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Passiv Haus

March 17th, 2012 · No Comments

Last night I went to a talk by Thorsten Chlupp.  He builds super efficient houses in Fairbanks.  He has profiles of two houses he has built on www.reina-llc.com

I woke up this morning thinking about Chlupp and what he has done.  Firstly,  I admire him for his persistence and the elegance with which he has executed his passion.  His own house cost almost 4 times as much as my house cost me.  But he supplied all of his energy needs in Fairbanks for less than $500 for one year.   And his house is beautiful.  Large open layout with huge south-facing windows.  Solar thermal flat-plat collectors integrated into the roofline.    Somehow Chlupp has been able to integrate form and function.  He uses no vapor barrier.  Instead he relies on the limited permeability of CDX plywood to allow the walls to breathe and dry out.   The walls are 24″ thick and insulated with dense-pack Cellulose.    He prefers cellulose over foam because it is cheaper, has less embodied energy, and has more thermal mass.    He has placed sensors all over his house to monitor the function of all the building elements.    Because of the insulating value and the thermal mass of cellulose insulation,  heat takes about 14 hours to move from one side of the wall to the other.  Except for the dead of winter when the sun barely shines in Fairbanks,  the heat lost at night is only about 2/3 of the way through the wall before it changes direction because the sun begins warming it.

To me, that is elegant.

He centers windows in the wall to create heat pockets.  And he prefers fiberglass frames and windows with a high solar heat gain coefficient SHGC and external thermal shutters.  He said that sealing the shutter does not seem to be that important with the window centered in the wall.  He tried internal shutters but had constant frustration with ice buildup.  Like everything in life, it is a tradeoff.  Internal shutters might be more efficient and cheaper, but if you have to spend an hour chipping ice  every winter morning and then have the risk of water damage to your wall….

On to some other interesting design elements:  His foundation consists of 12 inches of foam, then 2′ of sand and then a 4″ concrete slab.  The 24″ of sand give him some inexpensive thermal mass.   Some have argued that since heat rises, the extra effort to insulate the slab is wasted.  Chlupp thinks they are wrong and is very happy with how his floor has performed.  He also has a plastic-lined, vertical 5000 gallon tank of water to store heat  – both for domestic hot water and for space heating.  The tank is insulated with 24″ of cellulose insulation.  And  he uses a simple perforated tube with a bunch of tees as a thermal stratifier — so that the hottest water is at the top of the tank where he can use it for heating domestic water.  His domestic water is heated by a stainless steel tank inside the big tank.  All his connections are at the top of the large tank to reduce the risk of loss.  Cold water enters at the top through  a pipe that goes to the bottom, then rises in a coil and connects to the bottom of the stainless steel tank.    Since the water at the top of his heat storage tank is usually at least 160F, he is able to run unlimited hot water for at least an hour without the temperature of the water leaving the faucet dropping below 120F.    He uses a glycol drain-back system  in his flat-plate collectors  with a flat plate glycol-to-water heat exchanger.  Thus he uses a minimal amount of glycol and the drain-back system enables him to turn off the solar collectors without damaging them when he has an excess of heat.  He had to oversize his solar collectors to accommodate the shoulder season.   If I heard him correctly, he had enough sun by the 9th of February to heat his house without any supplemental heat.  Obviously by May, his solar collectors have captured more heat than he can use and he has to drain the solar collectors to keep from overheating.

He also uses an 84% efficient HRV from Europe.  The HRV is linked to a ground loop heat pump.  Very simply, he has 400′ of tubing buried 12′ deep outside his house.  Much of it is below his leach field to capture heat that otherwise would be wasted.  When the outside air entering the HRV is colder than 42F, a small pump circulates glycol through that buried tubing and then through a flat-plate (glycol-to-air) heat exchanger.    The ground loop heat exchanger system is able to warm up makeup air to 42F.    Think of that!  At -40F in Fairbanks, he is able to get about an 80 degree increase in temperature in his makeup air just using heat from the ground.  With a fairly constant inside and outside air temperature, his HRV is able to maintain a constant efficiency without freezing.    And the ground source heat loop also works for cooling in the summer if needed.

I forgot to mention that he insulates the perimeter of the foundation 4′ and 8′ at the corners to keep cold from creeping under his house.

