154: Passive House Aggressive

Matt and Sean talk about how to make passive house choices that work for you and why Matt made the choices he did for his net zero energy home.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Wow! I Didn’t Know A Prebuilt House Could Do This”: https://youtu.be/y3NVDqH39CE?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7FwYRnWkpCSkAeFOzrgh5h

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about what this little piggy built his house out of. That’s right. We’re talking about, well, unfortunately for Matt, he’s the little piggy. Mm-hmm. . Hi everybody. I’m Sean Ferrell. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids and I’m just generally curious about technology and with me as my brother Matt, it is that.

Of undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. Matt, how you doing today? Doing

pretty well. I realize I’m a little scruffy today. I forgot

Shave . Yeah, I’m a little, just noticed that I’m a little scruffy today too. It’s because I have a beard. Yes. Before we get into Matt’s most recent episode, which was a discussion about his home that he is building and his experience with watching what used to just be a pile of dirt turn into a.

Yeah. Very exciting stuff. But before we get into that, I wanted to share some comments from our most recent episode. This is episode 1 53 on Fusion energy production. And there were some interesting comments like this one from Thelgle who wrote regarding it being described as a breakthrough. Breakthrough isn’t the right term in my mind.

He writes, I think a better term is milestone. I like. I like the idea of mm-hmm. of not measuring it based on, it shatters the paradigm, but it’s another marker along the road to progress. So I like

that it’s kind of the vein of, uh, the word advance. It’s kind of in that same realm. There was also a

correction for us.

We couldn’t think of the device that. Professor X in the X-Men uses to cast Cerebro, cast his his thoughts and be able to read mines at a distance. And Cartman writes in. I think the word you’re looking for is Cerebro. Love your work guys. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Cartman yes. I also wanted to mention this comment from Metalhead who wrote, thank you for addressing the fact that seemingly every media output only heard the Department of Energy’s Chance of America, America, America, and their Fusion Ignition Press event.

It is, first of all, it’s understandable. The de, the Department of Energy, excuse me, the Department of Energy would be touting American endeavor. That’s what the Department of Energy’s going to do. It is also understandable that there’s gonna be some discussion about what progress in American Tech looks like when you’re talking about something that’s been funded by the Department of Energy.

But one of the key things that Matt and I do talk about on this is that this is not. sign of progress for the United States only, and that these developments are not taking place in the United States only. There are so many places around the world that are in various ways, measurable ways ahead of American progress, and those need to be acknowledged.

They need to be looked at, and we need to figure out how can we either utilize or work with those developments in order to move forward ourselves and pull other people along with us. So this is. When Matt and I talk about this stuff, we really do view it as a go global effort because most of the things we’re talking about, yes, are about measurable global impact and how humans can more sustainably live on this weird blue ball that we all ride around in space on

Yeah, so thank you for that metalhead. Thank you for, for pointing that out. , yes, the, the media outlets kind of ran with a America first idea. A little bit understandable in this case, but also something to keep in mind as we talk about all these things. So now we’re gonna talk about Matt’s most recent episode.

This is from February 7th. Wow. I didn’t know a passive house could do this, and no, his passive house didn’t do anything miraculous. Just get up and walk away. But he did. It’s very passive after it is passive. It just sits there.

It’s a sits there .

But the experience of watching this thing built, and I, first of all, I have to say, that’s one hell of a ladder.

You must have. to be able to get all those aerial shots, . Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t even, it’s a very tall ladder shot in the wind. It wasn’t even moving. Yes. It was just totally static. And I imagine that at the very bottom of that ladder, it was your wife holding it with one foot up on a rung, keeping it steady.

So hat tip to her. Yes. Seriously, though your ability to capture video like that is kind of creepy. , any of your new neighbors standing out there and like, is that a drone? He’s a guy with a drone building a house

right next door to us. Whenever I’ve used, when I’ve used my drone here on my current house, , my neighbor a couple times has come out and come, I thought, I thought we earned an attack, because it’s that zooming around

It’s a little creep.

Hopefully, if you know your neighborhood is under attack, it will be something as non-threatening as a little buzz like that, because if that’s what sets your neighbor off, it’s a good thing you’re moving. I joke. Yes, exactly. Matt’s got very nice neighbors. Some of the comments on this were from people who have had similar experiences, but going back in some cases like this one decades.

This is from Schnitzer. Who writes, I’m glad to see that this is picking up in the us. My parents had one of these, and I’m going to say, I’m gonna try and say this. I’m gonna slaughter it probably. Good luck, Sean. But it is a German term. Good luck Feted Guile house. In Germany in 1996. It took one day to set the walls and another day to put the roof on, including the clay shingles.

