Longtime readers of Green Building Advisor will remember reading about a Passivhaus residence in Fairbanks, Alaska, called the Sunrise House. Designed and built by a contractor named Thorsten Chlupp, the superinsulated house generated widespread interest from journalists and energy-efficiency experts. The home has an elaborate hydronic heating system that includes a dozen solar thermal collectors connected to a 5,000-gallon insulated water tank. The backup heating system consists of a wood-fired masonry heater with stainless-steel heat-exchange tubing that transfers heat from the wood fire to the large water tank.
And a few years later, in 2015, GBA published a report on a presentation given by Chlupp at an energy-efficiency conference in Vermont.
A serendipitous meeting
During the summer of 2019, when my wife and I were visiting friends in Fairbanks, we accompanied our host one evening when he delivered some construction equipment to a job site in the Fairbanks suburbs. Looking out the vehicle window, I realized that we were driving past Thorsten Chlupp’s distinctive house, which I recognized from the photos published in GBA. “Let’s stop and see if Thorsten is home,” I said.
When I knocked, a stranger came to the door. “Is Thorsten home?” I asked. No, the stranger answered. Then he introduced himelf: “I’m Andrew McDonnell. I bought the house from Thorsten.”
After exchanging a few pleasantries, Andrew graciously agreed to be interviewed about the performance of his home. I told him I’d give him a call when I got back to my office in Vermont.
Busy with other articles, I neglected to call Andrew for several months. Recently, however, we had a long telephone conversation about…