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Flatrock Passive: A Final Design and Energy Modeling

Energy modeling predicts the house will use 75% less energy for heat than a typical house built to minimum code requirements

The Flatrock Passive House. This rendering shows what the house will look like when complete. With the design in hand, drawings can be turned over to Passive Design Solutions for energy modeling using the Passive House Planning Package.
Image Credit: Image #1: Mike Anderson
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The Flatrock Passive House. This rendering shows what the house will look like when complete. With the design in hand, drawings can be turned over to Passive Design Solutions for energy modeling using the Passive House Planning Package.
Image Credit: Image #1: Mike Anderson
First floor layout for the Flatrock Passive. The second floor layout for Flatrock Passive. The chart shows total energy balances in winter and summer, with the blue column representing energy lost by the building and the red column showing energy gained by the building. The charts are produced by the Passive House Planning Package, the energy modeling software that predicts energy consumption based on the house design and the climate. Heating and cooling loads during winter and summer. Energy used for heating and cooling during the year. Energy modeling suggests the house will use about 75% less energy for heating than one built to code.

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series of blogs by David Goodyear describing the construction of his new home in Flatrock, Newfoundland. The home will be the first in the province to be built to the Passive House standard. The first installment of the GBA blog series was titled An Introduction to the Flatrock Passive House. You can find Goodyear’s complete blog here.

Our designer, Mike Anderson, has been busy! The house now measures 2,176 square feet. The current refinements have been finalized enough that we are ready to submit them to the town for our building permit…. Well, we already have a building permit but it didn’t have an attached garage. The town of Flatrock will only allow you to build a garage once the house has started. To avoid this, we have attached the house so both the house and garage can be built at the same time.

In its current orientation, the long axis of the house is less than 15° from geographical south. This will ensure that our solar coverage will be greater than 95% during the winter months. There will be some energy penalty in the summer, since the setting sun will lead to solar gains later in the day. Some trellis shading over the main level windows should take care of this problem, but only the energy modeling will tell the tale.

The garage facade has been changed around a little. Rather than a double garage door, there is now a single. The garage will be a woodworking shop. Garage doors are a horrible R-18 at most and leak energy like you wouldn’t believe. Minimizing the size of the door will help retain heat as well as give me more wall area for my equipment. The garage will have a huge storage room upstairs that’s about 14 feet by 25 feet. This will accommodate the loss of basement storage. However, getting things upstairs could be a pain and I don’t want a fixed staircase in the garage taking up valuable floor space. We have decided to install an attic stair to access the space from inside. To facilitate lifting large items to the second level, the designer proposed a simple solution: a hayloft door and a pulley. Simple yet effective!

There is no chimney for a wood stove yet since the energy modeling needs to be completed before we determine the heating requirements. Upstairs, things have been changed around a little (for floor plans, see Images #2 and #3 below).

For the most part I like the layout but we have proposed to close in the laundry upstairs with a wall that has two double sliding doors with frosted glass panes. It will allow us to have extra storage for linens, towels, etc., and will enable us to close the doors while still allowing light to spill into the hallway. The ensuite has been resized to accommodate a makeup table for my wife. The master is a little smaller but still about 14 feet square, which is big enough. Besides these changes, the floor plan is likely finished.

Some details yet to come

I am not sure about the vertical board-and-batten siding. Board-and-batten requires a double rainscreen, which takes longer to install, and it doesn’t shed water as well as standard bevel siding. I am proposing we use bevel siding and install board-and-batten under the eaves, with stained cedar shakes to break up the east and west walls.

I am also proposing a multi-colored building, with the flavor of downtown St. Johns and the traditional Newfoundland saltbox seen in outports. It is likely that the home will be one color and the garage will be another, such that the color draws the eye to the house as a focal point on the lot.

At this point, the house is ready for energy modeling. Passive Design Solutions will use the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) software to see if there are any gross issues with the geometry. The software will determine issues with loss of winter solar gains and summer overheating. Based on those results we can determine the need for larger south-facing windows, minimizing north-facing windows, and window overhangs to prevent overheating. Finally, we will obtain a better idea of the heating and cooling requirements for house.

The results of the energy modeling are encouraging

The first round of energy modeling has been completed. Based on the model and the orientation of the house on the lot, the energy usage looks great. There too many numbers to talk about so I’ll focus on the important numbers.

The PHPP software used to model the home is quite complex. The data entry is exhaustive and it contains information from the transparency of windows to the air change rate related to the wind blowing on the building.

First, let’s look at the total energy balances (see Image #4, below). The blue columns show the energy lost by the building and the red columns show the energy gained by the building (based on our climate). Windows typically drain energy from a building. However, if oriented properly, the windows can provide solar gains in winter which can offset the heat loss through the windows.

In our model, the south windows gain slightly more energy than the total lost through all the windows in the envelope! This is a great start! In the summer, the south-facing windows gain quite a bit more than is lost but ventilation alone takes care of much of the heat. The main windows causing this are on the main level since there is no shade structure. The model shows that added solar screens to the outside of the building cuts this by 60% since they decrease the solar irradiance by about 50%.

Heating and cooling loads

Now lets look at loads (see Image #5, below). Loads are the instantaneous use or gain of energy. Here the loads are shown in Btu/h, but we typically use power in kW to represent this. The winter balance is on the coldest day of the year. The summer balance is on the warmest day of the year.

What does all of this mean? Well, let’s decipher the balances and try to put this in perspective. First, I want to talk about demand or total yearly energy usage for heating. I’ll use kWh to represent this rather then the Btu/h convention used in the diagrams. Look below at Image #6. Summing up the red bars (in Btu/h and converting to kW) in the plot gives a total energy usage of 17 kWh/square meter for heating during the whole year.

How does this compare to a code-built home? A typical code-built home uses about 70 kWh/square meter! So the model estimates a 75% savings in heating cost alone.

How about the load on the coldest day of the year? In the load bar plot, the total heat used by the building is about 13,000 Btu/h or 3.8 kW. This is amazingly small for a house that measures 2,176 square feet. In fact, the heating load per square meter was determined to be about 13 watts. Most code-built homes are about 5 to 10 times this number.

Predicted electricity use

If electricity were used for everything in the building, the total yearly electricity usage would be about 12,400 kWh, including heating, appliances, hot water, etc. Keep in mind, we’re located in Climate Zone 6. At today’s rates, the cost-averaged bill will be about $100/month. Using a heat pump for space heating and a heat-pump hot water heater, this drops to 10,300 kWh or $83 per month. A typical code-built house of the same size would use almost 24,000 kWh or about $195 per month. At our current rate, the savings would be about $1,330 per year, and the total monthly electricity bill would be $1,001 per year. Not too shabby!

One of the principles of passive house design is adding renewable energy to further decrease the total energy usage. Do you think that you could be on the grid and minimize energy usage below this while still living comfortably? You betcha! By combining heat and hot water systems and installing a wood gasification boiler plus a heat pump, we have further minimized our electrical consumption by another 3,000 kWh. (A separate post on that system is coming up.)

Our total estimated energy usage will be around 7,300 kWh. If all goes as planned, our estimated monthly electricity bill will be $86.30, -ncluding tax and the service fee. Compare that to a code-built home, where the bill would be $245.67. That’s a savings of 65%. I’m pleased.

With a total energy savings of 65% and the heating requirement that’s 75% less than a code-built home of the same size, the Flatrock Passive House is on the road to be the most energy-efficient detached home in Newfoundland!


  1. davorradman | | #1

    Technically, this would be a "Pretty good house" instead?
    Not meaning to be nitpicking, but to get certification, a passivhaus should be
    Or does the USA passive house institute have different criteria?

  2. rockies63 | | #2

    A Very Poor Layout
    Boy, I do not like your floor plan. While I can see that a tremendous amount of time has been spent designing the house from an energy efficiency perspective the layout is bad.

    You walk in the front door (which looks centered in the middle of the hall) and there's no place to sit and take off wet shoes, no place to put down hats, gloves, mail, keys, etc. Just a closet door on one side and a blank wall straight ahead. Then there's the large "hall" that simply exists to allow access to the living room, office and kitchen (blank walls everywhere).

    The kitchen is a disaster. You have a major traffic route right through the work triangle from the dining room to the livingroom . The rear "mudroom entry" is a dead space with a closet door and a door to the powder room. The screen porch is.......a useless space. Why is it there? Are there windows? Screens?

    As to the upstairs, the bedrooms look nice. Good sizes, good natural lighting. Another long, empty hallway though. Why not build some bookcases into the walls all along it? The main bathroom is Spartan while the master ensuite has so much going on inside it that it's going to feel incredibly cramped. That open room at the head of the stairs (which is going to become smaller when you add those walls you mention) is another wasted opportunity.

    Before you spend any more money by building this I would suggest you read a few of the architectural design books written by Sarah Susanka. Her series grew out of her first book "The Not So Big House". She analyses each room in a house, writes about the functions needed in the space and how to add great features for not much money. You could add a ton of function to your plans and still keep the basic size of the house the same.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but damn! This plan sucks (especially the kitchen).

  3. rockies63 | | #3

    As an Example
    This is the house Sarah Susanka built for herself when she published her first book. Have a look at how the spaces are connected to each other and how functions overlap to create multiple use rooms. There are no dead spaces within the plan, the traffic patterns flow throughout the house without causing bottle-necks or interfering with critical functions (like dishwashing). It's a smallish house and yet has a ton of features. These kinds of spaces are what your house should have.

  4. vensonata | | #4

    A mistake in the numbers?
    "the total yearly electricity usage would be about 12,400 kWh,"..."Using a heat pump for space heating and a heat-pump hot water heater, this drops to 10,300 kWh" That is only a 20% reduction. A heat pump should reduce demands by 60% at least. I think there is some mistake or confusion in these numbers. The hot water and space heat portion of your total energy has to be a significant portion of your total energy use.

  5. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #5

    RE: Technically, this would be a "Pretty good house" instead? R
    the PHIUS numbers are different and climate based.

  6. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #6

    RE: A mistake in the numbers?
    I understand the confusion. The heat pump water heater was modeled to be one of the newer air source top-of-tank models. Since it is pointless to duct this to the outside in our climate (they typically need outside temperatrures >7C), it would scavenge heat from the living space in winter. The mini split heat pump would have to make up the difference. So really a situation of robbing Peter to pay Paul going on here. The other thing to keep in mind is that certain parameters have to be assumed for usage in the PHPP software in order to run different scenarios. Those are entered by the user so the results are as good as the assumptions I would say. Some usage scenarios are based on conjecture really because you really don't know usage patterns but are making an attempt to give a "best guess". THis being said, it does show that as you switch mechanisms for heating you can decrease your site energy usage at the meter. Hope this helps.