They also had a solar water heater installed with three panels on the roof that worked flawlessly to this day and provide hot water for most of the year, even at 51 degrees latitude. When I moved to the north car, when I moved to North Carolina in 2006, I was a bit shocked to see how much energy it takes to pump the heat through the house.

It’s really indicative of there’s something in. , the mindset in the US building environment versus other parts of the world where this kind of house built in 1996 versus what was being done here in 1996 and continues to be done. Even to this day. Even to this day. What do you think are the, is like, if you had to say like, I’m guessing it’s this is the cause of this non-development into new tech, into new ways of building homes, what do you think the prime cause of.

Well, it’s cost of energy. The, the company building my home is Unity Homes, which is a subsidiary of Bensonwood Homes, which is a very well-respected company that’s been around for decades. Ted Benson actually. Was at the door blower door test. He actually was on our way to a meeting in Connecticut and he stopped by before the blower door test.

He was there when it was happening, and he and I were talking and we talked about this exact issue. I asked him, I’m like, what is the, what do you think is the reason that you see homes like this all the time in Europe and nothing like this in the United States? And he said, um, that’s been a big discussion in the industry.

And one of the things is cost of energy. , the United States cost for gasoline oil. Natural gas is way lower than any place it was in the world, and so our energy costs are so low. It’s like, why would you spend extra money to make a home energy efficient or increase the building standards, which would cost increase the cost of building a home just to buy a bit?

When heating at home is dirt cheap, or electricity is dirt cheap, why would you do that? So it’s like he thinks that’s, it’s

not viewed being worth the investment. Like you’re right. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more to build the home, but then you’re only saving thousands over a a multi-year


It’s like the return on investment. Yeah. Then also in the United States, I think there’s something a little different here than in Europe. Suburbs, like you have builders coming in and building developments where they’ll pop down a hundred homes in a sub development. And they’re doing it as fast and as cheap as they can to turn it around and make a quick buck and move on to the next subdivision.

Um, they’re gonna cut corners. They’re gonna go to the base level standard that they have to go to. And not beyond that, cuz that would eat into the profit margin. So that’s another thing that’s kind of eating into it. But now that the fact that energy costs are skyrocketing, even here in the United States and climate change is a concern for a lot of people.

It’s. There’s enough momentum behind it where it’s like the United States is starting to wake up and go, oh, there’s a better way to do this. And so we’re starting to kind of catch on to what other areas of the world have been doing for decades. Yeah.

Which is display sad. It’s frustrating to know that sometimes it takes being underwater to realize you have to worry about flooding, and that seems to be what you’re describing is.

Yep. Very poor fore. and thinking very short term. And I also wonder about the speed with which perhaps I wonder about home ownership here in the United States. How long home ownership actually lasts? as opposed to other parts of the world. Do we move more? Do we sell our homes more? Do we upscale more often?

Is it viewed as, it doesn’t matter that this house is energy inefficient because I’m only gonna be here for five years. I really don’t know the answer to that, but it’s an interesting question. I think. Well, the other thing

is like back to that cookie cutter subdivision home building. They’re building it to base level stand just to to turn on a dime and make a quick buck and move on.

They’re not building houses to last. A hundred years or more, they’re building homes just to make something that St stands up, meets base code, move on, and it’s, if it’s fallen apart in 50 years, they don’t care. So it’s like almost like a disposable home. Yeah. And a lot of these cookie cutter homes, they basically start to degrade and fall apart pretty quickly and start to have problems where Benson would, Ted Benson, his whole thing was he wanted to build heritage homes.

He wanted to build homes that are gonna be here a hundred plus years, even longer, something that’s gonna outlast you without question. So, I’m glad that people like Ted Benson exist in the United States to try to help push this forward. Mm-hmm. . But that’s like when I was trying to build this home, it was like I wanted to build a home that’s gonna be a, a long-term home that’s gonna go way beyond me and be super energy efficient and well built.

So that was my motivation. Yeah. But I wish more people shared that. There’s something brought

up by one of the commenters, whose name is Trevor Flowers, and Trevor writes basically wondering about comparison. , the resources around the house, water systems, roads, and all of that in comparison to a urban co-living community.

And I’m curious, you built your house in an already existing neighborhood, but Yes. How would your choices have been impacted if you were building much more remotely?

That was actually on the table, like we were looking at properties. The reason we settled in the property, we did it. A suburb. It’s a small town that we’re in.

It was already established. We wanted to live in a community that was already kind of there. We’re not far from the downtown area, so we could ride a bike walk. We wanted that kind of stuff. Other properties we were looking at are like, were like, you know, here’s your nearest neighbors a mile and a half away kind of a thing.

It’s like you buy, you’re buying 10 acres in the middle of nowhere. If we had gone that path, it would’ve been like we’d be having to drill and create a well for water. We’d have to be doing things like for us, if we had built up in the middle of nowhere, it would’ve been having to drill for water, have a well for water, having to do a septic system, because we wouldn’t be on a sewer system.

