Building Sustainable Communities™
Green Building Services About The Sustainable House™ Contact Us Home  

The Sustainable House™
Construction Diary

← June 2006 - April 2007 | September - November 2007 →

May 2007

The team selected CertainTeed Landmark Plus, a shingle with a 40-year guarantee. Made locally, it requires less delivery time from factory to site and gives the house greater protection over a longer period, saving thousands of dollars over the life of the house. As a green Century Home all products involved in the construction are reviewed for durability and their ability to last for years.By building a home that can last a century you are further saving precious natural resources for the next generation.

Materials are selected that protect the roof from ice dams and water. In addition roof valleys are further protected with long-lasting metal sheeting that direct water away from the home.

The Sela roofing crew gets the material up in about two days - even as temperatures reach 90 plus degrees.

While the roofing is going on upstairs, drain work is going on downstairs. Steve Bradow from Certified Plumbing has concluded that the old sewer system needs to be replaced if it is going to last 100 years into the future.

Dennis Berlin cuts off the last of the exterior stucco, which will be recycled into road material. New stucco that provides better water channeling will be applied after the exterior insulating panels go up.

Eric from TopNotch Treecare of Minneapolis inspects our trees for insect damage, and prunes the trees to give them shape and healthy growth. TopNotch will apply plant hormones to the tree roots near the construction areas to slow leaf growth and stimulate root growth to protect them from damage during construction. Good care of trees on the property protect a valuable asset to property values, quality of life, and the environment.

Barrier Spray Technologies sprays foam insulation into the floor of the crawl spaces. This spray foam is divided into two parts: an insulating foam and a fire retardant coating.

We have signed up for the windpower program at Xcel Energy, the local electric power company. As a participant, the electricity The House pulls from the grid (very little) will be produced by windpower -- not a single kilowatt will be produced from coal.

Hart Construction is back, pouring cement in the basement.

Our recycling piles grow. Reusable materials are taken to the ReUse Center, and recyclables to a transfer station. Creating recycling piles is the best solution to economically and efficiently sorting and preparing materials for reuse or hauling to a recycling transfer station. It looks unsightly, and if not done correctly it can be unsafe especially if children are playing in the area. Many communities require a roll-off and rapid disposal of demolition and deconstruction materials. If you plan to recycle as we have, you will need to find out what your community allows and plan accordingly. One other option is tents or trailers if on-site pile recycling won't work.

May is a busy month for the project. At times there are over 25 individuals each day working on the project. The house is small and workers are often conflicted on getting their various projects completed without disruption of the schedule. Keith our general on the job is getting stretched working until 7 PM or 8 PM each evening and arriving around 7 AM each morning. He is also giving up weekend of free time to keep the e-mail and contacts from overwhelming him. The architects are also beginning to show the wear of the project with hours getting longer and longer.

The garage floor is prepared for cement. First the crew levels the ground, then they bring in sand and level it, next they put down a poly covering, and then lay a metal mesh over that surface. Once the area for pouring is completed the cement arrives. It contains a fiber that prevents the cement from cracking. The crew works the cement into place and removes any air bubbles and smoothes the surface.

While roofers complete the shingles and place vents on the roof for air circulation, the framing crew begins the process of rebuilding the interior walls and steps and builds out interior walls in the basement. Spaces are left for interior wall windows that are used to allow light to flow from one room to another, giving the small rooms a bigger feel.

UMR Geothermal, our HVAC installers, begin the process of installing the house ventilation ducts and getting the house ready for the new heating and cooling systems. We plan on placing a cold air return behind the refrigerator to keep the coil cool and clean.

Our central vacuum system is also being installed at this time. We have selected a system that will be vented outside. A central vacuum system will help keep our indoor air quality higher.

Michael Holcomb, Executive Director of the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability and supervisor of LEED for Homes™ in our area, spent the day with our team reviewing the project and hearing presentations on the house’s technology. Michael is a leading force in the development of new concepts in shelter sustainability and an expert in energy management for homes.

Mario Montesorio of Best Power International gives a presentation to Michael Holcomb, Jimmie Sparks, and our architect Steve Kleineman about the website technology that will be used to monitor the energy usage in the house.

The roof is now complete. The stucco walls have been removed and will be recycled. Soon the new windows will be installed and the new siding applied.

We still have a long way to go. Several times we have had to make unplanned changes costing us time and money. The ROI (return on investment) will make the changes well worth the effort.

Each step of the way the teams are discussing ways to create a structure that will last at least 100 years. Did you know most of today’s homes have a life expectancy of less than 50 years? Windows often fail after 10 years, siding after 15 years, plumbing after 20 years, roofs after 10 years, foundations after 5 to 10 years, insulation becomes wet and can collapse in as little as 2 years, interior paint can last as little as 3 years, cabinets as little as 5 years, furnaces and appliances as little as 5 years, flooring as little as three years. All this adds up to more landfill and more expense.

Build a house to last a hundred years and you are saving money and resources. Plan to replace shingles no more than 3 times in the life of a house, appliances the same, windows and siding only once, paint five times, fabric flooring three times and hard surface flooring once with maintenance.

Viking Sprinkler is beginning the process of adding a home sprinkler system to the house. The sprinkler heads are small and in some cases recessed. Why a sprinkler system? In the life of a typical house there will be at least one fire. If the fire is significant, the sprinkler system will save lives, save the house, reduce our insurance costs, and increase the home’s value in a future sale.

Contrary to popular belief, sprinklers only go off in the area of the fire and only at temperatures that range from 150 degrees to 165 degrees - smoke and burned food do not set them off. They cost remarkably little to install and create peace of mind in the homeowner and guests. Some states and cities already require these systems. As the country warms and fire dangers increase it believed that these systems will become mandatory across the US.

Interior framing continues. The ceiling height in the main living area is increased to give the space a larger feel. Downstairs the framing and sprinkler installation continues. The interior is getting ready for a transformation. New windows are cut into the upstairs walls. During this stage the spaces look small and cramped. Soon with paint, flooring, light and furniture, the space will be big and bright.

More excavation is completed as the crew prepares to add insulation to the exterior walls. During this excavation we discovered a small portion of the old garage did not have cement blocks on all of the footings. Keith now must go back and hand-make a new section for a poured wall in this area. One big issue with remodeling older homes is that you never know what you will find. A good inspection is critical to a purchase and a remodel plan.

June 2007

The crew is adding foil-covered insulation to the garage. Stabilizing crossbeams are added to the walls. The walls are now ready for the next step, which is a closed cell, spray foam insulation. The blue insulation panel seen in the window area will be cut open later.

South Side Electric and Viking Electric Supply have taken on the complex task of putting together the varied electrical plans and getting the house wired for its numerous technologies. The house will also have a “smart home” management system installed. This system, which comes from HAI (Home Automation, Inc.), will provide security, music, lighting, temperature controls and a range of other tools to monitor and run the home.

Another aspect of the home’s electrical system is the creation of electromagnetic field (EMF) free zones in the bedrooms. There is some information that indicates EMFs disrupt the production of melatonin and sleep patterns at night. By reducing EMF strength you limit some of the issues found in this research. Although there is still not a great deal of long-term research on EMF effects, we believe we should be on the safe side. For more information on EMF go to: Special circuits and the layout of wiring will create zones in each bedroom that keep the rooms free of the electromagnetic fields at night (or day).

The plumbing contractor has installed plumbing for the new bathrooms, and floor drains next to the toilet area in each. This will give our homeowners security in knowing if a double flush toilet ever overflows it will not cause damage the rest of the house.