  7. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #7

    RE: A Very Poor Layout
    There was quite a bit of time spend on the layout. I was aiming for living/sleeping space on the south side of the home. It would provide lots of natural light and great heating potential in the winter to spaces that are used for living in. Although it may look like alot of dead space, I have certain things in mind for how to use those spaces.. Not all architectural or millwork details are included in the plans. My garage is not actually a garage. it is a woodworking shop. I am proud of my work and have always filled my homes with beautiful details/built ins that make spaces more usable. However this doesn't work with the "I need this now" approach. I don't have 10 years to build a house but I do have 10 years to work on things that I have thought about one thing at a time. This fits with adding great features for not much money. I just need to buy wood...the rest is my time.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that the plan you see here was a revision which has since changed. That space at the top of the stairs will now be a separate room, with built in linen storage and folding space. There will be two large sliding doors to open that space to the hallway so it doesn't seem closed in and we will still be able to close the doors as the socks multiply...which they always do...I'm not sure where they all come from!!! Likewise i have already been thinking about adding bookcases to the upstairs hallway. As for the entryway, as stark as it looks in the plan, will have a small bench that I built for mysellf and a beautiful dovetailed key cabinet with bookmatched door panels. My house will be a show case for alot of my furniture/built-ins. The blank wall right ahead of the entry also has plans. My feeling is that the wasted opportunity you speak of is based on an assumption that we haven't thought about any of these things which is not the case. I have put a large amount of time in planning how the spaces will be used and the features that I will add to make them usable.

    The Screen porch is really a porch. It is a closed in space and there is a window and a a door with a sidelight now. This space as several purposes. It is a transition space between my wood shop and the house to separate them so there is no direct access. it acts as a space for wet winter clothes after snowblowing for 2 hours in January (Yes it rains almost all the time after every major snow fall). it will be a space for my dried fire wood which will be easily accessed from inside the house with a stackable wood cart that I will be able to roll directly to the porch and back to the wood stove. Although there are no details the space has been thought through. I really didn't want wet boots and winter snow suits in our main entry when they could be stored in a more suitable location. The 1/2 bath connected to that mudroom provides a space for me to get washed up after coming in from outdoors without having to go upstairs or make my way accross the living space after a long day in the shop.

    Ahhhh....the kitchen....There is a traffic route through it. Battled with this one...and had several revisions. In its current configuration it provides a straight line between the 3 major living spaces of the house and makes the kitchen central to the dining room and living room for easy access. I don't think traffic will be that major for a family of 3 so I am not that worried about it and gave up obsessing over it several months ago. We typically operate a 1 cook kitchen so I think it will work fine. Here's to hoping!

    In addition the under stairs space will be used as pantry...the current door configuration in the plan has changed.

    A house can be a work in progress as long as you have thought about how to use the spaces upfront so things can be conveniently added in the future. Although most of what i have mentioned is not on paper it is in my head.

    No need to be sorry about being blunt! As this is an open forum it is OK for you to form an opinion about the plans and great that you are open to provide criticism. It actually enforces some of my prior thoughts about how to use the spaces in the plan more efficiently...and may have triggered some more thoughts on other things.

    Phew!!!! That was a mouthful!!

  8. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #8

    Kitchen layout
    David: I suggest you find some empty garage or basement space and get a bunch of sawhorses and cardboard and do a full size mock up of the kitchen. Scott Wilson is right. It looks like an awful layout. I particularly don't like the sink location. Would you consider moving the kitchen?
    Hiring an architect can save you a fortune, by shrinking the footprint that now has a lot of wasted space. Sarah Susanka's books are a valuable resource.

  9. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #9

    RE Kitchen Layout
    Stephen, thanks for the input but the horse is out of the barn on this one...literally. We were very limited with respect to the central placement of the kitchen i agree. we wanted the clean up area to view the back yard so the only option was really the south wall....I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best!

  10. Bronwyn Barry | | #10

    Insulation levels must be designed for winter loads
    Hi David,

    This is a very informative blog post and I especially appreciate your summer and winter energy balance graphs. The info they reveal is useful for anyone interested in designing buildings for lowest carbon emissions that enable all-renewable source energy supply (wether that be macro- or micro-grid supplied.)

    If we take a look at the difference in losses from your walls from winter to summer, we can easily see why it's so important to design insulation levels for winter conditions (when solar PV is at it's lowest production output) and not in competition with the cost of PV. Walls are typically the largest surface area in any building and therefore lose the most heat (as counter-intuitive as that seems.) Once you've reduced your heating demand (or load) to the levels defined by the Passive House standard, you've dramatically decreased the amount of energy required in winter, when renewable source supplies are at their lowest or most unreliable. This has enormous benefits (and carbon emission reductions) for utilities, whose biggest challenge is winter peak loads - the time of year when they want to fire up the coal generated power plants, because we don't have enough stored renewable energy (yet.)

    Congratulations. (Your kitchen layout is just fine.) You've focused on EXACTLY the right thing here: reducing your winter heating.

  11. cstrom | | #11

    Design vs. "Design"
    Obviously much thought went into the energy modeling and technical design considerations. The owner should be applauded for this substantial investment in a green home. However I would echo the other comments on the floor plan layout: it needs to be greatly improved or you may dislike it so much that you will want to remodel in 5-10 years (which is not green at all). The most sustainable projects include a smart floor plan. The "livability" of a space, used every day, is just as important as energy savings.

  12. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #12

    GBA House blogs and design advice
    It's worth remembering that although the blogs appear over a period of time, they almost always describe a project that is already complete.

  13. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #13

    Re: Design vs. Design
    Chris, a lot of the choices in our floor plan were actually based on our current home. We have been living in that home for almost 10 years now and really liked the layout so much that we integrated some of the features into the current home. We'll see what happens at this point. As I mentioned, the horse is out of the barn. Construction has already started and we are about 1/2 way through framing. I am please so far while standing in the space..we'll see about livability...hopefully by October.

