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Haase home brings the outdoors in

By Staff | Mar 9, 2015

When one looks at a tree, they can find a variety of different meanings; strength, courage, longevity.

But, when Scott and Anna Haase think of trees one thing comes to mind structural intelligence.

At least, that is what they thought after attending the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wis. where they saw the work of Roald Gunderson of Whole Trees Architecture and Structures.

From there, the Haase family began a home improvement project which would benefit their family and the environment in many ways.

“Building this house has always been in the back of my mind,” Scott says.

He had always been interested in making a more energy-efficient home for him, Anna and their two sons, Gannon and August, to live in.

“We had lived in town for two years, but we got the itch to live in the country,” Scott says.

But when they moved to the new home outside of Blue Earth, they had some ideas for home improvement.

“The house was not efficient and not set up for how we wanted to live,”?Scott adds.

So instead of making changes to their current home, they met with an architect, Roald Gunderson, and began planning a passive solar home designed with the use of whole trees as support beams and columns.

And once the plans were finished, they got busy doing some of the work and began building the house on their own.

Scott, his brother and some of his friends took some time harvesting trees for the project.

“Three or four of the main columns in the house are from our farm here the one in the living room is a boxelder and wasn’t originally in the blueprint. But, they were cool trees and we wanted to make them a focal point,”?Scott says.

Most of the concepts incorporated into the house are all about energy efficiency and being environmentally friendly. One may wonder how chopping down trees would help the environment but it does.

“It’s like harvesting trees,”?Scott says. “You’re turning diseased trees or small diameter trees which would normally be considered forest waste, into a high value product.”

Essentially, by utilizing those trees which are less desireable by the timber industry and doing it properly, it can help the sustainability and diversity of woodlands and helps woodland management to be profitable.

“It is like weeding out a forest,”?Anna says. “You pull out the ones that are less desirable and make a use for them.”

They found a lot of trees well over 100 of them and began peeling the bark off. They were then stored for later use.

The first year they put down the concrete foundations and the first layer of brick, which would aid in the passive solar aspect of their home once it was complete.

They added columns, beams and rafters for the first floor so they could tarp it for the winter.

Once winter was over they moved into the second year of the home project and added bricks for the walls on the second floor. By late fall of the second year they put up the rafters.

“Then, that winter the shape of the house was pretty much done,”?Scott said.

That is when many of the passive solar elements started to come into play.

“You’ll want to orient the long axis of the house east to west and add specialized glass on the south side of the house,”?Scott says.

The positioning of the windows is also very important as it will allow the sun to heat the interior of the home.

The cement used on the floors and walls will absorb and store the heat from the sun in the home.

Eventually a balcony will be added to the south side of the Haase’s home in order to block more of the summer sun and let in more of the winter sun.

“You need to know the angle of the sun at its highest point during the summer solstice and the angle of the sun at its highest point during the winter solstice and that will determine the width and positioning of the overhang,”?Scott explained.

The sun lights most of the home naturally, and they will eventually add glass blocks to let more light into the bathroom on the main floor which is positioned on the north side of the home which has very few windows.

“There are a lot of little details we puzzled over and would sometimes have to call the architect to consult with him,”?Scott adds.

The color of the siding, the color of the walls and positioning of rooms all play a part in the passive solar concept.

Another interesting feature in the home is a cob wall which Scott worked on for eight days straight.

Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, and straw and is used to create walls and structures. Not only does it add visual interest, it also absorbs heat and cools a home down in the summer and can release heat back into the home during the winter.

“We used a chain link fence and made the wall 10 inches thick,” Scott explains. “Eventually we will add two more coats to the cob wall.”

Scott found someone who could come down to show him and a few friends how a cob wall is made.

“Then we worked for 12 hours straight for eight days to get the wall finished,” he says.

The house still is not complete but as they work toward finishing the home, both Scott and Anna have been finding deals on fixtures and appliances for their home.

And, many of the fixtures already have a special place and purpose.

The south side of the home features most of the bedrooms, living spaces and kitchen. The north side of the basement will become an entry way which leads to a mud room and a food storage area.

Since it is located on the north side, the food storage area will be cooler.

And, while much of the work is completed on the home, there are still a few projects remaining.

They are doing a lot of the work on their own but have also enlisted the help of local contractors for some of the projects as well.

In working on their home, Scott has been able to learn more about his interest in the environment and being environmentally aware.

In fact, on April 7, Scott will be teaching a Community Education class in Blue Earth about many of the things he has learned along the way.

“I will be teaching an introduction to permaculture where among other topics, we will discuss how things like passive solar and round timber design integrate into larger systems for community resilience and regenerative ecology,” Scott explains. “I will also be sure to include information about the house project at this class.”

The Haases moved to the farm in 2008 and began the house project in 2010. They had been living in the old home when the project started but now the house is far enough along that they have been staying in there most of the time.

They hope once it is completely finished they can hold an open house to share with others in the community how they brought their love for the outdoors, indoors with a passive solar home and whole trees.