So far we have been using relatively simple technologies to increase our energy efficiency. Now the process gets more complex as we install power and heating systems. The teams are constantly coming up with new ideas to try out, and trial of these concepts has pushed the project over budget. Nevertheless, it is less expensive to do one project house to try out concept ideas than it is to do three or four.

Everyone has been waiting for this day: the wells for the geothermal units are being drilled at the front of the house. We need to drill 4 wells to a depth of 120 feet. Our geothermal system can supply both heating and cooling for the house and even the heating for our water heater.

We are using the earth’s stable temperatures to provide our indoor comfort. A Water Furnace System, the best on the market, will be the final component that hooks up to this system, more on that later, UMR Geothermal will install it. Geothermal is an economical and highly sustainable solution to our energy costs, but we have to change plans slightly when we hit granite; we drill an additional well, with all five slightly shallower than the four originally planned.

The geothermal wells are completed and the closed-end deep well loops connected to the House by HVAC contractor UMR. Though the Water Furnace geothermal system is capable of providing both heat and cooling for the house, we will initially only use the cooling function of the the system. For heating, we will rely on the Climate Energy Freewatt™ system.

The Climate Energy Freewatt™ system is installed in the lower-level technology room beneath the stairs. The Freewatt system, built by Honda, is a combined heat and power system that burns natural gas to run a generator that produces electrical energy to power the home; a heat pump runs the heat from this generator through a high efficiency furnace to heat the House. The radiant floor panels in portions of the house will use some of the electricity generated by the system, and electricity in excess of our demands is sold back to the public utility. The system's catalytic converter makes the system zero emission.

Cabinet and millwork contractors Damschen Wood, Inc. of Hopkins, Minnesota take SKD's drawings and prepare them for CAD. Locating “green” cabinets and mill working firms was one of our most difficult sourcing tasks. Our criteria for materials requires wood from sustainable forests, glues and laminations that do not incorporate VOC’s, and our cabinet maker to use “green” construction practices and to minimize waste. For livability we want cabinets and mill work that are durable and craftsman-made. After looking at dozens of commercial cabinet companies and four custom shops we settled on Dan Damschen's company.

The framers install the “energy heels," drop down sections of the ceiling provide a soffit designed to add extra insulation to sections of the home where the ceiling meets the outside walls. The energy heel will be filled with closed cell foam, allowing for a small ventilation area.

UMR runs the Venmar™ air exchange system into each room of the House. This unit will provide fresh air to the house and recapture the heat or cool air produced by the home’s furnace or AC. An air exchange system is critical to the operation of a “green” home, maintaining air quality by reducing stale uncirculated air. This air exchange also reduces the cost of energy in the house by creating a stable heat transfer. We will be using outside venting for all bathrooms and the kitchen, and avoid recirculating this air through the air exchanger.

The rafters are filling up. The house has limited joist space for the new wire, ducts, pipes and tubes. We have ongoing negotiations over use of this space. One materials decision is to use PVC drains instead of ABS plastic drains. PVC are known to have some toxins in their resins which may, over time, end up in a public or private sewer system or waterway. With ABS, there is less of an issue with the toxic dioxin; the disadvantage of ABS plastics is their long-term durability: the tend to be more rigid, fracturing more easily, and they are also very flammable. We opt for the PVC sewer drain pipes, and to reduce our water PH and reduce erosion of the pipe over the years, we will add a Culligan water management system that allows us to use less detergent.

Keith has cut a section of the foundation open for the new basement bedroom window. This Marvin window is triple-glazed and argon-filled.

South Side Electric completes the primary wiring and prepares to install the last of the low voltage wires as part of the House's intelligent control systems. We install separate panels to manage each of the different technologies, and tie back into the grid more efficiently. Panels for low voltage applications are installed in the technology room, and the master panels for other systems go into the garage for easy access. Because of the redundancy in energy systems and the intelligent house components, the House has more wires than most homes would ever require. As a living experiment that will be monitored in real time for performance, the House simply requires more system wiring.