  14. Bronwyn Barry | | #14

    Goodyear for Pope.
    Aren't you happy you didn't write this blog to solicit input on your kitchen design? You probably would have received heaps of advice on how to adjust the energy model... :)

    PS. If you are able to still optimize this design a little, I would consider looking at slightly better windows, possibly with a lower SHGC (or g-value.) Currently your heat balance graphs show your windows lose more than they gain in the winter and gain more heat in the summer. Exterior shutters may fix this for both seasons?

  15. rockies63 | | #15

    My Option
    In addition to the series of books written by Sarah Susanka I would suggest you read another great resource book called “A Pattern Language”. Back in the 1970’s an architectural professor and his students were studying buildings all over the world to see if there were any common themes occurring in regards to room size, placement or orientation. They discovered that people preferred the same “patterns of design” in their houses over and over again no matter the climate, the culture or their financial resources. Patterns like “always having daylight coming into major rooms from two sides” and “locating major rooms in the house dependent on where the sun will be during the time of day you will primarily be using that room”.

    As an example, since most people usually want a bright sunny kitchen in the mornings and afternoons then that room should be located in the south-east corner. The dining room can be in a central position along the south wall so that you can enjoy the sun during lunch and dinner. The living room is usually on the west side of the house since you’ll most likely be using it in the late afternoons and evenings. Other rooms like offices, entryways, mudrooms and powder rooms don’t need as much sun so they can be on the north side of the house. Once you know the general room locations you can start to plan out the circulation paths and sight lines to views.

    The two main problems I see with your main floor plan are the circulation paths and the general lack of access to natural daylight. Take your plan and draw in all the furniture you plan on using to scale and then take a red marker and draw in the circulation paths. You will see that you have several major paths crossing rooms in order to get to other rooms. Three major paths cross through the dining room (one to get from the dining room entrance to the kitchen entrance, a second to get from the dining room entrance to the stairs and the third from the stairs to the kitchen entrance. This turns the dining table and chairs into more of an obstacle than a place to eat dinner.

    In the living room there are also three major circulation paths cutting through the room. Again, one to get from the entrance hall to the kitchen, another one to get from the entrance hall to the mudroom and the most problematic one existing from the mudroom to the kitchen entrance. Having to walk right across the living room in order to bring groceries in from the garage will be incredibly inconvenient (not to mention making it difficult to place furniture).

    Another issue with your layout are the locations of the main rooms themselves. I sense that you want to have an “open concept” living space with the three main rooms laid out across the southern half of the house. The best thing to do then is to move the kitchen into the south east corner, place the dining room in the center and the living room on the west side. Now the mudroom is right next to the kitchen (along with easy access to the powder room). The kitchen is now much more accessible, there is lots of counter space, there is room for an eating peninsula and there are no circulation paths cutting through the work triangle. (As an aside, no guest will want to use a powder room when the access door is visible from the main living space).

    With the kitchen moved to a better location the wall between the front entry and the dining room can now feature a pass through window to help connect the two spaces together and provide a beautiful view from the front door. The entry contains access to the office, a small closet, a low cabinet for papers, mail, keys, etc, and a seating bench. If you wanted you could also add a low cabinet and countertop to the dining room side of the pass through wall to act as a buffet.

    Moving the stairs is another critical change to solving circulation problems within the house. As it is, having the stairs running up the far side of the dining room means that you can’t have windows on that wall. In effect the stairs themselves become a dark vertical access tunnel simply wedged between walls. If you move the stairs so they start on the north wall of the living room and then turn them to run upstairs over the office (build in an office desk below the upper run of stairs where you don’t have the headroom) then everyone can access the second floor without really having to enter the living room at all.

    By removing the central hall (that really only existed to allow access to the office, dining room and living room) and changing it to a “circulation spine” that visibly connects all three major ground floor rooms you’ve effectively included that space within each room, thereby making all the spaces feel larger. You also get much more natural daylight throughout the main floor and beautiful views (hopefully there will be a couple of small windows added to the east and west walls).

    Finally, in a compact house such as this you should never waste valuable interior floor space on a mechanical room when it could just as be easily be placed somewhere else. Put it either in the garage or in a small new space connecting the house to the garage.

    Of course, the final placement of interior walls, doors and windows (as well as the sizes of the rooms) will all be dependent on the actual exterior dimensions of your house and your own personal tastes but I hope this plan gives you some additional options.

    Let me know if you want some advice on the upstairs.

  16. Bronwyn Barry | | #16

    Can you provide an energy model for your design please?

  17. rockies63 | | #17

    Energy Model
    Unfortunately, no. I don't have that kind of software and, to be honest, I don't think energy modeling is actually that important.


    Well, yes. There is absolutely no point in doing energy modeling if the basic layout and circulation paths within the house don't work. Nobody is going to care in 6 months that because you changed the size or position of the windows the heating load on the building decreased by 0.5% It's the same sort of argument I make when I tell people there is no point in meeting with a bank manager to borrow $200000 to build a house until the layout works perfectly.

    It is unfortunate that Mr Goodyear is now halfway through the framing stage (but it's still not too late to stop and make changes). The critical reason I think he should stop the framing is because of his statement "Ahhhh....the kitchen....There is a traffic route through it. Battled with this one...and had several revisions" followed by "gave up obsessing over it several months ago".

    Just because he gave up on solving a major circulation problem doesn't mean that the circulation problem ceases to exist. The circulation problems must be fixed or the entire build is a complete waste of time and money. This is especially true for the placement of the kitchen and the work triangle. I suspect it will be only a matter of time before the person standing at that kitchen sink and loading the dishwasher gets sick of having to "scrunch" out of the way in order to let someone pass behind them. Imagine having to do that for years.

