  Considering the house is still not connected to electricity or gas, we were enjoying heat from the sun, retained by the super-insulated walls and air-tight construction.  This is so cool, or as our 8-year-old would say, this is epic!