Appliance selection is based on durability as well as efficiency, and must make sense within the overall design and use of the House. Roth Distributing of Minneapolis helps us in our choice of Wolf cook tops and ovens and Subzero Refrigerators and an ASKO ™ dishwasher, each appliance that we buy is either EnergyStar or a very energy efficient appliance. The island vent is donated by ALL, Inc. and the Washer and Dryer donated by HomeClick. Picking an appliance may seem a simple task but it takes time and research to think through how it will be used, indoor pollution created, energy management,how close to us it is built, and the ethical manufacturing and green manufacturing practices of the manufacturer.

Best Power, working with Solarskies™ of Starbuck, Minnesota, installs the solar hot water system. We selected what we considered to be the best solar hot water heating system on the market for this project. We liked what Kurt Koegel was able to tell us about the system, their green manufacturing practices, and the fact they are located close to our building site. Solarskies is well aware of Minnesota’s harsh winters and has a system designed for this climate. The system is designed to circulate a non-toxic antifreeze to a separate hot water storage unit which will provide the house with most of its hot water needs -- and could also provide for radiant floor heat if we wish. A backup water heater is in place for days when there is insufficient sun to supply hot water by solar methods.

Solar Midwest, Inc. a leader in solar light collection is shown here installing our SOLATUBE™ system.These highly efficient tubes bring a large volume of light into each floor of the house. Our crew is amazed by the amount of light each tube delivers to the basement rooms. The benefit of these tubes is that areas of the house that would require artificial light are flooded with natural light.Unlike other skylights systems the SOLATUBE ™system is well insulated and reduces heat or cool air loss.

South Side Electric begins installing the flourescent light boxes in the ceilings and the hook ups for the ceiling fans.

The exterior of the house is prepped for the new stucco and stone. More than 260 individuals have left their mark on this project, and more are yet to come as we finish our insulating, walls, flooring, cabinets, doors, fixtures, painting, windows, exterior finishes, photovoltaics, smart house system and landscaping.

July 2007

It is a very busy month. The Marvin Windows arrive and are installed. The windows are triple-glazed, argon-filled casement windows. Don Shelby of WCCO TV helps with the installation process.

The stonework on the house is proceeding on schedule. The stone is locally quarried by Buechel Stone Corporation of Chilton, Wisconsin. “Fond du Lac” stone is already used in the House and throughout the neighborhood, so the new stonework matches nicely. Stone is used to give the House more strength, provide thermal mass during the winter months and add aesthetic appeal. Stonewerk, Inc. of Mound, Minnesota is doing the installation.

The WaterFurnace™, the heart of the geothermal system, is installed by UMR under the steps in the technology room. The WaterFurnace™ helps manage the House’s climate by converting geothermal temperatures into forced-air heat or cold. The system will be used for air conditioning, however it is also capable providing economical and sustainable heat for this house.

The rainwater collection cisterns from Channell/Bushman arrive. The cisterns are connected to each other and to the gutters using components from Resource Conservation Technology. Already in wide use in Australia and other countries, these cisterns collect rainwater from the roof. That water can be used for garden and lawn care. Together these cisterns hold 3,000 gallons, enough for more than a month’s worth of watering. The cisterns can be fully replenished by a mere two inches of rainfall.

Above is the irrigation plan for the property. The project consultant, Lorne Haveruk of Irrigation Consultants & Controls, Inc., has helped devise a plan for the best use of our rainwater.

Part of the planning process for the yard is understanding the value of a natural landscape. Together with Paula Westmoreland and Ecological Gardens, we are using a design based on Xeriscape and Permaculture principles. Xeriscaping uses native plants that require little water and fertilizer to create a resource-friendly landscape. Permaculture is a holistic approach to agriculture that uses the interdependence of humans, animals, and plants advantageously.

We visited Jackson Meadows, a conservation development on the Mississippi River northeast of Minneapolis, to view their low-impact conservation sites, great examples of xeriscaping and permaculture.

The interior design planning is in its final stages. We have been working with Stephen Heili, Director of Interior Design at SKD Architects. Our goal has been to select as many recycled materials as possible. We are also looking for paint and other materials that are free of VOCs. Whenever possible we use locally produced materials.

The construction teams make use of recycling piles, from which they either pull material for reuse in the home or send materials to a transfer station for reuse somewhere else. To date we estimate that we have been able to reuse or recycle over 95% of the materials removed from the house.

Matt Koerner, one of our very talented carpenters, stabilizes a wall using a lateral brace made from the House’s original wood. Matt has gone out of his way to find and reuse every bit of wood from the original House that he can.

Cornerstone Industries places plastic drainage and overflow pipes from the house to the rain gardens and from the downspouts to the cistern.

At the millwork and cabinet shop of Damschen Wood, Inc. of Hopkins, MN, our green cabinet and shelving systems are being constructed from beautiful FSC maple.

Along the way Dan Damschen’s shop also produced the Richlite™ tabletops used in our new Live Green, Live Smart office training room. This product, originally used in aircrafts, is made of a pressed paper and water-based adhesives. It is an incredibly strong and good-looking material. In the House workshop area we will be using a version of this product made from 100% recycled cardboard.

Our sprinkler system is almost complete. The control valve is now in place. Once drywall is up the sprinkler heads will be installed.

Steve Bradow of Certified Plumbing installs commercial metal drains in the shower floors. These heavy-duty drains will clog less and has a longer life span. He has also installed a heavy-duty Grohe shower valve. This valve will last for the life of the house.

We look to the concept of durability when selecting components such as these. We search for materials that will last for years, reducing the need for maintenance and eliminating waste in repairs and replacements. This is an essential part of Century House Design.

Keith Poets and Steve Bradow inspect the filter system in our greywater recycling tank. This novel system allows us to collect water from our sinks and showers, filter it and reuse it in our toilets. This comes from Brac Systems of Canada and is supplied locally by Creative Marketing of Mora, MN.

Southside Electric wires Internet connections in all the bathrooms. This House is planned to take into consideration the needs of future occupants. In this case, after discussions with medical schools it is believed that future occupants could link medical analysis devices located in the toilet or near the toilet (for urinalysis and blood collection) to a clinic or their doctors office.

Before we spray-foam our walls we internally seal all of the ductwork. The ducts in a house are capable of loosing up to 30 percent or more of the air that travels through them. External sealing has been proven to be only a temporary solution. Internally sealing a duct with a blown-in mastic (resin) sealant reduces air loss to a few percentage points.

A critical component of the insulating process is the closed-cell foam application. This soy-based, non-toxic, no-VOC spray-foam, used in conjunction with foam board, will allow us to achieve up to an R29 insulation value in our walls and up to an R50 (when combined with blown recycled cellulose) in our attic space.

August 2007

Kraus Stucco, using new technology and installation systems, stuccos the house. The first layer is a paper "brown coat," second is a mesh coat, then a wire mesh, and finally the stucco itself. In the past stucco has had some mold-related issues, but it is actually a sustainable, and wonderful material to put on a house, provided it is installed properly. SKD Architects and Kraus have done extensive research on installation methods and are using systems that move water away from the wall surface, keeping the House dry and mold free. Stucco requires little to no maintenance, is very durable and keeps a house airtight. The material is completely recyclable (the House's original has been recycled completely) and the raw materials are found throughout the world, which means easy local sourcing anywhere.

Before the stucco is finished the team places a trim board, made of recycled sawdust and plastic, around the roofline.

Most homeowners don't give much consideration to their water and how it impacts their house, local sanitation systems, or their family's health. The water management team focuses on technologies that will help solve these critical issues. With the help of Culligan we have been able to reduce the amount of water the House uses, reduce the amount of detergents and soaps needed, protect the water pipes from mineral deposits that slow water flow and pressure, prevent the PVC drain pipes from leaching dioxins, and reduce the water loss many water softeners generate when they recharge.

