Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

The house in the hill: A tour of Bert and Laura Miller’s passive solar home

Apr 24, 2018
Photo by: Gretchen Teske The Miller’s bought their home in 1997 from a man who was unable to finish the project. The three bedroom house was built into the hillside to satisfy standards for passive solar energy production.

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


Under the earth on the southwest end of Mt. Pleasant is the home of Bert and Laura Miller. The Miller’s home was built into the hillside intentionally as it was designed to be compatible with passive solar energy, a form of green energy which allows for the sun to fuel the home.

On Sunday, April 22, the Miller’s opened their home to the public as part of Iowa Wesleyan’s Earth Day conference. Participants included college students and members of the community who were interested in seeing the home.

Bert met his wife Laura in college when they were both students at the University of Iowa. Bert was in philosophy classes when he began hearing the warnings of global warming. “I started thinking, back then, people need to start thinking about living differently,” he said. “It was pretty convincing, even back then.”

He then enrolled in a class where he was to design his own energy efficient home. He drew up the floor plans, submitted them for class and kept them in the back of his mind as he married his wife, Laura, and the pair moved around the United States.

In 1997 the pair found the four acres and passive solar efficient home in which they now live. The original owner, John Wade, began the project but was unable to finish.

“We looked at it and he was like, ‘Laura this is the house,” Laura recalled. The house they were looking to purchase was nearly identical to the home he designed in school.

After purchasing, the Miller’s completed the construction of the home which consisted of tile flooring, geothermal heating, additional solar panels, and a wind turbine. Due to their eco-friendly improvements, the Miller’s have produced more energy than they have used in the 20 years they’ve lived on the property.

The outside of the home is wood with a metal roof and large overhang over the front windows. This is to shield the sun from directly infiltrating the rooms inside. All living areas of the home are located on the south to allow the sun to heat them naturally.

Because the Miller’s home is built into the ground, the home maintains a stable 55 degrees yearly. Tile flooring has been laid throughout the home in order to absorb heat and reflect it back up throughout the rooms at night.

Among those impressed with the home were Gianna Lopez, a freshman at IW. Lopez said she chose to attend the workshop because she was interested in learning how to reduce her ecological footprint. “This is something brand-new, and I’m amazed,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people should put it into consideration to change a few things here and there.”

The Miller’s are dedicated to not only living green, but producing organic products as well. “We planted just about everything you can eat that grows in Iowa,” Bert said. The Miller’s currently have fruit trees, nut trees, grapes, raised gardens, a private pond, chickens and bees. In the past, they have raised a variety of other animals including pigs and horses.

Growing organically was in the plans all along as the Miller’s wanted to be sure they were eating the healthiest options available.

“We just didn’t want to put chemicals in our food because of what we eat and for our kids,” Laura said.

Margo Pedrick of Mt. Pleasant was among the visitors at the property and was impressed with what she saw. “We need people who are willing to invest in alternate ways of living,” she said. “They’re pointing the way.”

The Miller’s do not view themselves as trend setters, however. They believe their green lifestyle is not only environmentally friendly, but essential for the Earth’s survival. “In my view it’s just the smart way to live,” Laura said.

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