Thursday, May 08, 2008

Down To The Studs: A Green Remodel

A home on Pinehurst Avenue in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood represents one of the more ambitious attempts in the area to create a totally “green” home.

Much of the house has been ripped down to the studs to incorporate new energy efficient windows, thick insulation, eco-friendly wood, Energy Star appliances and a solar hot water heater are installed and a 1,400 square foot addition is built.

When completed the construction zone of a home will be transformed into the EcoDEEP Haus, as its creator calls it, an eye-catching white and gray metal modern home with a roof filled by solar panels and a green garden. The mastermind behind the house is architect Kevin Flynn, who will live in it with his wife, fellow architect Roxanne Nelson, and the couple’s three children.

Flynn says the remodeling project will make the home twice the size of the original house yet use only half the energy. And it might even have used less energy if he, say, had an unlimited budget. “We could have spent a lot more on the appliances,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of remodels where the refrigerator alone is $6,000 – that was our entire kitchen appliance budget.”

The house, at 2199 Pinehurst, is among a growing number of green remodeling projects being done in the Twin Cities. The most ambitious one, in Minnetonka, was completed recently by Peter Lytle, executive director of Live Green, Live Smart, an organization promoting green building practices. WCCO anchor Don Shelby followed Lytle’s remodel for the station’s Project Energy series.

Jimmie Sparks, residential energy program manager of the Neighborhood Energy Consortium, says he’s seen “five or six” homes being remodeled in a fashion similar to the EcoDEEP Haus in the Twin Cities, among them Lytle’s house. He’s visited the home a number of times and serves as third party validation for the home, which Flynn hopes will be designated a Minnesota Green Star remodeling project.

“We are seeing a lot more green remodels,” says Sparks. “There’s a couple of reasons why – the locations (of the homes) are good, there’s good transportation options and shopping options close by and less of a commute than if they (homeowners) lived in the suburbs.”

Flynn will not have much of a commute since his office will be in his home, which in and of itself will become a showcase for sustainable architecture and materials. His family currently lives on the West Side but plan to move once the remodeled is done in June.

The 46-year-old architect has been active in sustainability circles for decades and now serves as the vice-president of the Mississippi Headwaters Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. He founded EcoDEEP, a firm that has worked as a sustainability consultant for projects such as the Blue Earth Justice Center, Cargill’s corporate headquarters, the City of Woodbury, East Los Angeles College, St. Paul’s Phresh Salon and Spa.

To generate interest and draw clients, Flynn also maintains a blog charting progress on the home. While green approaches have been around for years, he believes the difference now has been a greater public embrace of sustainable products due to concerns over global warming and the building industry’s improvement in creating green product lines.

“Industry wasn’t prepared in the past with good, high performance products for builders,” he says. “The industry has finally caught up with the demand.”

Flynn says he and Roxanne spent a year in a search of a house they wanted to live in and could transform into an eco-house. They were drawn to the 1940s one and a half story Cape Cod house because it needed updating and could be modified into a more modern, he says.

The couple decided to add an addition – a kitchen on the home’s west side, a two story bedroom addition on the backside that connects to the existing second story –that will bring the size to 3,000 square feet. The addition uses particle board-style studs and other framing pieces from wood grown in sustainable forests certified by the Forest Stewartship Council.

In looking at how to save energy in any house, Flynn says insulation and windows can make a huge difference, along with energy efficient heating and cooling systems. The house uses triple-paned Toronto, CA-based Inline Fiberglass windows that he says “outperforms wood, metal or vinyl frames” and have with “Low E” ratings, a measure of their ability to reduce heat loss and allow for solar gain in winter.

Making the house as “tight” as possible reduces energy. To that end, home will be insulated a “closed cell” spray foam with that fills any open gaps and requires no plastic vapor barrier used in traditional construction. Closed cell insulation is “more environmentally friendly” and provides a more air tight seal than other environmental foam sprays.

Sealants are being used throughout the house to close any potential gaps. With tight homes come the risk of mold but Flynn says the EcoDEEP Haus will have an air exchanger that keep indoor air refreshed constantly.

The kitchen will have all Energy Star-rated appliances and generally finding those proved no great challenge except for the refrigerator. Flynn did not want an automatic ice maker and exterior water or water dispenser and few refrigerators come without them, though he finally found one.

The home’s wood floors will be reinstalled in the remodeled home, saving money since Flynn won’t have to buy any new products. The carpeting that will be in a few rooms will come from Interface Flor, Inc. and have a high recycled content, he says.

Solar panels will cover part of the home’s roof. One section of panels will supply hot water for use in the home, another section will produce electricity, he says. The solar panels will be accompanied by a green roof garden of native grasses and vegetation, says Flynn.

Meanwhile, inside the home he plans to reduce water consumption by adding aerators to faucets and shower heads and low having low flow toilets.

For years builders and architects have tried to create momentum for a sustainability movement with middling success. Yet Flynn believes, finally, the time has come for green remodeling to become mainstream. Energy prices will not be falling anytime soon and concerns over global warming will likely only grow.

“For years and years and years I was the eco-guy but now we’re seeing more and more architects getting interested in this,” he says. “It’s in the newspapers, in magazines, and there’s a lot of attention being paid by corporations to sustainability. It’s here to stay.” (Reprinted with permission of the Highland Villager newspaper and the author. Frank Jossi is a St. Paul-based journalist and editor.)

No comments: