Greenhouse Tour

March 23rd, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Thanks, Charles, for giving me a tour of the new St. Olaf College greenhouses.

The glass structures sit atop the new science building on the hill. Charles Umbanhower Jr. graciously gave me a walking tour of the greenhouses last week. This is part of my interest in developing low energy commercial greenhouses for urban food production.

Low energy usage is a challenge, especially if the greenhouse is to produce through the winter. The typical wall and roof of a green house is a single pane of glass, lapped to shed water and condensation. The typical roof is similar, relying on heat loss to melt snow, thereby minimizing the roof structure requirements. Insulated glass panels tend to experience seal failures, leading to high replacement costs over time.

Interest in low-energy greenhouses seems to be on a rise, inspiring this architect to search for innovative solutions.

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Boy Scouts go winter camping

March 17th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Winter Camping
This past weekend, I accompanied Troop 313 on a winter camping trip to Fred C. Anderson Scout Reservation. The scouts camped in tents on the frozen ground for two nights and three days. The first night was cold, with temperatures falling into the single digits, but the second night was balmy, with temperatures in the twenties.

We had a great time.

The boys love the adventure and problem solving this campout presented. How do you stake your tent when the ground is frozen? How do you deal with condensation in your tent? Can you be comfortable without a furnace? Am I smart and tough enough to handle the cold? How does teamwork make difficult situations easier and more fun?

Exploring the Bluffs

The scouts explored the bluffs along the St. Croix river on Saturday. Climbing high on the slopes, they reveled in peeking inside caves and watching a frozen waterfall come to life. The waterfall was almost magical; as we passed it the first time it was cold and dead. As we came back past it, we heard the sound of moving water and watched as the first foamy flow pushed over the ice and made its way to the river. Spring has sprung! sang one delighted scout.

Troop 313

These outings are terrific venues for learning, confidence building, and creation of great memories. We welcome you and your son to join us in the adventure.

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It’s not just me

March 12th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

We’ve been promoting the value architects bring to home remodeling projects for a while now. Well, Popular Mechanics suggests that it’s not just me!

This article outlines five reasons why it is worth it to hire an architect for your home.

#1 To see the big picture
#2 To handle the paperwork
#3 To hire the muscle
#4 To oversee the job

We welcome your call to discuss the project you’ve been thinking of! Take their word: it will be worth it.

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Celebrate 99 Years of Scouting in Rice County

March 11th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


What: Come and celebrate 99 years of Scouting in Rice County

When: Friday, March 27, 2009 from 7:00-8:30PM

Where: Great Hall at Carleton College

View Flyer

RSVP to Matt Olson at 651-254-9120

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Small is Beautiful

March 11th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Basement Remodel Looking Good

You’ll see some of our higher profile projects in our portfolio, but that’s not all we do. This is another basement remodeling project.

The same design skills apply to these smaller projects where space is limited and constraints are numerous. Here we dealt with limited headroom in certain areas, water intrusion issues, and traffic flow concerns. The end product garnered high praise from our clients, who are retired professors on a fixed income, and their frequent guests.

We welcome your call to help you take care of your existing home’s requirements so that it better suits your needs.

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Leadership Training!

March 11th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


One of my favorite benefits of Boy Scouting is helping boys learn to work together toward a common goal. To that end, I led a training seminar for our scouts at St. John’s Lutheran Church this past Saturday.

The seminar consists of a combination of video clips surrounding hands-on activities to underscore the lesson. Here the boys had to figure out how to work together to move the group twenty feet with only half of the feet or hands touching the floor and without losing contact with each other (this was the second attempt, which was successful!) Following each activity, we reflected on how it went and how leadership was exhibited by certain members of the group.

By the end of the day, the boys learned many important ideas, including:

  • That it doesn’t feel good when your idea isn’t heard
  • That the best ideas don’t always come from the leader
  • That a good leader doesn’t have to know everything or even act that way
  • That activities can be more fun when leadership is shared
  • That conflicts can be resolved using empathy, invention, and selection
  • This weekend, the scouts will try out some of their new skills at a campout on the St. Croix River.

    This is the stuff of Boy Scouts. Your son could be learning these skills, too, which will be with him for life. Give me a call at 507-645-9020 to find out more!

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    Solar Panels Operational!

    March 6th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

    power inverter

    This week, Mary and I visited a client’s home to review the solar power and hot water systems thet were recently installed. Here is the power converter, which received DC power from the solar panels and converts it to AC power, and Greg, the installer. This is one of two inverters installed inside the old barn, which proved to be a fine place to mount the photovoltaic panels.

    Access Challenges

    Access is only occasionally needed, so the inverters were installed close to PV panels. The inverters are truly a minimal intrusion into the barn space.

    Photovoltaic panels

    The panels face south at about a 35-degree angle to match the existing roof slope. They are unobtrusive on top of the silver metal roof. We advised our client to locate the panels on the barn instead of the house due to the existing trees around the house and the fine solar access afforded on the barn, as shown below.

    Barn with Solar Panels

    solar domestic hot water panels

    The solar domestic hot water panels, however, fit easily on the roof of the home, where they will receive plenty of sunlight. The hot water storage tank thermometer read 125 degrees despite the 38-degree outdoor temperature.

    Innovative Power Systems designed and provided both hot water and photovoltaic panels systems. Our role has been primarily advocacy and consultation on the solar systems, which were added late in the design process. Where appropriate in all our projects, we incorporate “solar ready” strategies into our projects so that our clients can easily and affordably add these systems when the time is right. In this case, the SDHW systems dovetailed with construction and the PV system followed shortly thereafter.

    Click here to see some portfolio images of this project, which at this point are largely planning images. We hope to add more photographs this spring.

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