Monday, November 24, 2008 what everyone should know!

This past week, we were both attending Greenbuild in Boston. Greenbuild is USGBC's annual conference (United State Green Building Council). This year over 30,000 people attended the convention in a rather chilly Boston. The opening speaker for the event was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Yep, you could say this conference was no small potatoes.

One great speaker was writer, environmentalist and professor Bill McKibben. Click the link if you want to hear his talk. It was inspiring and urgent message that reminded us just how crucial it is that we act now.

He has created a grass-roots organization called

Here's the deal: 350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth. We are currently at 385 and it's rising about 2 parts per year.

The goal of this organization is to get the word out. We need an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions fast. The United Nations is working on a treaty, which is supposed to be completed in December of 2009 at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. But the current plans for the treaty are much too weak to get us back to safety. This treaty needs to put a high enough price on carbon that we stop using so much.

If you have care about what happens to the planet, spread the word!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New and Improved Photos!

A few weeks ago, we had Scott Gilbertson, architectural photographer extraordinare, take some photos of the house. Here are just some of the photos:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Power Plants on the Roof

Hello one and all - yesterday was a red letter day for the HAUS - we installed our green roof (800 sf in 6hrs!) and it looks amazing! For those of you who'd like to know, we used a vegetated roof system called LiveRoof. It comes in preplanted modular trays (1 ft x 2ft by 4" deep) with native plant species selected for your specific exposure and microclimate.

Our roof used 2 different plant mixtures -
Classic Carefree Sunny Mix
Sedum Album (Coral Carpet)
Sedum hybridium(Immergrunchen)
Sedum reflexum (Blue Spruce)
Sedum rupestre (Angelina)
Sedume sexangulare
Sedum spurium (dragon's blood)
Sedum Neon
Allium Flowering Onion

Shade Mix
Sedum Pachylados
Sedum hybridium(Immergrunchen)
Sedum spurium (Fireglow)
Sedum rupestre (Angelina)
Sedume sexangulare
Sedum spurium (Green Mantle)
Sedum Spurium (Royal Pink)

These plants are carefully selected to handle lots of rain but also do well for long periods without rain in our Minnesota climate. They will grow to be between 2 and 4 inches tall -and besides periodic weeding will require very little maintenance.

I like the Live Roof system because it comes fully planted and ready to rock and roll. We ordered the plants in early June and the nursery did most of our work for us - growing and caring for the plants all summer long before harvesting them for us this past week and prepping them for our installation. Now that they are on our roof, we don't need to be watching bare dirt with a few plant plugs watching and waiting for them to grow - it's an instant green!

Boy, You Crazy! Why you want a green roof?
Green Roofs help:
  • Manage stormwater (up to 95% of rain fall is used by the green roof)
  • Reduce Energy Costs (energy use reduction of 25% and higher)
  • Extend the life of the primary roof system by 200% (protecting rooftop from temperature swings, ultraviolet radiation, etc)
  • Noise Reduction
  • Improve air quality
The Live Roof system costs about $12.00 per sf but will vary depending on the size of your order. We installed it ourselves and so saved a lot on labor costs. We worked out the details and became certified green roof installers through our local Live Roof supplier - Bachman's nursery.

Here are some photos of the installation in progress:

The plants arrived via truck and after unloading are ready to be brought up to the rooftop.

We rented a scissors lift to help move the modules (about 50 lbs each) up to the rooftop. There was no way I was going to carry 400+ roof modules one at a time on a ladder. The plywood on the ground helps protect the newly planted lawn.

Even local celebrities get in on the act. Here, the famous Curt Kietzer carries the first of many modules to it's final destination. My brother Brian is working the lift.

Getting Started - all the modules click together to stabilize each other and promote better plant growth. The green soil elevators keep the soil in place until they are installed. Working from right to left, we filled in the rooftop pretty quickly. You can see the dark grey 45 mil epdm slip sheet we used as root barrier on top of our real roof membrane. We don't want the plants messing with our roof membrane!

Jeffrey Swainhart is the man with the saw cutting the modules at the end of each row to ensure a tight fit. Cutting takes a long time and should be minimized!

Regular sweeping is critical to avoid pinching any sharp aggregates between the plant trays and the roof membrane.

Curt K and Guy Williams seen splicing the joints at the metal edging - I favor the edging over the cutting .

When the upper roof was nearly complete, we started in on the lower roof (Shade Mix)

Lower roof complete

Upper roof complete

A nice detail so my ladder doesn't damage the plantings on the lower roof when I need to access the upper roof. The pavers are recycled rubber porous paver systems called VAST from our friends at Natural Built Home.

