Iowa Mom & Blogger Discusses Passive House & Living in a Barn

Good day, friends!

I have something special for you - a guest post from Iowa blogger, Michelle, at Simplify, Live, Love. A few weeks ago, I actually met Michelle and several other Iowa bloggers in person at a social event, hosted by Ally (from Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats). The day was really fun, and after talking with Michelle for most of the morning, it was reaffirmed for me that this girl has it goin' on. What is really interesting {to me, anyway} about Michelle and her family, is the passive house they are building. She told us a little bit about the construction of their home at the blogger event, but she goes into more detail here, today! This is good stuff, people. 

Meet Michelle, everyone.

Greetings! And thank you so much, Kelli, for letting me guest post! I was lucky enough to meet Kelli in person at an Iowa Bloggers Meet Up recently. A good friend of mine, who also follows The Sustainable Couple, knew about the meeting and specifically asked me, "How was Kelli??? What was she like?" And I was thrilled to tell my friend Robin that Kelli was exactly as I pictured. What you see on this blog is really what you get. And I love that. It was such a delight to meet you in person, Kelli. :-)

2011 Christmas Card

Anyway... My name is Michelle. I live in a barn on 5 acres in Eastern Iowa with my husband and our four kids. I started blogging over at Simplify, Live, Love just about three years. My husband, Dan,  was active duty Air Force for almost ten years when we decided that we wanted to raise farm kids. He was teaching Political Science at the Air Force Academy, his alma mater; I was a part-time English instructor for several community colleges in the area; and, we lived a "normal" suburban life in Colorado Springs. We had a great time moving from Sacramento to Japan to Arizona to Colorado with the Air Force when we were young, dumb, and kid-free, but we had just had our second baby and our oldest child was 1 1/2 years old. Since we couldn't raise farm kids traveling the world with the Air Force, we decided to bid Air Force life farewell and moved to Dan's hometown in Eastern Iowa in 2006. 

Before we moved to Iowa we laid the groundwork for a construction company called Oak Tree Homes. Our plan was to build energy efficient new homes and capitalize on the booming housing market. This was 2006, remember? Dan grew up a farm kid and is very handy. He has always earned extra money on side projects - managing other people's rentals, remodeling, furniture, crafts, etc - and so we decided to become home builders basically because we turned our back on Corporate America and home building was the only type of self-employed work we thought we might be able to pull off. The housing market was booming, after all. Lots of people were making lots of money. How hard could it be, we thought... Well, the housing market evaporated about 6 months after we moved back to Iowa and left us with a spec home we couldn't sell and a huge financial burden. My blog was born because I had to think of creative ways to scrimp and save and people started asking me questions. How did I feed my family for so little money? Why did I make my own cleaning products? How could they do the same? I finally bit the bullet and started writing it down for all to read - all because of the promise of free Christmas cards in exchange for one of my first posts. :-)

  free barn

Dan and I are trying carve out our own little homestead and we have a couple projects we're very proud of that I'd like to share with you: the barn we moved to our property and rebuilt and the forever home we are in the process of building for ourselves. I mentioned that we're living in a barn {did I tell you it's haunted...} Hehe. It is - makes for interesting times...but it's the means to an end, so I put up with it; our friendly ghost.

free barn

Several years ago we got a free barn from our neighbors and moved it to our property.  We might be old and have kids now, but I think there's still some residual "dumb" ... ;-) 

We spent three years rebuilding that barn. We managed to save it from a potentially devastating fire. When we had money to work on it, we didn't have time. And when we had time, we had no money. But somehow, Dan managed to turn this decrepit old round topped barn into gorgeous offices for our remodeling company and finally finished it in December, 2012.

free barn finished

We'd been living in town, trying to save enough money to build our own home out by the barn when we finally had enough of town life. Our original goal was to raise farm kids, remember? In July, we finally said enough is enough and we all moved into the barn/office and started building our home. We're building a Passive House - an ultra low-energy use home concept originally developed in Germany. Our home will be so energy efficient that it will rely almost solely on passive solar and the activities of the people who live there (us) to heat it.

passive-aggressive house

The house will be so well insulated that it won't have a normal furnace. Instead, our furnace will be that three story window on the south side. Our windows will be triple paned and crazy energy efficient. They're being built to order in Poland because we just cannot buy them in the U.S. as no one makes them here. They're supposed to arrive in early January and I am so excited for them to get here. Combined with all of the insulation, and the energy efficient windows, and the simple design which controls air flow in and out, the house is promised to keep us warm in the winter without having to generate much additional heat. Did you know that residential homes account for an astronomically high portion of the energy usage in the U.S.? We're trying to reduce our impact on the world and living in an ecologically responsible and sustainable home seems like a great thing to do.

  passive aggressive house

Our furnace (that three-story window) will be completely shaded by awnings and trees in the summer so it won't smoke us out. We want both a warm house in the winter, and a cool house in the summer. We pretty much like to have our cake and eat it, too. We don't want to live in an uncomfortable house and luckily, we don't have to! We'll also have a small air to air heat pump that will add a little extra heat when we need it and a little cool air too. Our project, which we named the Passive-Aggressive House, is the only pre-certified Passive House project in the state of Iowa. I'm not sure how many passive homes there are in the U.S., but they're aren't that many right now. You can read mechanical details of the project on the Passive House Institute US website, if you're curious about the nitty-gritty. We're looking forward to finishing the house up and moving in, probably sometime next summer, to see how it performs!

So anyway, we are pretty much a crazy family. I homeschool my son but two of my daughters are in public school. I have a huge garden and can as much food as possible, I cook from scratch and share lots of recipes and a weekly menu / freezer cooking plan. I grind my own flour for the bread I bake {like this homemade 9 grain bread}, teach online community college classes, and try to stay sane. On the flip side, my house is usually a mess, my laundry is never folded and put away, and my kids are almost always dirty. :-)

diapering with a hip spica cast

We just found out that our youngest daughter, who suffers from developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH), will need a second massive surgery soon to shape her left hip socket and will be in another hip spica cast for six more weeks - a very daunting prospect because we're living on the second floor of a barn right now and she will be 100% immobile. The thought of carrying 45 pounds of child up and down stairs all day long really worries me, as I ruptured a back disk three years ago and really don't want to go through that again. Of course, I blog about DDH too - because it's a hard thing to go through and it helps me to vent.

I love connecting with people via my blog and would love for you to pop over and say hi! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest! 
Thanks again, Kelli. I still want that mesh bottom garden basket!  


  1. Thanks for sharing, Kelli! I had fun writing this post. :-)

  2. Interesting. This kind of post is very refreshing. Im inspired to be a home builder.

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