Culligan also installs a filtering system that ensures us a clean water supply for drinking and cooking many years into the future. We are lucky to be working with Steve Lazski, from the Culligan office in Minnetonka, whose knowledge of water systems has solved many problems. .

Drywall is a sustainable material and in some states it can be recycled. The drywall process takes about two weeks to complete. Prior to the drywall being finished, a team made sure all openings in walls and headers are sealed. Brad Carel and crew plaster the drywall. 

As the house is enclosed it "tightens up" and interior moisture can be as big an issue as exterior moisture. The last thing we want is moisture pooling on our joists at the bottom of an interior wall. Spray-foam walls will not breathe to the exterior, so it is very important to have an air exchange system in the house. If windows are used for ventilation the addition of a dehumidifier is advised if no air exchanger can be added. Also, the use of a radon mitigation fan is known to be effective in removing moisture from the lower level of the house. We placed a radon mitigation system in our basement level just prior to putting the drywall up and it is already removing excess moisture.

We want a well-insulated garage door (R13), one that has great design features and can last the life of the house. Industrial Door Company is able to meet our needs and make sure we install the door on schedule. The garage is a place where we spent a lot of time thinking about the environment, from energy management, toxins from car exhaust, yard equipment to garbage. Part of the garage management includes a delay timer called Garage Butler supplied to us by Steve Lehtola of Hastings, Minnesota. This system, along with a fan, ventilates the garage - preventing toxic fumes from entering the house - closes the door, and turns out the light automatically.

Jason McCool of Home Automation Inc. (HAI) spent the day talking to our staff about the systems used to make this one very smart house. We selected the HAI system because it interfaces with so many components and has all of its computer board built-in saving us money and time.The HAI interface helps control the House's many systems: energy, security, irrigation, entertainment and lighting. Most importantly HAI's work makes this a house that can be lived in by elderly or disabled individual(s). This aspect of our house, called Universal Design, is greatly enhanced by the use of advanced smart home technology.

We upgrade the old fireplace to better take advantage of its beauty fully inside the house. It will heat the space more efficiently with a natural gas-fueled insert, without losing heat to the outside theough the previously uninsulated stone. The crew from Stonewerks gives the fireplace a makeover with matching local stone. Natural gas is still very abundant and it burns much cleaner and more completely than oil or coal. No more indoor air polluting wood for this fireplace.

Geoffrey Boeder, gardener and "landscape crew", installs a leaf filtering system for the rainwater cisterns.

The stucco is completed, the stone is in place, and the interior nears completion. The aesthetic of the House is defined by its shape, color, texture, and relationship to the lot and the neighborhood. The design of our house is as much an expression of beauty and art as it is functionality. Too often we try with our shelters to all be alike; one only needs to drive out to the nearest subdivision to see block after block of big, familiar, and predictable houses.

Steve Kleineman, the architect and designer of Live Green, Live Smart's The Sustainable House, has never insisted that the House’s occupants reshape themselves to conform to his abstract architectural ideal. He has created a small functional design, filled with details, that allows the occupants to live the way they want; sheltered by comfort, airy simplicity and visual delight. The House design is meant to last a century; part of that design is building a House that no one will easily consider tearing down because of outdated aesthetics.

Caleffi Hydonic Solutions has developed a compact, economical and elegant solution to control our solar hot water management. Reviewing the control system with Caleffi's director of planning and marketing Rex Gillespie are Todd and Mario, our solar advisors and installers from Best Power International of St. Paul. Solar hot water is one of the easiest of sustainable energies to buy and install, and it can cut energy costs by up to 30% per year over conventional water heating. Most systems will have a payback that provides free energy after about 7 to 10 years.