We've been measuring how much water our rooftop generates during each rainfall (we're collecting runoff in rain barrels). Now, with the green roof in place we can track the reduction in that amount. Rather than sending our runoff to the stormsewer system and thus to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River, we're using the rainwater to keep our plants healthy and happy so they can do all those good things for our home.

Monday, September 29, 2008

MN Solar Tour - EcoDEEP Haus Open Haus

That's right, we are opening our doors on Saturday Oct 4 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm for the Minnesota Solar Tour. This event is sponsored by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES).

The tour is free and is self-guided featuring over 50 exemplary homes, businesses, and institutions that have incorporated renewable energy into the design and operation of their buildings. Projects include not only solar systems, but geothermal and wind as well. This is an excellent opportunity for those interested in solar and other renewable energies to view installations and talk with building owners, builders, architects, and planners about their experiences.
Kevin and company (a whole host of friends) are planning on installing the green roof on Wednesday, so you can also get a peek at our freshly installed planted roof.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Measuring Things - Energy and Water

Well gang - we're sorry it's been so long since we've posted anything to this site, but we've been a bit busy getting the kids off to their school and being on the local radio station.
Kevin has had his 15 minutes of fame come and go due to his appearance on the local radio program "Everything Green" on AM 950. Follow this link for the podcast if you care to hear the melodious musings of Kevin talking about our house.

This time off from attending to our blog doesn't mean that we haven't been doing things. Far from it oh unforgiving masses, far from it. We've been growing quite some grass, getting our home energy rating tests completed, and tracking energy use and water use in the house.

First things first. As part of our quest to know how we're doing and to see the impacts of some of our decisions during design, we've decided that we'll measure how much energy and water we use as well as how much water we can harvest and divert.

Our house has scored very well on the Energy Star Rating System after a series of blower door and air leakage tests we put it through to verify that the house was working as designed. The house scored well - receiving a 5 + star energy rating (the highest you can get) with a HERS Index Rating of 53 (on a scale of 0 to 500, with lower scores being better). This is great news - especially for a remodeled structure of which we were unable to change a few fundamental things. If we were to do a completely new house - I'd expect a HERS score of 30 or lower.

Our solar panels have been working hard given the summer days and relatively sunny skies of the season. Unfortunately, due to a small programming error in the data logger, we've lost the production data for June and half of July. We can, however, report energy production for mid July through mid September - during which time we produced 453 kwH - averaging 7.1 kwh per day during this period. This represents about 50% of our total electrical energy load for the same period. We've actually been a little surprised that our electric usage has been as high as it has been - given that we've rarely had to turn our lights on - but suspect that Kevin's new office equipment (a few new workstations and server) has caused out plug load to increase beyond expectations. We're going to meter these circuits separately so we can separate office from residential energy use in the coming months.

We'll expect to see solar pv production drop in the winter months but hope for a minimum production of 1,900 + kwh from our solar panels annually.

We've also been measuring water savings - both in terms of water usage within our home and the stormwater management practices employed on the rooftop and at grade.

Within the home, you will no doubt remember kind reader, we have outfitted the place with low flow plumbing and laundry fixtures. For our family of five (plus constant guest and 2 office staff) we would expect a baseline water use of 54,000 gallons per year (4,500 gallons per month) if we used plumbing fixtures that simply met the building code minimum standards. By our calculations, we are using only 32,600 per year (2,700 per month) for a potable water savings of 40%. This water use still seems very high, so we need to double check the flow rates on our dishwasher and laundry washing machines to get a more accurate number. I expect that we're closer to 60% - but we'll find a suitable means to measure that and let you know!

On site - we have a goal of sending ZERO water to the storm sewer system. We hope to accomplish this by means of:

  • A vegetated green roof system on 55% of our rooftop area: (To be installed in early October, we expect this to absorb 45% of the total rainwater on the rooftop)

  • Harvesting of rainwater in rainbarrels: So far we've collected and diverted 7,300 gallons of rainwater, or 16% of the total rainwater hitting our rooftops for July, August and September. We expect this number to increase significantly after we install the green roof.

  • Use of raingardens to handle remaining rooftop drainage, sump pump drainage and over surface drainage: Excess rainwater run off from the roof that is not collected by the green roof and rainbarrels as well as the water from our sump pump (below grade water at foundation wall) will find its way to the big raingarden - keeping those native plants happy.