And he has a massive (and beautiful) stone woodstove.  I forget what it is called in German, but it is a traditional stove designed to capture most of the heat from a very hot fire into the thermal mass of the rock and then release the heat slowly over a 24 hour period of time.  His stove has an oven , 24′ of air chambers on each side to capture heat, and stainless steel coils for heating domestic water.    He lights a fire in the morning — it burns hot and then goes out but the stove stays warm all night.  Domestic water circulated through the SS coils in the stove then is pumped through the SS tank at the top of his heat storage tank.  The tank walls and the coiled tubing below it are able to exchange enough heat to warm up the 5000 gallon tank of water.  Thus, very simply Chlupp has extended the idea of storing heat in the thermal mass of stone and is also storing some in the even larger thermal mass of his water tank.

His house also has two living walls which purify the air and add humidity.

Chlupps interspersed his talk with beautiful Alaskan art.   He is an excellent example of a man whose “why” is so strong that he overcomes the “hows”.   He’s not just trying to make money off a political hot button.  He has put his money where his mouth is — and has even risked his whole family on this expensive experiment with no backup.    He and his children have a new-found appreciation for the sun.

So what could I do?

My house is about 30 years old and not extremely well insulated.  What can I do to decrease my energy dependence and save myself money?    Let’s  be honest here.  I love to dream, but when I go to spend money and time, I need a pretty short payback.   My family is more important to me than the rest of the world, or polar bears, or Belugas, etc.  Chlupp talked about low hanging fruit.  That’s what I want to grab first.  I have a full-time job, a family, and a greenhouse business.  I don’t have  a lot of time.    And another consideration:  I want to increase the resale value of my house.  I don’t want to do a bunch of expensive work on my house only to find out that no one wants to buy it when I’m ready to move.

Possibilities for a home energy makeover:  Exterior insulation, new windows, shutters, ground-loop heat, efficient HRV,   Flat panel collectors, large  water tank,  stone woodstove.

Maybe I’ll just mull it over while I finish getting my bubble greenhouse working.    Because really the soap bubbles are similar to what Chlupp is doing:  I’ve got a 2′ thick wall coupled with a large thermal mass.  I’ve got a solar collector/ sunspace that can collect a huge amount of heat 9 months out of the year.  And essentially the entire greenhouse is a window, soap bubbles are like a pump-able insulated shutter.   I have 6000 to 8000 gallons of water for heat storage plus 14 cubic yards of gravel in growbeds.    The ground is not insulated.  That could be a problem.    But my little greenhouse has performed amazingly well for the amount of effort I put into it.  The car radiator at the peak and the 3000 gallons of water were able to buffer the temperature remarkably well.

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March Update

March 3rd, 2012 · No Comments


Well, here we are again for another year. It’s been months since we’ve been on to write anything. Life has changed somewhat….for the good and the sad.

Joel was promoted to Project Manager in February of 2011 at Haakenson Electric (which is good).  Adjusting to his new position has been the major emphasis this last year and has changed his hours (which is sad).  We are so thankful for a steady job. THAT is good!!! =) So we are learning to work with the time we have and appreciate evenings and weekends.

We’ve cut down on our Anchorage Farmers Market trips. We went from 10 weekends in 2010 to 6 weekends in 2011. The kids would be heart broken if we quit market trips altogether. We actually included them in our decision to continue on with market.

However, we have not lost our drive and focus to improve our quality of life and help, teach, and encourage those who are interested to do the same.

“Start small and do a good job at small.” That’s my motto right now….even while we keep increasing. ;)


This week on Tuesday,  March 6, is our anniversary.  13 years we’ve been married!  Wow!  Almost fifteen years ago, we met and fell in love at a greenhouse seminar. Today we are still the most happy when we are dreaming and strategizing about agricultural opportunities,  or digging in the dirt to harvest our homegrown carrots, or making seed orders together.   The kids are catching on, too!!  That makes us so proud!


