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The Sustainable House™
Concept Overview

Design Concepts used in Live Green, Live Smart's The Sustainable House™

  • LEED Green Design principles for sustainability;
  • Century House Design for more than than one hundred years of quality occupancy;
  • Universal Design elements for a home suited to all ages and abilities;
  • Xeriscape and Permaculture Landscaping for eco-friendly management of site, plantings, and water usage.
  • Smart House Design to manage the house systems and aid occupant comfort.


  • House is approximately 2,300 total square feet (includes both levels).
  • Lot size 1/3 acre; high ground with mature trees.
  • Original construction: 1948 frame with stucco construction that reused some lumber from another house; low energy efficiency.
  • One-level ranch-style home redesigned for fully liveable mainfloor and lower-level; contemporary Prairie-style exterior and interior design.
Energy Usage
  • $2.50 per day estimated utility costs.
  • All electric energy is sustainable, with additional wind power purchased from Xcel and excess electric energy sold back to the grid.
  • Natural gas is used for heating; solar water heating.
  • Clothes drying is by wind and sun when weather permits.
Insulation, Sidewall, Roof, and Window R-value - Resistance to Heat Loss
  • Anticipated: Roof up to R 50 plus
  • Windows up to R 5
  • Walls between R 25 to R 29

Building Codes and Permits

The house complies with the building codes and permit requirement of Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Recycling and Conservation

Materials management follows the "Mottainai" movement, which expresses the spirit of using things with great care, not wasting what is valuable. We reduce, reuse and recycle all the material in the house.

  • Wood from deconstruction was reused or recycled;
  • Nails were removed and reused or recycled;
  • Pipes, wires and ducts were recycled;
  • Appliances, furnace, AC, kitchen cabinets, and lights were recycled;
  • Stucco, cement, stone were reused in roadways;
  • Asphalt shingles were recycled;
  • Pavers were reused on the site;
  • Responsible disposal was practiced with lead-based trim and windows, ceramic tile with asbestos adhesive, moldy drywall and lath.
  • Healthy plants and bushes reused; mature trees were protected and maintained;
  • Organics are composted on site;
  • 65 % of original house remains intact.


Exterior of the House

  1. Recycling and sorting piles have been situated around the property for easy reuse access.  Many materials will go to the Reuse Center, and others to outside recyclers.  Goal is less than 2% of material to landfill.
  2. Roof pitch is increased to move away snow and water; additional venting was added.
  3. Roofline angles provide for solar water heater panels and eventual installation of photovoltaic shingles or panels.
  4. Eave overhang is extended to move water and snow away from the foundation and sidewalls, and to provide summertime shade to the walls and windows.
  5. Exterior walls use no strandboard or plywood, reducing wood product usage/forest impact.
  6. New foam board insulation was added to foundation and exterior walls.
  7. Locally produced, asphalt shingles with extended ice guard placed on roof with metal flashing and new wood will increase life span of house - shingles will last for 40-50 years. Asphalt was chosen over metal because of local production and energy cost of production.
  8. A solar-powered attic fan was added to remove heat from attic.
  9. Gutters added to House screen leaves and debris, and capture rain from asphalt shingles in new cisterns that will provide yard with water for non-food plants.
  10. Stone foundation material for aesthetics, durability, and heat mass in winter is locally sourced.
  11. New stucco with drain mats added to avoid mold and moisture intrusion.
  12. New larger window well added for light and egress; drainpipe in well for water control.
  13. Solar Panels added for solar hot water heat.
  14. Photovoltaic panels added to outdoor patio arbor for additional electricity. Excess electricity is stored in battery packs in the garage or if unused sold back to the public utility.
  15. Triple glazed, argon-filled windows replace original windows to increase insulation factor and storm damage impact. We avoided double hung windows for security reasons.
  16. Four 135 foot deep geothermal wells are in the front of the house under the walkway and connected to WaterFurnace for cooling and eventual heating.
  17. Concrete/cement foundation contains 40% recycled fly ash, a by-product of coal fired electric production usually sent to landfills, to improve durability of construction.
  18. All exterior hardscape surfaces are permeable to reduce rain and snow runoff.
  19. Trees were trimmed of dead branches and those trees close to the construction site were treated with a hormone to make them dormant and reduce damage from compaction and digging during construction.
  20. Silt and tree protection fences have been used throughout property during demolition and construction.
  21. Metal roofing will go on metal garden shed to collect cleaner water for vegetable gardens.
  22. Automated drip irrigation system is monitored with sensors and satellite uplink.

