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Continued: Builders of super-insulated homes struggle with financing

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 22, 2014 - 3:41 PM

An appraiser visited the Brazeltons’ house and learned as much about Passivhaus standards as possible. But in the end, there wasn’t enough market data to show what the house’s energy efficiency would be worth.

The appraisal compared their house with other 100-year-old houses that had recently sold in the neighborhood. When the final estimate came in, it was only 80 percent of the cost of construction — not including architect fees and the cost of buying the land.

“To make up the difference, we had to come up with the cash a different way,” Julie Alkatout said.

“It’s a little frustrating, because I guess it does make it more risky to build that,” she said. “If we did for some reason have to sell, someone would get a really good deal.”

Mortgage requirements for all houses have tightened since the recent financial meltdown. Part of what makes financing a Passivhaus even harder is the challenge of showing its benefits on paper, said Ryan Stegora, the professional builder for both the Brazeltons’ retrofit and the Alkatouts’ new house.

“It’s impossible to describe the immediate benefits to owning a Passivhaus,” he said. “Until you’ve spent some time in one, you really can’t grasp the difference in comfort.”

Stegora said he begins projects by preparing his clients for the cost.

The parts of the renovation that brought the Brazeltons’ house to Passivhaus standards — tearing down the original shell, reinsulating, rebuilding and adding new windows and doors — cost about $200,000, Paul Brazelton said. The Alkatouts declined to reveal the cost of their project.

Building a dream house

Even though the Brazelton house is a success story, getting there wasn’t easy.

They ran out of money the spring after the project began, even with sponsorships worth tens of thousands of dollars. Paul Brazelton and his father did a lot of the work themselves.

The family moved into the house in August 2012, and they’re still finishing pieces of it as they can afford to. Every project comes with a price tag and “a week or two of disaster,” Paul Brazelton said.

Still, he and Desirée say there’s nothing about the house they’d change, although they plan to add air-conditioning this summer. Because the house is designed to retain heat, it can be a “solar oven” when outside temperatures rise, Paul Brazelton said.

In the winter, though, that’s exactly what they want. Even on the coldest days, their heater turns off in the morning, and the house hovers at a toasty 70 degrees all day.

The more the Alkatouts hear about the Brazeltons’ home, the more determined they are to make their own dream house.

“Just planning every single inch of this house, at some point you’re like, ‘OK, I need to start building this house,’ ” Tarek Alkatout said. “ ‘I can’t wait anymore.’ ”


Emma Nelson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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