  • Minimize impermeable surfaces on site: Excluding the footprint of our house, we have nearly 85% of our site in vegetated or permeable surfaces. - This makes for better infiltration into the groundwater and subsurface aquifers. More than 50% of our lawn is planted with a low mow native plant species grass mix that requires less water and little to no mowing! Except of course that Roxanne enjoys mowing the lawn and is itching to do it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Green- Grass and Rain Gardens

The grass is now officially growing. It's exciting to see it green up. It took 6 days for the sprouts to appear, which I think is pretty good. We were VERY nervous, as Saturday we had a huge downpour that made it appear our entire yard was flowing down towards the Mississippi.

In our neighborhood, everything flows towards the Mississippi River, about 3 blocks away. With the poorly draining clay soil and grass not yet established, we've been really able to see exactly how the yard handles water. The regrading we did greatly improved the water situation around the house. The sump pump was very active prior to re-grading (so much that we joked about having a water fall feature from the sump outlet)- but it hasn't gone on once since the grading. This weekend, we were able to get the 60 plants planted in the rain gardens.
We used a combination of grasses- such as Karl Forester and perennials such as Black-Eyed Susans and Coneflowers. I had to improvise a bit, as not all the plants I wanted were available at Gertens- but overall, I think it will look great once it gets a bit more established.
Here's a list of the plants we used:
Karl Forester- grass
Blue Sedge grass
Prairie Dropsee Grass (edible & nutritious seeds on this one!)
Icicle Veronica
Butterfly Weed
Pixie Meadowbrite Coneflower
Little Joe Pye Weed
Magnus Coneflower

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Greening Up the Yard

It's been difficult to have 3 kids, a nice summer and not be able to play in the yard.... We've grown tired of the dirt yard- although I will say that not having to worry about watering, mowing and maintenance this month has made me jokingly want to consider astro-turf.

Last week and the beginning of this week, the folks at CurbSide Landscape finished the final grading, Buck's Concrete poured the back sidewalk slabs and then CurbSide seeded the lawn. Before seeding, the entire yard was covered with a couple of inches of compost. We opted for hydroseeding the lawn, which a method where a slurry of water, seed and fiber mulch are sprayed on the lawn with a hose. With proper watering, grass should be growing in a week, with mowable lawn in 3-4 weeks.

The slurry has a green tint- and it made quite a mess around the base of the house.....
The front yard is planted with a traditional residential grass, such as Kentucky Blue Grass. For the back yard, we went with an "eco grass". This is a low-mow, low-water, low-maintenance turf. It may take a bit longer to establish the back yard, but we're willing to give it a try. It's amazing how much water is needed to have a lush, green yard. Given our large yard, we were looking for an alternative that will save us time and limit water use.
On Tuesday, after the yard was seeded, we received a huge downpour of rain. Unfortunately, the rain barrels and some of the downspouts weren't in place, so we may have to touch up some of the hydroseeded areas.

We're treating our yard as a work in progress that will continue to evolve over the years. With our limited budget for landscaping, this is the only option. Matthew Fair Jones, our landscape architect, helped conceptualize the plan and master plan ideas. They are simple for now. I want to make sure I understand which areas of the yard get sunlight at various times of the day and how we want to ultimately use our yard. Prior to the seeding, I did plant a small rock garden utilizing the rocks that were in our yard, around the River Birch tree by the patio.
This weekend we will plant the rain garden plants into the areas that were installed by CurbSide. More on that later....

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Bit of Privacy

We've been living in our new house for about a month now. We love the amount of windows and they way the house really takes advantage of daylight and cool breezes. So far, we only have shades on one set of windows in one room. No other windows have window treatment yet and although we love the simplicity of that, it does leave us feeling a bit exposed at times. We are only about 25' from the street and we do have quite a few people looking at our house these days. There are times when we look out the window to see someone looking in. Sometimes we just end up waving to each other. We really don't mind too much- but there are times we feel on display.

Time for window treatments.....

Our aupair is lucky enough to have this bedroom (although it's very small) with a balcony. The balcony space is really quite wonderful, in that it's like being in a tree house. This tree also provides a bit of privacy, but it will need to be trimmed and the leaves will be gone in a couple of months, leaving it much more exposed to the street. When Kerstin leaves in October, it will become a guest room/study room.

We just installed these roller shades from The Shade Store for this room. We went with the subtle white-on-white pattern.
Now, we're just debating on window treatments for the other windows that need it (mostly bedrooms). Although I like the solar shades and roller shades, we really count on the breezes we get at night. Given the need for breezes to pass thru, and the desire to control light entering, we are going to go with a 2 or 2.5" wood or faux wood blind in white. I just have to do a bit of research to find a louver with recycled content.