    In truth, I wish I had seen this plan months ago (before framing had started) because there is probably very little time left to fix things. I'm also curious to hear what his wife thinks of my design suggestions at this late stage..

  18. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #18

    RE Goodyear for Pope.
    Barry, pretty funny! Im sure there will be criticisms on that also as the blog goes on. We'll see.

  19. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #19

    RE: My Option
    Scott, I wish I had time to answer all of the concerns here promptly but I may have to break this one up. I will say that my lot didn't allow for much in terms of set back from property lines. The house and garage placement were pretty much fixed. I was lucky to find a great location on a slightly sloped south facing lot. However the odd shape pretty much fixed to the footprint to a small area. This influenced the design alot. having a window on the east side of the house in the living area (or in your plan the kitchen) meant looking out at the garage wall. From an energy perspective it didnt make a whole lot of sense. We wend through 5 revisions of various floor plans and settled on this one, although its now a little different.

    In a passive house it makes sense to keep the mechanicals inside the thermal boundary of the house and having them centralized in order to make them efficient otherwise they can have a drastic effect on energy usage. A footprint of 7x7 is not that much for a mechanical room really. A woodstove will feed hot water back to a tank in that space. having that tank sit in a space with ocassional heating would lead again to more wasted energy.

    The "office" on the main level will be a multipurpose room. it will be a playroom, an office and will house a murphy bed for guests. it needed to be the size of a good bedroom for it to work as it does in our current house.

    We tried the central staircase but it didn't work with having rooms on the south side of the home.

    As for my wife, she had quite a bit of input on the floor plan and the kitchen is no bigger/smaller than our current home with as much counter space as we currently have. As I said before, some of the house layout is similar to our current home and we haven't had a problem with traffic issues.

    The West wall now has a fairly large window (about 8ft high) and several windows at the top of the stair case. I think it will work fine for lighting the staircase.

    I do appreciate your concerns and your commentary. You are obviously well versed in house design.

    That's it for to work, then my second job,...building a house...and a never ending list of things to get done...I will try to follow up on the other items later.

  20. rockies63 | | #20

    My Option
    Well, thank you for your kind words (I've been an architect for 35 years). I understand the constraints placed upon you by the lot location, its size, topography and setbacks. Those are important considerations that you have to take into account in order to plan your house and they typically can't be changed.

    I understand your desire to build an efficient home that will meet Passive House standards. There are a whole ton or rules, guidelines and requirements you have to follow in order to receive their certification and I think it's wise to include them in your design.

    I also understand your desire to build as simple a shape as possible for a house. Your house is a basic rectangle on top of another rectangle with a simple gable roof on top. No jogs, no bump-outs, no indentations, no fussy details. It doesn't get any easier to build than that.

    The problem is (and will continue to be) the circulation paths. There are so many of them cutting through the major ground floor rooms (just to get to other rooms or stairwells) that you're basically left with only one seating area in each room. For example, in the living room there is only one spot for the sofa (against the east wall), room for possibly two small chairs, a coffee table, two end tables and an entertainment unit against the kitchen wall (unless that's where the wood stove is going). In the dining room there's space for a table and six chairs in the middle of the room and that's it (could there possibly be bookcases, a desk, or an interior window seat included?). There just isn't much "adaptability" in your plan. It would be great if more than one group of people could use each room for different functions at the same time.

    If, at the very least, you left every wall in place (while also keeping the mechanical room, the staircase where it is, the office and main hallway as they are) and just switched the main room locations so that the kitchen is in the south east corner, the dining room is in the middle and the living room is on the west side of the house it would solve 90% of your circulation problems. Same framing, same house size, same energy modeling.

    As an aside, I think it's wonderful that you are going to have a woodshop and that you will be able to use your time and skills to create wonderful built-ins like benches, key cabinets and other wood working projects to personalize your home. However, there is also a danger to doing that. You may find that after you have spent some time living in the house and so much time and effort creating and installing those wonderful projects that one day when you finally sit back and realize "You know, this floor plan just isn't working. We should have put the kitchen there" you won't be able to change anything because you won't want to rip out all those wonderful projects.

    I strongly encourage you (before you do any energy modeling, before the ductwork and plumbing and electrical are installed, before the cabinetry has been ordered or one more nail has been hammered into a stud) that you correct the major flaws in your circulation paths now. I promise you that the pain and extra expense of making this change now will save you tons of grief down the road

  21. Reid Baldwin | | #21

    Useful debate
    I am enjoying the debate about the floorplan, regardless of whether the original poster is able to or willing to change it. The primary audience for these type of articles is other people considering or planning to embark upon a similar endeavor. Multiple viewpoints are very useful to that audience. Listening in on a professional architects critique of a home-owner generated plan is enlightening about things any other home-owner with a drawing package should think about. I also like the home-owner push-back questioning some of the assumptions that get baked into the way professional architects have been doing it for decades.

  22. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #22

    I concur with Reid's comments. It's useful to see this sort of discussion.
    One aspect of the design that bothers me is the porch. It's only six feet wide. I wonder if it will ever get used for anything? Sandwiched between the garage and house, will it get any breeze at all? Will the snow ever melt? The corners away from the sunny side may get moldy.

  23. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #23

    RE: Porch
    Hi Stephen, the porch is actually a closed in space with 2x6 walls. so technically not screened! we initially thought it would be as a way to get around some issues with town requirements but then decided to attach the garage to the house via a closed in porch.

  24. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #24

    Hi David: did you think about just having an open porch between the house and garage, with just a roof?
    I'm looking forward to following your progress.