Steve puts the final touches on the lower level bathroom plumbing. Many homeowners are blissfully unaware of the complexities of a plumbing system. Keeping the system functional, reducing the cost of pipe and labor, and maintaining a safe water supply require a skilled plumber. When a house also has a sprinkler system, a grey water reuse system, a solar hot water and geothermal system, plumbing becomes a major concern in the entire project's success.

Outside a couple of things are happening at once. Lawns-R-Us of Jordan, Minnesota builds the window wells with stone from Buechel. The window wells are generously sized, offering lots of lower level light and easy egress.

Geoff completes the connections and piping for the rainwater collection cisterns. He and Jack fill in the area around the cisterns, first with a layer of sand, then with insulation scraps (to keep the tanks from freezing and cracking), then more sand, and then soil.

Joe Kerber of Kerber Tile, Marble and Stone gets the bathrooms ready for tiling. Joe shims the old wall and applies a waterproof fiber/cement board to the shower walls. The shower in the accessible bathroom is designed for walker or wheelchair access. Joe will use local materials and some recycled glass in showers and surrounds.

The fireplace and entry are given finishing touches as the crew from Stonwerk wraps up their inside work.

We separate and remove our recycling piles, finding homes for everything but the scrap drywall - but we aren't giving up on that yet. Metal, wood, stucco - even cardboard packaging is taken to a transfer station at the end of the week.

The crew cleans up the site in preparation for the rain gardens and permaculture gardens. Barry Johnson works his Bobcat and helps us avoid damage to trees and previously undisturbed soils. Site preparation is a process that takes considerable planning, care and concern. We want to avoid runoff, topsoil loss, and damage to the geothermal wells, rainwater cisterns, drain tiles or trees.

Sela Roofing and Gutters has been working on a gutter/roof water collector for several days. They built a system on-site that keeps leaves and other matter from clogging the gutters and cisterns. It connects to the cisterns in four locations and has a winter diversion drain if needed.

The new front door was made by Commercial Millwork Solutions of Rosemount, Minnesota. The door is part of the SKD design concept for the House. Steve wanted to make a statement about the quality and design of the house from the very first time someone entered. The insulated glass panels in the jamb and thickness of the door give the House security, a high R-value, and lasting durability. When you walk in the front door, you can see through to the back of the house and into the back yard. This view gives the house a larger feel by bringing the outside in.

Guyer's Builders Supply installs a new gas fireplace that fits in the existing space. The goal to retain aesthetic interest without losing heat via the chimney. Although we are not likely to use it often, the gas fireplace gives the House an alternate heat source and will enhance the resale value.

By converting from inefficient wood burning to gas we reduce our carbon footprint. In a new home we would not have added a fireplace, but since the chimney is already here as an integral part of the home, we decided to make it better. Burning wood in an open fireplace throws off plenty of light, but gives off a relatively small about of heat. More importantly, burning firewood produces particulates that can collect in the home and cause health problems. There are many fireplace alternatives to burning wood: electric flame lights, propane, alcohol pots, etc. Natural gas is the healthiest and most efficient alternative.

The kitchen and laundry room cabinets are made of FSC wood and water-based, VOC-free glues and varnishes. Damschen Wood, Inc. of Hopkins, Minnesota, custom-made the cabinets and installed them. The clean lines of the cabinet design avoids wasted wood and wasted space. We expect the cabinets and millwork to have a healthy hundred-year life.

The primer coat on the walls is now completed. Eric Featherson and CertaPro Painters of Plymouth, Minnesota, are working with Harmony, a new paint by Sherwin Williams, that is VOC-free and will not gas-off. The paint is durable and reduces our maintenance needs over the long run. The importance of quality paint and proper application is critical for any green project.

Harmony paint is also a sealer, which helps us keep our house clean and fresh-looking. It reflects more light than ordinary paints when properly applied, reducing lighting needs and enhancing the home’s mood and environment.