Interior of the House

  1. Truss system used to reduce waste wood and increase roof strength.
  2. 2x4 construction used, each stud is placed 24" on center with some lateral bracing to save on wood. Some laminated beams used, and reuse of larger lumber from original roof incorporated into new design.
  3. Closed cell foam insulation added over original wood walls or foil foam board to increase R-value, durability, reduce moisture intrusion, reduce dependency on exterior wood sheeting, eliminate need for 2x6, 16" on center construction.
  4. New 2x4 and plywood are FSC-certified, eco-friendly, wood from a sustainable forest.
  5. All paint, flooring, wood, other materials selected for the house have no or very-low VOC content (volatile organic compounds, toxins and carcinogens) (some of the exterior wood which occupants are exposed to have some VOC content)
  6. Ceilings and walls are drywall; ceilings are covered with closed cell spray foam and blown fiberglass insulation.  Care is taken for proper ventilation and to prevent insulation on the roof (which increases heat and damages shingles and reduces efficiency of solar panels).
  7. Interior walls have a closed-cell, no-VOC spray foam insulation.
  8. 2x4 and other structural framing does not have direct contact with any outside wood, stucco or stone to reduce thermal conductivity.
  9. Artificial lighting is primarily flourescent; emergency lighting LED in critical locations; low voltage Halogen for some artwork.
  10. New ductwork installed and sealed with a mastic and internal seal solution to reduce air loss and improve air quality.
  11. All ducts are sealed during construction to avoid contamination.
  12. Replaced all plumbing, using copper for water and PVC piping for vents and sewer. To reduce the dioxin issue with PVC piping, a Culligan water management system was added to reduce water particulates and modify the water PH to reduce erosion of pipe material erosion and protect pipes from clogging.
  13. House has wiring design routed for short distances and high efficiency with standard gauge wires.
  14. Garage, laundry room and small front entryway added to provide code space, and add space for technology and more convenient space management.
  15. Bedrooms enlarged and one bedroom area designed with Universal Design (ADA) additions.
  16. Sprinkler system in each room to protect against flashover in event of fire during House's century of occupation.
  17. A Brac water reuse system captures greywater from sinks and showers and filters it for(grey  reuse in the toilets.
  18. The house has hardwired CO and smoke detectors (voice capacity).
  19. Nano technology diamond coating applied to ceramic tiles to reduce mold build up and eliminate microspaces for bacterial growth.
  20. House has a smart house computer for communications, security, energy management, and entertainment, assistance for disable individuals, remote access and monitoring, irrigation.
  1. Garage floor is lower than main floor of house to keep fumes from entering home. House is maintained at a positive pressure to keep fumes from entering the house from the garage
  2. Garage fan turns on when vehicles enter garage, and runs 20 minutes to keep negative pressure in garage to evacuate fumes and exclude them from entering house.
  3. Garage computer automatically closes door to garage after you enter house and garage is free of fumes.
  4. Electric HV panels in garage for easy access.
  5. Space provided in garage for eventual addition of accessibility ramp.
  6. Large windows in garage provide natural light.
  7. Central vacuum system located in garage and vented to outside removes pollutants from living spaces inside house.
  8. Air management system by Venmar brings in fresh air and captures/reuses heat or cool air.
  9. Radon mitigation system was installed.
Mudroom and Laundry 
  1. Appliances are EnergyStar rated.
  2. Floor in Laundry room provides low-voltage radiant heat.
  3. Flooring in this portion of the house is recycled oak from a local teardown home, and radiant floor sections use recycled ceramic.
  4. Cabinets are made from no-VOC,FSC certified wood products; countertops are recycled granite from a teardown home.
  5. Solatube solar skylight brings natural light into these rooms. Laundry room has pet sleeping area to reduce human exposure to pet allergens.
North Bedroom Suite - Universal Design Suite
  1. Bathroom built with Universal Design concepts for ease of use by elderly or disabled persons.
  2. Triple-paned argonne-filled indows provide additional light.
  3. Toilets double flush to conserve water: one flush liquids, two flushes solids.
  4. Faucets are automatic on/off with built-in impellers in supply pipes to recharge batteries.
  5. Shower heads and sink heads low-flow for water conservation.
  6. Each bathroom has a floor drain.
  7. Shower and sink are wheelchair accessible.
  8. Sensors turn lights on and off.
  9. Electric wires in bedroom are shielded and all current can be switched off to reduce issues related to EMF exposure's effects on memory and potential cancer risk.
  10. Room is wired for sound, alarm, and intercom for offsite monitoring.
  11. Phone and Internet connections for emergency use and to send medical data from toilets or testing devices to medical services.
Main Floor Living Space and Kitchen
  1. A new front entryway brings the old fireplace inside.  The original design of the house allowed the outside wall of the fireplace to conduct cold air through the stone walls. New design  encloses fireplace within interior of house, and provides direct access to remodeled lower level living space, Fireplace converted to efficient natural gas, to provide alternative heat from a still-abundant fuel.
  2. Walls were removed from kitchen, dining room and living room for sense of spaciousness, and increase air circulation.
  3. The open design allows for a kitchen, dining area and reading / media or family room on one level.
  4. Ceilings were raised in two areas to give the rooms a sense of greater volume.
  5. Energy heels were added to the outside wall areas where the ceiling meets the walls to increase insulation capacity in an area that would normally have little or no insulation.  This theme was carried throughout the house with the use of enclosing soffits.
  6. Ceiling fans added to create fresh air breeze - reducing need for AC - and to circulate hot air trapped in ceiling areas.
  7. Kitchen cabinets are custom-made by Damschen Wood using locally sourced, no-VOC materials and built in a shop that manages resources in a very "green" fashion.
  8. Air duct has been added to the area behind the refrigerator to increase airflow around appliance, which will increase its efficiency and keep the coils cleaner.
  9. Efficient appliances include an induction system stovetop by Wolf and a steamer for fresh vegetables. Other appliances are EnergyStar rated.  A vent hood with outside venting is added over the oven and stove to ensure clean air in the house in the event of cooking fumes or smoke.
  10. The existing hardwood flooring is being repaired using materials from a deconstructed home.
Master Bedroom Suite
  1. Bedroom wall bumped out with a cantilever and new window space added.
  2. Bathroom similar to others in technology with the exception of the standard height of toilet.
  3. Bathroom floor has low-voltage electric heat for energy efficiency - with the added benefit of eliminating mold growth.
  4. All bathrooms have outside venting.
  5. Solatube ™ has been added to master bedroom hall for natural lighting.
  6. Ceiling fan added for air circulation.
  7. New closet is walk-in style with built in drawers and organizers from California Closets, made with green materials.  Windows in closet open to allow for fresh air ventilation of clothing and allow natural light to eliminate odors.  
  8. All floors are original hardwoods or new ceramic made of recycled materials.
  9. Bedroom is wired for sound and EMF-managed.