Joel built an insulated and heated chicken coop last fall.  They have been moderately happy all winter and been producing eggs each day.  Right now we are at about 12 eggs per day.  We just added to the flock.  In April, 11 of them will go back to their owners.  By then we will be able to let them out in the yard to scratch and peck.  They aren’t a cheap project to keep over winter.  We’ve butcherd four roosters and made some good broth and soups.  I don’t want to be anywhere around…but Joel, being raised in Canada on farm that raised meat birds, doesn’t mind and the kids get an interesting science lesson every time.   Sommer is 11 and her job is to keep the chickens every day.  (Yes, yes, yes, she is paid!  We are Dave Ramsey fans.  He teaches that  kids should have a job and learn to manage money responsibly while they are young.  All our kids have commissions, NOT allowances.)   Once in awhile Joel and I go out to help clean out the coop, scrub out the waterer, fill the feeder…heavy stuff.

Robert and Alexi will volunteer once in awhile, too.  They’re funny.  Sometimes they won’t go out unless Sommer will “trade with them” for one of their jobs or help them on their stuff.  (Trading chores is something we learned from Danny Silk in Loving on Purpose.  Danny and Sheri Silk fans, too.  :) )


We also have rabbit named “Clover”.  He’s friendly and loves the kids.  Alexi’s job is to take care of him.  Keeping his water drinkable at can be challenging at -20F.  Glad it’s warmer now!!!  He loves apple cores, lettuce and carrot tops.


First week of February I planted herbs, wave petunias, tomatoes, and peppers for

reens (growing in aquaponics with Ocean Solution (new product) and gold fish). (Tilapia died last fall. :( …too cold ). The German Johnson Tomatoes are from seeds I saved in 2009. They are the hardiest and most beautiful plant I have growing!!!


Yes, I play music for them.  They love classical, worship, and instrumental music.  I’m thinking about getting birds for the big greenhouse…..and butterflies…….and keeping it open all winter….


I think the Valley need a year round butterfly gardens type place.  Ever since we went to Butterfly Gardens in Victoria, B.C. on our honeymoon, I’ve thought about having a similar glass house type of garden here.  It would require supplemental lighting.  You know, if people had a place to go to get refreshed on a weekly basis to eat lunch and sit in a warm, green, semi-humid, quiet, peaceful oasis I wonder if it would improve the overall attitude of the Valley?

I know how I feel when I work in my greenhouse every day in the spring…and my kids love bringing their lunch in and eating while I’m working.   They even bring their school work in and study int he greenhouse.   Dreams….BIG dreams…..


I love breakhrough!!!!  We have talked of getting our big greenhouse in the back running for years now.  Finally, it’s happening!!!  Joel has been working on it weekends and evenings this winter. He prefers the warm days, but he has been out there at zero, no heat…..plugging away in his free time. No couch potato husband for me!!!   ;)


I have been ruthlessly throwing away all seed that could possibly be Genetically Modified or Genetically Engineered. We are sticking to  Organic, Open-Pollinated, or Heirloom Seeds.

Back in October when Joel and I attended the Acres USA, I was awakened, probably for the first time, to the need to clean up our diet and our gardens. As I sat listening to the effects of GMOs on people and animals I knew that I’d be changing a lot of things when I got home.
We can’t afford to be eating or feeding our kids and customers inferior food — food that is modified, food that is not real, food that is not pure and natural. I’m not opposed to hybrids, but I just need to know they are NOT GMO.

So back to my story. As I was sitting in the Acres conference with Joel, I realized I had NO IDEA what I’ve really been eating. I had just been willfully ignorant (to a certain extent) out of laziness. It was too hard to think about. It was too much work. Too much change. Too much time. Too much effort.

I had heard about Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetic Engineering of seeds for a couple years now…..back when I was sporadically attending a nutrition group with our church. I learned that soy, corn, canola and (I think, sugar beets?) were the main GMO foods to avoid. Time to change our ways.

I encourage you to consider your lifestyle, diet, and exercise habits and do your own research, draw your own conclusions and live a better life! That’s my plan!!!

Other topics I’m onto right now are:
Raw Milk
Grass Fed Beef (Moose)

Dairy (good or bad?)
Soaking and Fermenting Grains and Legumes
Gluten free
Soil Health
Sugar (it feeds cancer … get rid of it)
Surge training (..very fascinating!)