The wood floors are repaired and reinstalled. We took wood from different parts of the house and collected it for use it in the master bedroom. The wood floors in the entryway and dining room are from deconstructed homes. With The Grain, out of Minneapolis, is helping us with the installation.

We tested a composting toilet from Biolet over a two year period. This toilet performed well, and there were few complaints other than that it didn't have water in the bowl as "expected." The system works like this: When you lift the lid and sit down, a flap into the tank opens automatically and exposes a sawdust or mulch field. When you stand up, the flap closes and a rotating arm moves the waste into a holding tank. A low voltage fan keeps the system vented to the outside. After about three months, a drawer at the bottom of the toilet is opened and all that is left is non-smelling compost, which can be disposed of in sanitary collection facilities - it can't be used on vegetable gardens.

A composting toilet is a good solution for a house that has water limitations or is on a septic system. They are easy to use, clean, and do not smell. However, we are going to stick with the Toto double flush toilet in this house as the best choice for this location. A composting toilet is a great choice for locations that either do not have access to water, or for locations that are limited in sanitation capacity. Before planning to install a composting toilet it's important to check local building codes. Another concern may be that composting toilets are low and wide, and may not be well-suited for disabled or elderly individuals without modification.

We are working with the Green Institute and the MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) to certify The Sustainable House through their new green certification program, Minnesota GreenStar. Unlike LEED, GreenStar has a program (still in its pilot stage) specifically for remodel projects, like The Sustainable House. We are not replacing LEED with GreenStar: instead, we are certifying through both programs evaluate the differences and similarities between the two. It will be interesting to see how a LEED Platinum home matches up with GreenStar’s requirements. Pictured above is Christine Schwichtenberg, our contact at the Green Institute.

Outside the house, Kraus Stucco puts the finishing touches on the foundation. Keith and his team paint the soffits and install a soffit venting system so the roof can breathe.

Landscaping is well under way. Paula Westmoreland of Ecological Gardens in Minneapolis creates a beautiful landscape plan, selecting plants that interact closely with each other, the environment, and the Minnesota climate as a sustainable yard that uses little water or chemical agents. The goal is a biologically rich and ecologically sound landscape. We are doing our best to integrate the landscape and the house as much as possible, including plants that bear fruits and herbs.

Selecting furniture is more complicated than anticipated. Most of the furniture in the house will be previously-used, but some will be new. Working with Tim Grundei of the Walsh Design Group and the Inside Design Store in Minneapolis, we have been able to find furniture with FSC wood, natural fibers and foams without VOC issues. Furniture is a source of energy consumption, forest misuse, and chemicals that can contribute to a toxic environment, so its selection is important when planning a green home.

We have taken the time to understand ways we can discourage high energy use during Minnesota's cold winters. Some research tells us that certain areas of a house need to be warmer than others at various times of the day. If we can create warm “comfort zones” in some parts of the House we can reduce the heat in other areas. If a bathroom, entryway, or laundry room is warm, individuals are comfortable letting other areas of the house remain cooler. We could have zoned the house using our geothermal system, but we have chosen to use low-voltage radiant heat in the floors instead.

We have installed a STEP Warmfloor system in the bathrooms, mudroom/entryway, and laundry room. The Warmfloors create climate zones and warm the feet; if the feet are warm, the body is warm. The electricity for this system is generated by the co-generator, minimizing cost. The STEP Warmfloor is easy to install and can be used under wood, stone, or ceramic floors. Unlike water-style radiant systems, Warmfloor is low-profile, requiring little space and labor. Simple solutions like a radiant floor can keep you and your home warm at a fraction of a cost.

With the radiant floors in place, the tile crew seals the bathroom floors and cuts tile for the shower walls. The shower in our accessible suite will have floors suitable for wheelchair entry; they are sloped toward a drain and have no curb.

← June 2006 - April 2007 | September - November 2007 →

< Back to Top


The Sustainable House™

Concept Overview
Construction Diary
Virtual Home Tour
Sustainable House™ Basics


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