New Front Entryway

The new entryway was designed to meet several purposes.  We needed code-compliant access to our basement; wanted to enclose the existing fireplace for heat conservation; needed more natural light; wanted a clothes closet; needed a lower level technology room for sustainable energy systems -- and the aesthetic value to the redesigned exterior was attractive.

  1. The ceiling height is higher than that in adjacent areas, giving the rest of the home an illusion of high ceilings.
  2. The door and new exterior walls are high in R-value, reducing loss of heated and cooled air.   
  3. New windows bring light into the lower level.  
  4. Steps are designed with future chair-lift installation in mind.
  5. Lighting controls for the stairs are automatic when a sensor is stepped on, reducing accident potential for children and elderly occupants.
Basement Living Spaces
  1. Two lower-level bedrooms were added.  One has a walk-in closet, and is connected to the full-bath.
  2. Both bedrooms have large egress and daylight window-wells.
  3. One bedroom is designed for use as a home office, and connects to a larger area used for storage or as a project room.
  4. The basement bedroom has a Solatube "skylight" for natural light.
  5. Walls between the project room and office space have interior windows facing the media room, allowing more light to flow between spaces and giving a sense of more space. 
  6. Shaw recycled fiber carpet installed in the media room and on stairs.
  7. The floors are sprayed with a non-toxic natural sealer to prevent water intrusion.  
  8. The ceilings have sound-deadening baffles and spray foam to reduce noise.
  9. A radon mitigation system is installed in the lower level, eliminating a major drawback of lower-level living.
  10. The countertops in project room are made of sustainable, compressed paper; cabinets are reclaimed from a retail store.
  11. The basement is fully-wired for a media center and for Internet access.  When the TV goes on the sound comes up and the lights go down.
  12. Most lighting is on sensor switches.
Technology Room
    1. All energy in the house is sustainable, and none of the electicity comes from coal-fired generation; natural gas is the back-up energy source.
    2. Our WaterFurnace™ geothermal system fitted under the stairs provides all AC needs.  It can also supply heat if required. 
    3. Two water heaters in the space: one connected to solar panels; the other to a utility back-up.
    4. A Culligan water softener and water filter system aid water management.
    5. A Climate Air/Honda electric co-generation system is installed to provide both electricity and heat.  Natural gas enters an electric generator, the heat is removed and put into a constant-flow furnace, providing both heat and electricity for the same value.
    6. Low voltage and Internet connections are housed here; this separation from the high voltage system is useful for both safety and management.
    7. The technology in the house is connected to an Internet website that monitors energy usage and provides for public access how the systems perform.

