UMN and Minneapolis team up to study greener houses

Minneapolis and the University will study nine MonoPath Homes, an innovative and green housing design, as they are built to improve housing in the future.

A Minneapolis grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy is letting the city build MonoPath housing for energy efficient and affordable houses in low income neighborhoods. The energy efficient building technique started at the University of Minnesota in the early 2000s and is now being put back to use after its development was delayed by the 2008 recession. Volunteers are seen working on a Northeast Minneapolis house on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Ellen Schmidt

A Minneapolis grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy is letting the city build MonoPath housing for energy efficient and affordable houses in low income neighborhoods. The energy efficient building technique started at the University of Minnesota in the early 2000s and is now being put back to use after its development was delayed by the 2008 recession. Volunteers are seen working on a Northeast Minneapolis house on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Christopher Lemke

The City of Minneapolis will help test an innovative, green housing design called MonoPath homes, developed by two University of Minnesota alumni.

The Minneapolis City Council is receiving a $22,400 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy through the University. The University and the City will study nine MonoPath homes as they are built, looking for ways to make future homes better, faster and cheaper.

Steve Schirber and Andy Campbell originally developed concepts for MonoPath homes during their time researching with the University and are attempting to bring their ideas to market.

The City will study two MonoPath homes this summer. The other seven are to be built in the next 18 months.

The homes are designed to be more durable, use less energy, cost less and be more environmentally friendly, Schirber said.

An aspect of MonoPath homes that helps achieve these goals is a concept the researchers have been working on since 1999 — the perfect wall, said Tom Schirber, research fellow at the University’s Cold Climate Housing Program and father of Steve Schirber.

The perfect wall places the buildings’ insulation and water barrier on the exterior of the structure, as opposed to the conventional method that has the insulation on the interior side, Tom Schirber said.

Standard houses have insulation in the wall’s cavity, which is an inefficient way to insulate a house, Campbell said.

With the perfect wall’s exterior insulation, he said “It’s like wrapping the whole house in a blanket.”

Despite its name, builders have not widely adopted the perfect wall for normal homes, Tom Schirber said, because it is expensive.

But, “MonoPath developed a way to even out that expense by decreasing the costs of construction,” he said.

MonoPath homes cut down on how much skill the workers constructing the building need to have, the number of subcontractors involved and the number of home designs to choose from, Steve Schirber said.

Aside from having a design that is more environmentally friendly, MonoPath houses are more durable and energy efficient, Steve Schirber said.

Pat Huelman, a Cold Climate Housing program coordinator and associate professor who led the project, said the project’s focus on interior systems — like smaller furnaces and air conditioners — helps with energy efficiency.

“It’s really key in affordable housing to provide energy efficiency for folks who don’t have a lot of resources. It’s important to provide durability … and provide a healthy indoor environment,” Huelman said.

Campbell said MonoPath homes also cut costs down by being constructed differently than regular houses.

Standard houses are built with hundreds of relatively small wooden panels that are assembled piece by piece, Campbell said.

MonoPath homes, on the other hand, use large 8 by 24 foot panels that get hoisted by a crane and are nailed into place — all within one day, he said.

The durability and cost efficiency of MonoPath homes helps at a time when the City wants more people to build affordable homes on land vacated after the 2008 financial crisis and the tornado that hit north Minneapolis in 2011, said Roxanne Young Kimball, a city of Minneapolis Supervisor of Community Planning and Economic Development Project Coordination.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that the Minneapolis City Council approved the U.S. DOE grant. A previous version of this article misstated that the City will be building the MonoPath homes.