  25. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #25

    I did but was afraid of snow, rain, etc. I also wanted easy access to dried fire wood which I will stack along one of the walls. I only need about 3/4 of a cord of wood so the it will take up little space.

  26. rockies63 | | #26

    What do you plan to do for storage? There only seems to be the front hall closet, the office closet, a small mudroom closet and the pantry space under the stairs in the dining room. Where is all the day to day stuff going to go?

    If your porch is only 6' wide and you plan on storing dried firewood there (which might be 18" long and need 3-6" behind it for proper air circulation) then that eats up 2' of the width. I would widen the porch to at least 8' and also add a door to a south deck.

    Are you installing a floor drain under your washing machine? if the hoses burst you could wind up flooding the second floor. Do you plan on hanging washing outside to dry in the summer? Having an exterior door near the bottom of the stairs might be a good idea.

  27. rockies63 | | #27

    The Upstairs
    A bedroom door should never open out towards you into the hall. Pull that section of the wall with the master bedroom door west so that the wall lines up with the master bedroom closet wall. Now the door can open in against a blank wall (and you get a shorter upstairs hall too).

    In the master bath you should create two zones so that two people can use the bathroom at the same time. Keep one sink in the front section across from the toilet and move the second sink into the tub area (along with any shelving or storage). Put in either a pocket door to the tub area (or at a minimum a curtain) and also think of changing the main master bath door to a pocket door.

  28. rockies63 | | #28

    If you are enclosing the laundry area you might consider using a stacked washer/dryer and installing a laundry sink into an adjacent counter unit (an invaluable asset for pre-soaking and general clean-up). If you use an undermount laundry sink you can make a wooden insert to cover the sink so you can have a full countertop for sorting and folding when you don't need the sink.

  29. user-5946022 | | #29

    Interesting comments. My
    Interesting comments. My first reaction to the floorplan was it is nice, efficient, gives lots of wall space for art work. The only thing I figured I'd want different is moving the master bedroom doorway further down the hall so it could swing the other direction...and putting a translucent door across the office/laundry.

    Will be interested in learning about your project.

  30. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #30

    storage, upstairs, laundry
    Hi Scott. The wood stove will take junks up to 15" but preferable at 12" so the stack won't take up that much room. 3/4 of a cord of stacked fire wood is not really much wood. I will also have a shed on the premises for storage of wood also. We actually don't have a whole lot of stuff. In our current basement we have at least two storage areas about 20x10 with very little in there. The second story of the garage is kind of a replacement for a basement. It is 24x26 with common rafters so the floor space upstairs is substantial. In the winter it will be kept at the same temperature as our basement in our current house i.e. about 15 C.

    The laundry room will be fairly configurable. We haven't narrowed down configuration yet. but have been exploring ideas for cabinetry, sinks, etc. There will be no vent to the outside since the dryer will be a heat pump model so its placement is not really dependent on exterior walls. it is likely that the washer will be installed in some sort of base pan if I can find one that diverts to a drain. Sometimes we hang laundry to dry outside during the summer. My wife really wanted a second floor laundry because the number of months of cold weather far outweighs the number of months we can use a clothes line.

    I had thought about the sink idea and insert. We will explore those options as we get to them.

    moving that wall so the door swings inwards could work nicely and easily implemented.

    The main master bath door is now changed to a pocket door and I will see how the other bathroom ideas work out also.



  31. rockies63 | | #31

    Wood Stove
    Where is the wood stove going? I don't see a chimney chase going up through the second floor anywhere. I thought the Passive house organization frowns on having a wood stove located within the building envelope.

    You also say you are going to include a Murphy bed in the office. If it is a queen size mattress it will need a cabinet that is 66" wide by 18" deep and when the bed is out the mattress will project into the room about 86". How will you place other furniture (desk, chair, dresser,etc) in the room so that you can use the room as an office when the bed isn't down?

    Have you done any computer images for the interiors using architectural software?

  32. rockies63 | | #32

    Floor Plans
    This is my design for your upstairs. I’ve tried to keep all the major walls aligned over the downstairs walls to help with bearing loads and also to make it easier to run ductwork and plumbing. Your original plan isn’t too bad. The 5’10” width of the main bathroom is a bit weird though. To fit a larger sized tub you should go to either a 5’6” or 6’ width (I chose 6’).

    I’ve also tried to align the upstairs windows over the downstairs windows but since the south bedroom windows are smaller than the windows below them I decided to line up one side of the bedroom window with the side of the window below it. It should still look nice on the exterior.

    As you can see I’ve moved the master bedroom entrance farther down the hall. The hall also looks fairly wide so you might consider using double doors to enter the master bedroom but if you don’t like that a single door will still look nice. In the master suite the walk-in clothes closet is a bit smaller but you get a lot more storage and flexibility for setting up a closet system if you don’t include a window in there (you don’t really need one). The biggest change, however, is in the master bathroom.

    Having a small linen closet tucked into the exterior wall of the master bathroom doesn’t make it very convenient for the occupants of the other two bedrooms to retrieve linens or get clean towels. I therefore moved the linen closet to a better spot near the head of the stairs. The master bathroom was also too narrow so I widened it to 9’ to allow you to have a bit more room while you’re standing at the sink. I also aligned the two interior bathroom walls in order to install a second pocket door into the tub area. This will allow someone to use the toilet or wash their hands while someone else is using the shower. A second sink and more linen storage is also located in the tub area. In the original plan a bathroom window should never overhang the edge of the tub or crowd the sink counter. With the bathroom widened by one foot this won’t happen.

    I’m still not thrilled with the laundry setup (I think it should be bigger and have more counter space, a long countertop with a sink and a hanging rod for drip-drying) but a laundry closet will still work.

