SDSU passive house under construction

Students design house to ‘maximize gains, minimize losses’

BROOKINGS – One look at the building plans is all it took for Dusten Hendrickson to be hooked on the passive house designed by South Dakota State University Department of Architecture students in Brookings.

“I love cool-looking architecture, and it’s a really, really modern, Scandinavian design,” said Hendrickson, president of the construction firm Brookings Built Green. Hendrickson and his company are serving as the general contractor.

According to the Passive House Institute U.S., passive building comprises a set of design principles used to attain a quantifiable and rigorous level of energy efficiency within a specific quantifiable comfort level. “Maximize your gains, minimize your losses” summarizes the approach. A passive building is designed and built in accordance with these five building-science principles:

• Employs continuous insulation throughout its entire envelope without any thermal bridging;

• Prevents infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air through an extremely airtight building envelope;

• Employs high-performance windows (typically triple-paned) and doors;

• Uses some form of balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation and a minimal space conditioning system; and

• Maximizes solar gain to exploit the sun’s energy for heating purposes in the heating season and to minimize overheating during the cooling season.

The house is located at 902 Third Ave. Framing started on the house Dec. 4. If all goes to according to plan and the house passes the various certifications, Hendrickson said it will be completed in June.

Charles MacBride, an associate professor in the Department of Architecture, has at least one open house planned as well as several workshops to help educate the public on the passive house concepts.

“A graduate studio with six students in fall 2016 designed the house,” MacBride said. “One of the interesting things to me was that they didn’t have a lot of experience designing single-family houses, much less a passive house. They not only had to learn basic fundamentals for houses, but also learn the five keys for passive house construction.

“They did the schematic design very quickly as well as the drawings and many specifications dealing with the passive-house certifications,” he continued. “We assigned students to work on specific issues in preconstruction, such as interacting with the city for permits or meeting with individuals in the neighborhood.”

While the students gained experience about a real-world construction site, they also learned about the passive-house model – a practice the general public and local contractors are learning, too.

“It’s what we do but at the very highest level of what I set out trying to do when I started Brookings Built Green. I didn’t think we’d get a project like this one so soon in our career,” Hendrickson continued. “It’s so different from what anyone has ever seen, and it’s a learning experience. I don’t think there’s a house more efficient than the passive-house model.

“The passive house model is the most advanced and efficient certified home you can build but the economics won’t allow us to take a standard home to the passive house certification. We can, however, take the knowledge and principles behind the passive house to make all of our homes more energy efficient and comfortable,” Hendrickson said.

The exterior insulation and its advanced technology on this project is from Ed Scherrer and his company, InSoFast. The firm, based in Mitchell, created a high performance injection molded insulation panel. 

The manufacturing process uses high-pressure steam fusion to create a closed-cell insulation that is packed with microscopic air spaces. The individual cells remain airtight and dry, yet water vapor can pass through and not accumulate in the wall assembly. The built-in stud of the panel goes even farther. The nonconductive, plastic studs eliminate the common thermal bridging penalty and reduce the hundreds of holes from siding fasteners in the wall that may open up the home to bulk water, or leaks.

“This project really clicked with us and our goals as a company to build a better simpler wall,” Scherrer said. “It’s a win-win for everyone, InSoFast, SDSU and the builders. We are thrilled for a chance to demonstrate the impact of our product and its cost efficiency to the builder and SDSU. We’ve been part of many projects in the Twin Cities and we’ve learned things. I’m sure we’ll learn a few things here, too.”

The project started after SDSU’s Department of Architecture received a grant from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in 2015.

“For the architecture of this house, we wanted to make it an example of a house that felt like part of an established neighborhood in Brookings,” MacBride said. “While we want the house to fit in the neighborhood, we are also advocates for modern architecture and contemporary work that is more sympathetic to traditional neighborhoods than most people give it credit for.”

MacBride said plans are already underway for the second house project in Brookings. He and Robert Arlt, an instructor in the department who happens to be a certified passive house consultant, are discussing how to fit it in the fall 2018 semester curricula and determine a building site.


More In Homepage