Corkhaus – Albert and Eva’s Cork-Clad Condo

Just shy of five years after Rob Hawthorne and Bart Berquist’s PDX Living LLC completed Corehaus , Portland’s first certified Passive House, Albert Rooks, owner of the Small Planet Workshop is nearing completion of his Corkhaus.

Albert has served on the board of directors of Passive House Northwest from its inception 5 years ago and provided incredible leadership within local, regional, and national passive house and green building communities including the NAPHN and the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild 

With this EnerPHIt (Passive House Institute’s deep energy retrofit standard), Albert is walking his talk.  Both on energy consumption and green building.


Making the Move

Last year, Albert and Eva put their lovely countryside home up for sale.  This is sad in a way because we could always count on Albert and Eva to host PHnw board of director meetings in a lovely, comfortable setting in a space big enough for our 13 directors.  However, the sale liberated them.  No longer must they drive daily into Olympia from the countryside.  And it allowed them to downsize into a small condo. 

Even better, it allowed Albert to EnerPHit their new home.  A nice cubic condo!  And try many of the products he sells at Small Planet Workshop.


Uncovered exterior cork insulation

First, as the name suggests, their Corkhaus sports 3” of exterior cork insulation.  Unfinished and uncovered.  Completely exposed to the elements other than a modest roof overhang for the two story box.  Sun, wind, and rain have already bleached the cork to a light tan, but over time Albert expects it will age it to a dark gray – almost black.


Albert’s SPW sells this “ThermaCork” the Carbon Negatively processed, natural insulation imported from Portugal   


When he travelled to Portugal, Albert noticed that some buildings don’t cover the insulating cork but rely on air, wind, radiation, and warmth to dry it.  He’ll try it!

Although the Prosoco FastFlash  Albert applied under the ThermaCork provides a Weather Resistant Barrier protecting his condo’s sheathing, Albert believes that even in a Pacific Northwest climate, the Thermacork will shed water and dry. 

He’s allowing RDH Building Sciences (Graham Finch and Robert Lapage) to monitor the backside of the Thermacork for evidence of moisture intrusion, and you can see the moisture probes inserted into the cork leading through the sheathing to the data collector.

You can see that Albert carefully overlapped the Thermacork panels so water entering the seams can drain down and out.  This overlap also allowed him to hide the fastners for a cleaner appearance.

We’ll keep you posted on RDH Building Science’s findings.


CO2 Refrigerant Heat Pump Whole-house Heating

Second, Albert and Eva are only the second homeowners in North America trusting both their morning shower AND their space conditioning to a CO2-refrigerant heat pump water heater WITHOUT a backup electric resistance heater.  Other than the stove/oven and lighting and appliances, Corkhaus has no heating source other than their Sanden Eco-System heat pump water heater.


Just like the line of environmentally-superior building products Albert sells, Sanden’s CO2 refrigerant avoids the huge global warming footprint of conventional heat pump refrigerants.


Albert’s been eager to try this new technology, and with WSU Extension Energy Program performing both laboratory testing and now field testing for Bonneville Power Administration conveniently from Ken Eklund’s office at the WSU in Olympia, Albert jumped at the opportunity to participate.

WSU is field testing Sanden’s CO2 Eco-System at four other locations, and interim field test reports are encouraging.  However, none of those houses except Dan Welch’s home in Bellingham is a combi-system, providing both domestic hot water and space heating.

This presented another opportunity for Albert since he sells HRVs manufactured by Zehnder America Zehnder also owns Runtal, a manufacturer of high-quality radiators, and Albert and Eva will keep snug on winter nights with space heating from one Runtal radiator on each floor plus a tiny strip radiator in their bathroom.

Best of all, these slim radiators fit under Albert’s new Euroline windows revealing his stunning view of Puget Sound and Olympia’s waterfront.

lbert got his preliminary blower door result two weeks ago.  It’s a promising 5 ACH. 

This summer, he plans to airseal and superinsulate his roof (presently subinsulated with only R-11 fiberglass batts).  Send him all of your ideas.

Science Projects: Tried at Home

Just 25 years after Dr. Feist started building the first passivhaus for his family (and 3 neighboring families) as a science experiment, Albert and Eva are taking part in two science experiments with their EnerPHit.

With their Corkhaus, they follow in the footsteps of many pioneers of energy-efficiency buildings. 

Not only building science pioneers, they are in the subset of the bravest pioneers who experimented on their own families’ homes.  For example, we’re in debt to Dr. Feist for the science experiment he started 25 years ago,  And to Katrin Klingenberg for her passive home 12 years later. 

Remember the old adage: “Don’t try this at home!”  We’d not be as far along with passive house if people followed it.

Today, Albert and Eva are carrying on this fine tradition of experimenting. . . . in their own home. 

We’ll keep you posted on his final blower door test.

Photos courtesy of Scott Means, Means Photography