So where we, we built, we’re gonna be on city water, city sewer. But there are options that you can. No matter where you are. Um, one thing that’s been of keen interest for me would be rainwater harvesting the property we bought and the house we’ve built. It’s gonna make it a little difficult to do, not impossible to do rainwater harvesting, but if we were more remote, I probably would’ve done that from the get-go, cuz you can integrate that into the house using reusing graywater and stuff like that.

So if we were on well water and septic, I probably would’ve investigated that more. Where for our current house, it’s an afterthought. It’s like, I’ll figure that out down the road if we wanna. instead of doing it upfront,

what goes into that? Is it water traps or something that takes the, the rainwater off the roof and gathers it in a cistern?


if you want to integrate it into the house, you have to do it for the, the plumbing from the get-go. Like before you lay the foundation, you’re gonna have to like segment things of like the water that comes out of the dishwasher and the kitchen sink goes into a different area. Sewage, like sewage goes into the septic system and this water gets funneled over here into a gray water system that can be used for whatever you wanna do.

Filtering it and using it for whatever you want. Whatever you wanna do. Right. But it’s, that’s part of the reason why we didn’t do it. Cause it was gonna add extra cost and it was like, we just, it was so expensive already. It was like, let’s put that, let’s table that idea for now, where if we were more remote, it would’ve been a little more.

Urgent to think about that stuff upfront because like if we wanted to make sure that we were not gonna run our water , we’re gonna have everything we need. It’s like that may have been part of the conversation at

that point. There was also this question from Lucas Carper who wrote, he was curious if you considered a basement as a geothermal benefit, your house is sitting on a foundation that is not a basement.

And you have talked to me in our many conversations about this new home. Designing it intentionally for aging in place. One floor. Mm-hmm. , no stairs. Once you’re into the house, you can move throughout the house without having to go up and down stairs so that as you inevitably get older and your knees get creakier, God bless your knees.

Yeah. But as they get creakier, you don’t have to adjust to stairs as much. Was a basement a part of that thinking or was there something else that kept you from going with the basement?

And the number one reason Sean was cost. It was, honestly, it was cost. Second reason was it was way more concrete.

Concrete’s not the most environmentally friendly material to make. Mm-hmm. And so it’s like, one, we didn’t need a basement. Two, it was just gonna add something ridiculous like, I dunno, $60,000 to the cost of the home. And it was like, okay, we can put that money elsewhere. Three, we’re aging in place. We’re not gonna wanna do stairs, so we’re not gonna be going down the basement much anyway.

So why would we want it? Why would we pay the extra money to get it? Yes. We just don’t need it. The, it wouldn’t have added any kind of benefit to the geothermal system at all. Yeah, none. Uh, the only benefit it would’ve given is more room for the mechanicals. We’ve run in a, into a little bit of an issue in our, the design, because we have a mechanical room that is going to.

Jam packed like it is. It’s like stuffing sausage. It’s like we wake up the HVAC system, a D Super heater for the hot water that feeds into a heat pump, water heater, and an RV system all crammed in this little room. It’s all gonna fit. But it’s like originally the electric panel was supposed to be in there and it was like it’s already too full.

Be moving the electric panel in there, like sideways, like shuffle in . So regardless, it’s like, and then on top of that geothermal systems, you’re basically have to compressor inside your house. So there’s noise in the house. So we’re having to insulate the mechanical room and use a sealed door so that it’s to isolate the sound as much as we can.

Where if it was a. , you don’t have to worry about that as much cuz it’s, it’s the basement. Mm-hmm. . It’s kinda isolated from the rest of the house. There’s pros and cons, but it just wasn’t worth the money or the extra concrete, any of that stuff. So we just said no.

In a similar vein, there’s this question from Omar who writes, I figured you would go, some of that hemp create insulation that you mentioned in previous videos, but I’m surprised you didn’t.

What are your thoughts on heated floors? Driveway? Radiant heating from the floor has always made the most sense for me logically, but I’ve always wondered how they actually perform when applied. So first question, you’ve talked about a lot of different tech in your videos. Yep. And then this house. Mm-hmm.

is utilizing some of that and not others. You talked a little bit already in this conversation about some of the decision making, but again, What was it about certain things like hemp insulation that you didn’t move toward as opposed to what you did move toward?

Well, hempcrete is not structural. It’s great for insulation value and it has to have its own structure.

And this is a slab on grade, so it’s like we couldn’t do hempcrete for our floors. It would not be appropriate for that, so it was not even an option. When we were discussing maybe doing a basement, we were thinking of doing something called I C F, which. It’s basically like styrofoam, , ah, you’re basically building like a little styrofoam, um, form, and then you pour concrete in the middle of it, and then you leave it, and then that way the concrete is actually insulated by the styrofoam on both sides, and it’s.

Cheap. It’s fast and it’s extremely well insulated. We were looking at considering that until we ejected the basement, and of course, once again, you no longer need that anymore, right? So that was part of the reason why we didn’t do some of that stuff. It just wouldn’t have worked for what we were doing.

Um, it wasn’t a, a, a damning statement of like, I talked to Hree, but it’s actually crap and I don’t want it. Right. It was not, it was just like, it wasn’t the right tool for the right job, so we just didn’t do it. So what was the second part of that question? There was

like a, uh, floors, driveways, anything like that.


That, that came, that was a hot debate between me and my wife for a while. We were trying to figure , we were trying to figure it out. We hired a mechanical engineer to help us design the HVAC system. That did not work for any company or anything like that. He worked for. . So he was helping us design the system that satisfied our needs.

Mm-hmm. and Radiant heating for the floor came up a bunch. It’s the best. If you’re heating a house, it’s like the best way to do it. Hands, hands down. It adds a little to the cost, but for comfort, like nice, toasty floors. Mm-hmm. , the house has no cold spots, you don’t have vents in the walls and all that stuff.

It’s just, it’s just, it just works. It’s nice. It doesn’t have that period where it’s like, The system’s running and then it gets hot and then the system’s not running and it gets cold. It’s like it’s just this even. Just all the time. Mm-hmm. , my wife and I are not hot. Don’t like the summer heat and humidity that we get here in New England.

or air conditioning people. And what that, if you got the in floor heating, you still have to get some kind of vents or mini-splits or something for air conditioning.

So it’s not putting in, then the question came putting in one system versus another. It’s putting in two systems versus.

Correct. It was like, okay, so if we do the radiant floor heating, we still have to have vents.

We still have some mini splits. We still have to do something. It’s like, why are we gonna do two separate systems when we gonna have just one system that does everything all year round instead of having, right. It’s radiant in the winter, and then it’s that thing on the wall in the, in the summer it was like, let’s just do one.

To stick to one system. Um, that’s the main reason why we, yeah, I have a

little bit of familiarity with radiant heating from floors only because my son’s bedroom sits above the furnace and hot water room room in the building live. His is great and his room is consistently, Nice and toasty, 80 degrees. The heat coming off of the floor.

We actually put a throw rug in his room mainly to keep it from getting too hot. We had to provide some insulation to keep the heat out of the room. Jeez. And there are times when he comes out of his room in the middle of January and the rest of us are freezing cuz this house is not well insulated. And he walks out of his room and he’s wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and he looks like he’s just coming off of the beach in Florida.


That’s awesome.

Well, thank you everybody for your comments. As you can tell, if you’re a regular listener or maybe you just dropped in for this one, The comments really do drive the conversation here. We really rely on you to give us feedback and let us know what you’re interested in. So let us know what you thought about this conversation, and if you have any other questions about what Matt is doing with his choices regarding his, his building of his home.

Matt, I’m guessing this is not the last, we’re going to see home building videos from you because there’s multiple stages in the future as far as what you’re going to be doing. , any insight right now as far as like what a couple of those are gonna be and are any of them, and I only ask this because. . I know my parents.

Your parents. I know our parents. Are you gonna have anything about landscaping? Are you gonna be talking about choices as far as like environmental impact? When you’ve built a home, what can you put in around that home to make it environmentally friendly on the outside of the home? Are you gonna do anything like that?

Yes. There

We actually are hiring a landscaper. We’re about to talk to them about what we want to. Get their input as to what we can do. I don’t know if it’ll be a dedicated video for that, but I will be talking about it in some video at some point. But yeah, there’s gonna be a video coming up on once the electrical plumbing and the HVAC duct work is all done, the duct work actually already done.

They’re about to do the plumbing and electrical. Now it’s like I’m planning on doing kind of a video around. What those systems are looking like, why they were done the way they were talking about the home networking. I’m doing to add smart features to some of the house. Then there’s gonna be one when it’s all done kind of walking through the whole system.

When it’s all set up and finished. I’m gonna be doing one about the solar panel system and battery once that gets installed. So it’s. , there’s lots of videos to come. Good stuff. And if, and if you’re interested in a particular aspect of this house and what I’m doing, let me know because I’ll, I’ll, I’ll consider doing something dedicated just for that if, if there’s enough interest.

Interest in

it. Yeah, you can drop that in the comments here. We’ll be happy to, yeah, share those with Matt as they come in. And you could also, on his main channel, you can jump into the comments on his most recent video about the home building and drop those there. He’ll see them as, Yep. Don’t forget. If you’d like to support the show, please consider going back to Apple, Spotify, Google, wherever it was.

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