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Mitchell company takes part in SDSU project for high efficiency 'passive house'

Pictured is a rendering of the passive house being construction in Brookings. The house uses specialized insulation created by Mitchell's InSoFast. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Ed Scherrer2 / 2

MITCHELL, S.D. — Energy efficiency is Ed Scherrer's passion.

The longtime Minneapolis resident brought his insulation company, InSoFast, to Mitchell two years ago, and already has made big impacts on South Dakota.

He was recently asked to be part of a project with South Dakota State University to provide the exterior insulation technology for a passive house — a structure that is highly energy-efficient and meets rigorous standards to achieve passive house certification.

The house in Brookings is a product of six graduate students who designed the structure in fall 2016. Still in the construction phase after beginning this past fall, the passive house is set to be completed in June.

"We got involved with the project because we're a South Dakota-based company that has what they're looking for in exterior continuous insulation, which is really a vital part to super energy-efficient houses and construction," Scherrer said. "And, it's something that typically is not done in this part of the country."

The idea of the passive house fit in well with InSoFast's goals, he said. The panels created by the Mitchell-based business use high-pressure steam fusion to create closed-cell insulation that is packed with microscopic air spaces, which remain airtight and dry. The panels' built-in stud also eliminates common thermal bridging, and reduces leaks.

"The neat thing about this is there's nothing that's going to rust, rot or decay," Scherrer said of the panels, which are made up of 40 percent recycled content. "Take any of our panels, bury them in the dirt or garden, dig them up 10 years from now ... and there's nothing that's going to deteriorate."

InSoFast opened its doors in 2006, with a home base in Minneapolis. Two years ago, Scherrer decided to move to Mitchell to save money and be closer to family. His wife is originally from Corsica, he said.

Though headquartered in South Dakota, InSoFast has offices in Pennsylvania and Oregon with manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Idaho.

Since the move, the focus of the company has not changed, which is to develop energy-efficient building systems that exceed present and future energy codes.

And the passive house at SDSU is just that.

"The goal is, of course, to improve the energy efficiency and longevity of buildings in general," said Charles MacBride, an associate professor in the Department of Architecture at SDSU. "Actually going all the way to get the passive house certified requires a little bit of commitment as far as time, and costs — which isn't always going to happen. But we're trying to set a precedent and promote these ideas."

MacBride said the idea was spurred by Gov. Dennis Daugaard when he visited the university in 2015 and spoke on the idea of passive house principles and integrating them into the architecture department at SDSU.

Grant funding further helped MacBride and the department to build the passive house. When researching the highest-efficiency products for the structure, MacBride said he and his students came across InSoFast. Deeper research showed the company was based in Mitchell, and they immediately reached out.

The biggest highlights a passive house offers is minimal energy usage. MacBride said the annual energy bill for the Brookings house will be less than $1,000. He added that the house will also have "really high, indoor air quality," with very little to no shift in temperature throughout the home.

"It's going to be a cool house too," MacBride said, adding it will feature an open design concept. "We're really excited."