    I have a couple of other questions about the main floor.

    1. Where is the broom closet?
    2. Are you planning on having a waste recycling center for kitchen scraps, paper goods, plastic, metals and glass anywhere?
    3. How and where are you going to vent the kitchen range hood?
    4. Is the wood stove going to be located against the kitchen wall in the living room (the most likely place and shown on the plan in green). If so, how will you ensure that someone coming around the corner from either the front hall or the kitchen doesn’t accidentally bump into the corner of a hot stove? I know that clearances to combustibles must be considered in locating any wood stove but since a wood stove will stick out into the room at least 3’ and you have several circulation paths passing right in front of the wood stove someone (in particular a child) might misjudge their speed or distance as they come around the corner and run into it.

  33. rockies63 | | #33

    Here are some pictures I created based upon the measurements you provided on your floor plans. The exact window sizes are probably wrong but I based them on the how they looked in proportion to the room sizes on the plans.

  34. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #34

    RE: Floor plans
    Hi Scott, im not sure what to say?!?!?! A thanks is definitely in order! The renderings are exactly as I had envisioned. Very helpful!

    I have uploaded the final-final plans. Some aspects have changed with respect to the plan that was originally used for energy modelling. I unfortunately don't have time to be as thorough as you in your reply but I can try to touch on several aspects that you mentioned. I think that moving the master door makes sense...easily doable. that closet in the master is now accessible from the bathroom. The upstairs laundry is going to be closed in with a wall. The door size hasn't been decided but we thought that having a couple of large hanging sliding doors with opaque glass would allow light to spill from the laundry window into the hallway. That laundry room has been reconfigured. A stackable washer dryer will go in the north west corner followed by lower cabinets around the room to the south east corner. there will be upper cabinets also. and a sink. The room will be much more functional for storage of a lot of stuff including laundry supplies, linens, etc.

    I agree with the window in the has been changed and will work much better now.

    In the new plan you can see that the entry under the stairs is now accessible from the dining room. It is likely that this will become a small sort of wall in pantry/broom closet.

    for recycling, One of the lower cabinets will have a pull out with double refuse containers. We change often and have larger containers in our shed.

    Range hoods are complicated in Passive Houses. there are several problems. Often times the houses are so tight that they need make up air, usually through an active vent. When the range hood is turned on, a control circuit will open a damper to let in air...other wise you risk sucking carbon monoxide from the wood stove into the space...There is also a huge energy penalty since you are throwing away all that energy by blowing it out the window. Having a recirculation hood with good filters helps save this energy instead of throwing it away. There are also fancy HRV hoods but they are expensive.

    The wood stove is complicated. They are fine as long as you install carbon monoxide sensors in the house and the combustion chamber is sealed so it gets air directly from an external source directly to the stove. We had planned on the location shown in your diagram. However, it lead to several problems, and traffic being one of them. i was afraid of it in that location, although from an energy modelling point of view it makes sense to run the chimney up through the interior of the envelope. This setup works well for a single story home. I am going to be using ICC excel chimney. Their system has an airtight thimble, however, if the chimney passes through a second level, it has to be chased in and the penetration to the attic has to use an attic radiation shield and a bunch of other stuff that makes the connection to the attic open and not air tight. If you go through an exterior wall this issue gets eliminated and can be air tight. The other problem with the interior wall is that a 5" duct would have to be run under the slab and out through the foundation in order to provide make up air....there were too many uncertainties with this interior wall setup and I know it will work on an exterior wall so we moved it.

    This being said, the exterior of the stove is covered in an insulation kit and won't get as hot as a traditional stove....

    thats it for now...gotto to go work on a house!!!

  35. rockies63 | | #35

    Final Plan
    Well, the upstairs certainly looks good, although I would still divide the master bathroom into two separate zones so that the two of you can both use the room at the same time. There’s still that long interior hallway with no natural daylight though.

    The only real issue I still have with your plan is the kitchen. It’s location just makes the main floor feel so…….compartmentalized and creates too many circulation paths that simply cut through rooms to allow you to get to other rooms.

    Just for fun, here’s my final plan. The kitchen is right next to the mudroom. When you’re coming home in the middle of winter with 15 bags of groceries in the back of the car you won’t want to schlep them into the house, through the living room, down the main hall, into the dining room and dump them on the dining room table in order to sort it all out and then put it all away in the pantry under the stairs.

    With this plan the broom closet and pantry are right by the back door. Put the groceries on the peninsula and put them away. Quick and simple. The kitchen has lots of counter space between the fridge, stove and sink, a dishwasher in the peninsula and lots of upper cabinet storage too (and no major circulation pathways through the kitchen work triangle). The dining room now opens up to both the kitchen and the living room offering long sight lines right through the southern half of the house. There’s also a pass through window between the dining room and front entry allowing light and views through both spaces and a large sideboard below it.

    As to the wood stove, if you must have one I would suggest you get a soapstone stove. It doesn’t have to be a solid soapstone stove like a Tulikivi but could just be a regular metal stove with a soapstone outer casing. Unlike a regular metal box wood stove (which heats up really fast, blasts out a ton of dry heat and then quickly cools down) a soapstone stove provides a gentle even heat throughout most of the day or night (and if you should brush up against it you won’t get burned). Also, with your stove being located at the far end of the house you’ll wind up with a hot, dry living room. Not much heat will be getting to the rest of the main floor (and probably none for upstairs).

    In this plan the soapstone stove is placed between the living room and the dining room. If you’ve never seen a soapstone wood stove they look like fine pieces of furniture. If it were out in the middle of the room it would be a beautiful focal point (even when not lit) and provide gentle heat to the entire main floor.

    The rear exit to the house can be sliding glass doors as shown (there must be sliding doors suitable for a Passive House) but if you don’t like that idea then a window and single door will work.

    Well, that’s it. I really enjoyed analyzing your house. I hope you didn’t take offense. I wish you the best of luck with your new build.

  36. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #36

    RE:Floor plan

    your analysis and renderings were much appreciated. I didn't take offence! There are a few things now that we will change about the plans based on your input. My wife and I have been discussing the master bathoom and the master bedroom entry to shorten the hallway. There are also lots of other things you mentioned that we are reviewing. I hope that other GBA members found the discussion enlightening!

    The stove we have chosen is the walltherm made by

    It is about 15 kW but only outputs about 2.4 kW with the insulation kit and IR glass. The rest of the energy (about 12.6kW) is captured by heating water and then stored in a 1000 L storage tank in the mechanical room. Distribution will happen via a constant pressure hydronic rad system operated by TRVs at the rads. THe system will also be configured to provide domestic hot water. This stove had a "local" distributor ( in Nova Scotia. The soap stone models are great but the walltherm is really the only living room model stove that is available locally for heating water (it is CSA approved for the Canadian market). At the time of design there were no ways to add renewables to the house since net metering was not possible here. Having a wood stove was a good way to add some renewable source of power and reduce my dependency on the grid.

    Net metering is now possible and my application is submitted...more to follow later in the blog...

  37. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #37

    More on the Walltherm
    It looks like the Walltherm boiler is manufactured by an Italian company called Wallnöfer.

    There's a web page mentioning a residential installation in Billerica, Mass. -- the installation apparently cost $6,495:

    Contact information for the manufacturer:
    Wallnöfer GmbH
    Zona Industriale
    I - 39026 Prato allo stelvio (BZ)
    Province of Bolzano
    Tel. +39 0473 616361
    Fax. +39 0473 617141
    [email protected]

  38. rockies63 | | #38

    Setbacks and Codes
    So how far along are you with framing the garage? if it's not too late could you move the garage about 10' further east? The reason I ask is that rather than just using the space between the house and garage as a place to store firewood it would be nice to turn it into a screened porch opening out onto a south facing deck. I don't know what the bug situation is like in Newfoundland in the summer but the addition of a screened porch would be a positive boon (plus with the garage a bit further away you could add a window to the south east corner of the living room wall.

    If you are putting a Murphy bed into the office will you have to add a code mandated egress window (since the room is also technically a bedroom)?

    You might also consider adding Sun Tunnels to the upstairs hallway. Unlike a skylight Sun Tunnels don't permit large quantities of heat to escape through the roof while still permitting a lot of natural daylight.

    I see you have a "sunshade" roof attached to the south exterior wall to protect the main floor windows from excessive summer sun. These structures can be very difficult to flash properly. You might consider building a free standing pergola and setting it about 6" off the exterior wall. You'll still get the advantages of solar shading with a pergola but won't have to interrupt the wall sheathing or exterior insulation in order to anchor the sunshade roof to the house.

  39. rockies63 | | #39

    The Building Envelope
    Will you be installing sill pans under all your exterior doors and windows?
    How are the exterior walls constructed?
    What product or method are you using for an air/moisture barrier on the walls?
    How are you attaching the south deck to the house (or is it a concrete patio)?
    How are you insulating and venting the attic?

  40. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #40

    Response to Scott Wilson
    This is the second blog in a long series. As they used to say at the end of each episode of a radio serial, "Tune in next week." All will be revealed in due time.

  41. DAVID GOODYEAR | | #41

    More to come...
    This is a fairly long series and I am writing weekly and sometimes twice a week. More to follow!!!

  42. rockies63 | | #42

    Hello. I’ve drawn out a more precise version of your main floor according to the dimensions provided on your architectural blueprints and I have a couple of tweaks for you to consider.

    Including a Murphy bed in your main floor office will make it extremely difficult to use the room as an office when the bed is down (and also make it very difficult to place any other furniture in the room such as a desk, a chest of drawers, or a chair). Since the cabinet for a Murphy bed is usually 66” wide by 24” deep why not go further and create a wall of cabinetry against the west office wall by placing 24” deep standing wardrobes on either side of the Murphy bed? Then you could change the existing closet area into a recess and put the desk there. You could also install shallow wall cabinets over the desk for additional storage. With this change in layout you’ll be able to use the room as an office even while the bed is down.

    I would also suggest that you change the direction of a couple of door swings. The mechanical room door should open the other way since when you are doing service work in there you will most likely need to walk between the mechanical room and the garage to get tools. You don’t want to have to step out into the front hall and then have to close the mechanical room door in order to get around it and head towards the garage.

    I think you mentioned previously that you were changing the powder room door to a pocket door so I’ve shown that. The other door swing I would like you to change is the one from the screen porch into the garage and then move it up the wall a bit to allow you to add another exterior door accessing the screen porch. As it is you only have one exterior door from the dining room to the entire south side of the house. With a second exterior door from the screen porch you can bring things into the house from the backyard (like firewood) without having to either walk through the whole house or walk around the side of the house to the front.

    My last suggestion would be to add an insulated pantry for non-perishable items in the garage. My second drawing shows the distance you need to currently travel in order to bring each load of groceries from the car to the pantry under the dining room stairs. It’s quite the trek. You might also consider adding a chest freezer next to the pantry in the garage.

  43. rockies63 | | #43

    Office Pictures
    Here's how the office would look as proposed. One option has matching wardrobes on either side of the Murphy bed and the other has a low chest of drawers with an upper cabinet above it on one side.

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