Thyroid issues
Calcium – how to get enough through diet
Benefits of Vitamin C (curing cancer)
Benefits of Vitamin D (curing cancer)
Immune System Boosters

For links about GMOs and Monsanto:
you can go to http://www.saynotogmos.org/

For Eco-Ag Ideas, Home Gardening, Raising Animals, etc.:


For Seeds, we are using:
Best Cool Seeds
FEDCO, http://www.fedcoseeds.com/seeds.htm
Annie’s Organic (sold at Far North Garden Supply)
Seeds of Change (Sold at FNGS)

For health links:




Finances :http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu

Relationship:http://lovingonpurpose.com/, http://www.marriagetoday.com/

If you’d like to reply to this you can email me at emily -at- floriponics.com.

Thanks for your interest in our business and topics of interest.

We hope that you are provoked, challenged and encouraged.  Just know that the part you play in growing food and voting with your dollars DOES MATTER!

I would be leaving out the most important Factor of our entire existence if I did not mention The Creator of the Universe who designed nature and all of us to work together in health and harmony.  I give God all the credit for where we are today.

Improving the world one choice at a time,


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Spring 2011

May 24th, 2011 · No Comments

This has been a great year so far!!!  We decided to go to Anchorage Farmer’s Market in May only.  So this is the place, to contact us for further discussions or trouble shooting.

Thanks to all of our customers who have returned this year.  As always, we’d like to know how your plants did for you.  If you’d like to send pictures of your plants or gardens, we’d love to see them.  Tell us what you bought, how it grew, and any of your tricks if you don’t mind sharing.

We are getting low on hanging baskets, so get yours quick if you want one!

One reason we shorten our market season is to get the garden in earlier. Joel tilled the garden Sunday and I (Emily) and my sister in law planted three passes of carrots Monday.   Looking at it, it seems like we really like carrots. The garden’s not really that big for how much we’d love to get out of it. Joel did, however, get the soil tested by International Ag Labs. The results of that test indicate that in order to have a bumper crop we need to add soft rock phosphate, lime, gypsom, alaska fish bone fertilizer, Eden, manganese sulfate, and a few other elements to the soil. We’ll be putting those on as we can locate them. The fish, I do not look forward to because of the smell, but that is the nitrogen for the plant. So by adding to the soil what is needed we should be able to increase production considerably.

The greenhouse is still brimming with tomatoes, cucumbers, and hanging basket orders.   This week two big orders are going out. The greenhouse will gradually be filled up with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and peppers.

A couple reminders for all of you backyard or frontyard or deck or porch or sidewalk growers.

Water.  During these sunny warm days, be sure you are watering your baskets and planters enough. Some of my baskets outside are tending to need water twice a day right now –if they are big and/or if they are in the sun and wind. Newly planted pots do not need quite as much. Feel the soil. Actually touch it to see if it feels moist or dry. You cannot always tell by feeling the weight of the basket.

Fertilize!  The more light and warmth a plant gets usually the faster it is growing. (Unless, of course, it’s frying in 100F greenhouse!!!)  You need to be fertilizing at least once a week.  If not every time you water.

Temperature of water. Watering with 65-75F water can really accelerate the plants’s growth. If you use cold 40F water from garden hose, it shocks the roots each time and cools down the soil which then has to warm up again before it can continue to grow. Anytime you can help keep the soil of your garden, potted plant or grow bed in a greenhouse around 60-70F, all the better. Think of your plants (especially tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs) as a person for a second. People on the average like temperatures pretty close to 70F. So if I want my plant to thrive, I try to keep it around 70F.

We hope you enjoy this growing season and try out some seeds or plants that you’ve never tried before. Our dream is to inspire all our Alaskan and even non Alaskan friends to grow your their food even if it’s just a little at first. When you eat what you grow, it tastes better, it’s fresher and you know what’s on it.

Have a really good growing season!

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May 10th, 2011 · No Comments

We made it to the first Anchorage Farmers Market this year. As with every year, it has been a challenge to strike a balance between life and work. Fun and responsibility, peace and control. On the way home, Emily remarked to me that she’s noticed that people who grow high quality plants usually don’t have it together in other areas of life. Not that quality plant growers are inferior — just that they are human and have problems like the rest of us — they just happen to prioritize their plants higher than other areas. And now I need to go eat supper with my family. Balance.

