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To fill them up, Mayfield needs more than 340 bags of cellulose, each of which weighs nearly 29 pounds. That's not the only insulation, either. "We basically wrapped the house in a 3-inch blanket of polystyrene," she says, pointing to the thick, yellow chunk of foam on the exterior wall.
If it meets the certification requirements, Prescott will be first passive house in Kansas and one of fewer than 15 in the country. (The specifications are still so new in this country that even the Passive House Institute U.S. can't name a specific number of qualifying structures.) Rockhill wants this house to be LEED platinum, too, but some of the requirements for the two certifications contradict each other. Passive houses want to let in the sun so the light will hit the concrete floor and heat the space. The LEED requirements work to block out sunlight, reducing the cooling costs. When Mayfield put in an order for windows recommended for passive houses, there was a moment of panic.
"There was a tense few days where we weren't sure if we were going to have any windows at all," says student C.J. Armstrong.
The students' LEED consultant was out of town, Foster says. "So I'm calling anyone who knows anything about LEED, asking them, 'Can we use them? Do you know?'" If not, they'd have a choice: Eat the total cost of the windows ($16,000) or sacrifice their LEED certification.
The LEED consultant eventually signed off. The windows, which open like sliding doors, are among the defining features of the house.
There are other cool things about the house, says student Katherine Morell, who serves as the group's marketing director. Morell is the tour guide when a neighbor strolls by or a member of the KU Endowment wants to see the house. On this Friday, she's showing off the group's progress to Kevin Harden, a local architect and a member of the advisory board for the KU School of Architecture.
He asks her about the home's unusual siding. It's Douglas fir, a common North American lumber, but Morell points out that Studio 804 has given it a twist. The students have used a Japanese technique, called shou-sugi-ban, to naturally protect and paint the timber. For the better part of one Sunday, a handful of students ran a propane torch over each piece of wood, heating it to more than 800 degrees to seal it against invasion by water or insects. A group of students now are mounting the blackened wood slats on the house.
"That's the burnt Douglas fir," Morell says.
"It's charred!" one student corrects from the scaffolding.
"Toasted!" another shouts.
So this house will be impressive but not intimidating. Residents won't have to worry about the renewable-energy panels in the basement. This house looks no different than any other in the neighborhood, either. It has a gabled roof. There's a front porch. "If someone's scared of it, they're not going to buy it," Morell says.
They've priced it at $180,000 — which, their research shows, will allow a buyer earning 80 percent of the median income in this neighborhood to afford it. They leave fliers at the Sun Fresh grocery store when they pick up snacks. Their literature is in English on one side and Spanish on the other. Their DIY advertising seems to be working.
"A lady this morning called and was talking about how she needed to make sure she could get a loan," says student Joel Garcia, the group's unofficial liaison to the Latino community. "That makes you realize they really want to buy it."