    Crawl Space

    1. A finished crawl space beneath the garage houses the air exchange system; this space can be used for future technology, and for storage of food or other materials.
    2. The crawl space is well ventilated and insulated to keep down mold and mildew.

    CONSTRUCTION NOTES for Live Green, Live Smart / The Sustainable House™

    The technology and techniques used to build this house and landscape its yard include both low tech, passive systems and complex state-of-the-art applications.  The ways the technologies and construction techniques play off one another are a key element in the design and functionality of the house.  

    The technologies, construction techniques and selection of materials are focused on a rebuilt or remodeled home located in the Upper Midwest.  Although they can be used anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, some technologies and materials might be more appropriate for different climates and locations due to availability of materials, energy, natural resources, insects infestation of wood, trained labor pool and location where the resources are produced, how they are produced, and state and local building codes.

    As we remodeled our house we had constant discussion among the team members on selection of materials (Should we use a metal roof or asphalt shingles? Steel studs, panel construction or locally produced FSC wood studs?). In the end we made selections based on team consensus of the best green criteria for this particular application in this particular project. Among these criteria were where the materials were produced, the manufacturing techniques used by the producer, the sustainability of the materials and systems, and the potential for future recycling.  We know that different choices would be made on different homes. 

    Early adapters make mistakes, and we are no different.  It will take 15 to 20 years before most of these sustainable building techniques will become mainstream; just about the time the decline of our forests and energy availability will have demonstrably declined: early adapters make mistakes, late adapters use up the planet's resources.

    Live Green, Live Smart's / The Sustainable House™ is a house that is testing many different technologies and materials -- the redundancy in some systems, for example, would not be completely incorporated by most homeowners into their particular home.  Remodeling homeowners are likely to focus on fewer renewable energy systems, and to select projects as appropriate to their home and budget.

    LEED Construction
    The house and site comply with the highest level of LEED design and construction.  This method takes into consideration the location of the house, the management of the site, the reuse of materials, the source of materials, the use of renewable resources, the management of energy, the durability of materials, the health of the interior of the house and the impact of the house on the community.

    Century Construction
    This concept takes into consideration the durability of the house for selection of materials.  The selection of materials and the decisions on remodeling are based on having a finished home that will last at least one hundred years without major renovation, thus saving on resources.

    Universal Design
    The Universal Design Concept gives us a home that will allow for individuals with various handicaps or disabilities to live comfortably in this house.  Disable individuals, elderly or individuals with special needs can move about the house and property with greater freedom.

    Xeriscape and Permaculture Design
    The landscaping is designed to reduce pollution and carbon footprint from the yard and take into consideration the use and management of water and rainwater, while providing the occupants the opportunity to raise food and flowers. The site will incorporate a set of rain gardens, and a permaculture design that includes French Intensive food and flower gardens.

    Smart House Design
    The house is designed to take advantage of current technologies which can utilize computer management systems for security, heating and cooling, irrigation, energy management, sound systems, monitoring of children or the elderly, control the communications, allow for a disabled individual to live in the house with greater ease and a host of other management tools that provide for internal and remote management of the house and appliances in the house.  The incorporation of Smart house design fits nicely into our concept of Universal Design.

    In applying these concepts we have designed a house that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
    The house is about average in size for the neighborhood, but smaller than many of the homes currently being built in Minnesota.  The house incorporates a great deal of interior and exterior detail and uses a diversity of materials for both visual interest and recycling purposes.  

    Live Green, Live Smart/The Sustainable House™
    is intended to stimulate the public's interest in sustainable shelter design and systems; to be useful for those wishing to tour a demonstration of these principles; and to provide occupants a quality environment that provides an extraordinary living experience. 

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    The Sustainable House™

    Concept Overview
    Construction Diary
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    Sustainable House™ Basics


       US Green Building Council MN Green Star Live Green Live Smart Institute