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Wind and a New Greenhouse cover

January 11th, 2011 · No Comments

We had wind. Again. Wasilla is windy. And our street has become windier since the phone company came through and mowed down all the trees in the right-of-way. So besides my trampoline getting blown down the street and ending up tangled in a neighbor’s tree… the plastic ripped off the front greenhouse.
Amazing that the big greenhouse has not sustained any damage since the first blow. A testament to the strength and quality of UV-stabilized greenhouse poly.

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Beautiful October

October 5th, 2010 · No Comments

October is turning out to be beautiful!

We harvested everything from the garden last week — everything that the moose didn’t eat.  We got a couple of buckets of carrots and a bucket of potatoes.  We got a bunch of cabbage and  maybe 10 lb of small zucchini.  Our chickens are laying 3 or 4 eggs per day.

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An Exciting Weekend: our garden is ready for planting!

May 24th, 2010 · No Comments

The help - enjoying a much needed break

The help - enjoying a much needed break

Just spread 100 lb of lime and 100 lb of fish bone meal from Alaska Sea Ag
Just spread 100 lb of lime and 100 lb of fish bone meal from Alaska Sea Ag
A view of the little greenhouse from the porch through the Mountain Ash
A view of the little greenhouse from the porch through the Mountain Ash
The little Tractor that could

The little Tractor that could

Emily is amazing at squeezing max production out of a small space.

Emily is amazing at squeezing max production out of a small space.

Just a sample of Emily's artistry.

Just a sample of Emily's artistry.

We've eaten a few tomatoes already - not bad for May in Alaska!  Go Aquaponics!

We've eaten a few tomatoes already - not bad for May in Alaska! Go Aquaponics!

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Anchorage Farmer’s Market

May 13th, 2010 · No Comments

Farmer’s Market is the highlight of the week for our family.  We love getting up early Saturday morning and heading off to Anchorage with a van load of plants to set up and sell for a few hours.  The kids and I think it’s a blast.  Joel, well, he has to do the same thing every morning of the week.  (It makes him REALLY appreciate Sundays.)  We love seeing our customers from last year and the year before and seeing how everyone’s kids have grown over the winter.  It’s fun to connect with all the other vendors, too and keep up with all that’s going on in the Valley.  What we love about this market is that it seems so homey and friendly.  We want to say thank you to all of our customers that keep coming back every year.  We are working to have good quality plants for you and would like your input on how they do for you.  If you ever have trouble getting them to grow and produce, we’d like to talk about it and see what we can do to help. 

This week at Market we’ll be bringing:   ALASKA GROWN   Hanging Baskets :  Wave Petunias, Nasturtium, Ivy Geranium, Pansy, Lobelia, and more.

We’ll also have:  Wave Petunia Starts, Red Cherry Tomato plants, Roma Tomato Plants, Yellow Pear Tomato Plants, Strawberry starts, Sweet Basil, Spicy Globe Basil, Cilantro, Chives, Dill, Oregano, Mint, Yellow Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Crown Gold Pansies (my fav.), Butterhead Lettuce Starts, Buttercrunch Lettuce Starts, Salad Mix Starts, and much more.  Also, Grandma’s going to be baking up some real goodies in the kitchen and have them all packaged up for you.  Come and see what she has to offer this weekend.


Come check out the market on 15th and Cordova in Anchorage every Saturday from 9-2.  Rain, Wind, or Shine.  Early birds get the worms.  :)

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May 13th, 2010 · No Comments


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North Root Gardening Symposium

April 18th, 2010 · No Comments

We just got back from the Gardening Symposium in Houston. It’s a bit of a grey day — perfect for being away from the plants. We didn’t have to worry about anything drying out while we were gone.
Emily has a bunch of nasturtium and wave baskets planted. Robert ate the first cherry tomato and shared with his sisters… I’ve been neglecting my lettuce but the fish are thriving. I’m thinking I should try to let them spawn again. Judging by the colors and activity in my main tank — most of the survivors are males.
Anyway, the gardening symposium has given me a lot to think about. Namely that we need to harden our mission statement, gather a team, get (or grow) a product, and market agressively.

I believe there is a market for nutrient-dense, healthy, locally-grown food. I believe there are other markets worth developing as well.
But right now, I feel like taking a nap. Maybe I’ll get some good ideas in my sleep.

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