Giving Back

September 9th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

VIVUS Architecture + Design supports our community through volunteering. We track those hours that occur during normal business hours.
We are pleased to report that in each of the last two years, VIVUS staff have contributed over 185 hours to local causes including

  • Rotary International
  • Knights of Columbus
  • Northfield School of Arts and Technology
  • Northfield Enterprise Center
  • Northfield Environmental Quality Commission
  • Northfield Land Use Advisory Group
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • A sincere “Thank You!” to all our clients; you have helped us help Northfield be a better place to live!

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    2010 Northfield Area Home Remodeling Tour

    August 4th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    The 2010 Northfield Area Home Remodeling Tour is on Facebook! Check it out!

  • FREE!
  • Self-guided tours of ten recently remodeled homes
  • Kitchens, Landscapes, Basement Finishing, Mudrooms, Screened Porches….
  • Saturday, September 18th 2010
  • 9 AM to 4 PM
  • Maps available for pickup in the Library in Early September 2010
  • This is a great way to get ideas, see beautiful spaces, and learn who can help improve your home locally!

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    Small Addition, Large Impact

    July 23rd, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    Here is another case of a little addition that accomplishes big things for the homeowner.

    This historic home needed a list of improvements on the first floor: an updated kitchen, dining area, laundry area, three-quarter bath, and a back entry that fits the architecture. It also came with a list of challenges: limited site area, finished space above (hinders plumbing routes), and a limited budget.

    Our solution added only about 100 square feet of heated space, plus an entry porch. Through creative use of space and spatial definition strategies, we added everything on the owner’s wish list, plus a tiled entry and closet. The owner is very pleased with the results. Here is part of an e-mail I received from them last week:

    I’ll have to add that {we} are absolutely delighted with your vision of what could happen in an addition. We keep chuckling about the fact that we came close to having an attached outhouse and now we has a lovely kitchen, laundry area and bath.

    Small, carefully planned additions can help your house fit better without breaking the bank. We can help with vision and implementation, and we welcome your call.

    Posted in All Entries, Portfolio + Projects 3 Comments »

    Owatonna Architecture

    July 2nd, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    Owatonna has a great architectural treasure. On a recent visit I stopped here, at the old National Farmer’s Bank Building. Designed in 1908, by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, this bank has been called the most beautiful bank in the world.

    It is a carefully proportioned building, whose apparent design simplicity is enhanced by terra cotta tiles inside and out. It is a pleasure to view and visit, awash with natural light inside and richly embellished in every detail.

    Tours are available regularly, or you can just drop in during banking hours. Here is a PDF with more details.

    Celebrate American architecture with a visit to Owatonna!

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    Solstice means planning for fall construction

    June 22nd, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    Every summer when the days start getting shorter, I am reminded of the passing of time. Summer won’t last forever, then we’ll drift into the warm and earthy colors of fall before we are plunged again into winter.

    We northerners want to get our construction projects enclosed before then, to save money on temporary heat, frost removal, snow removal, and temporary enclosures. Summer Solstice means four to five months, hopefully, before serious snowfall. If you haven’t started planning your addition or remodeling and hope to beat the winter weather, now is the time!

    Summertime planning with a September construction start will usually wrap up your building’s exterior for the winter, allowing time during the chilly months for interior finishing and occupancy. Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate Christmas in your new addition?

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    Smart Remodeling

    June 9th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    Which of these home improvements do you think can cause condensation on your windows and cause your water heater to back draft?

  • Replacing the old furnace with a high-efficiency furnace
  • Caulking and sealing windows and other wall penetrations
  • Increasing the R-value of insulation in the attic
  • Installing a new range hood or bath fan
  • Adding conditioned space to an existing home
  • Changing a fireplace
  • The truth is that they all have the potential to cause unexpected consequences, including condensation on the windows, carbon monoxide in the air, and mold in the walls.
    At the Smart Remodeling seminar in Rochester, we reviewed the interdependence of the systems in the house and how well-intentioned upgrade can cause a snow-ball effect in pushing an existing house toward and over the cliff to failure.


    All of our existing homes rely on energy to keep them stable and to manage moisture. Older homes may be stable for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. For example, wood fireplaces traditionally allow a high volume of air to escape through the chimney. That air may actually be removing moisture from the basement in the spring. If you install tight doors over the fireplace and the air is not allowed to escape, what happens to the moisture? It stays in the house, causing odors, mold, and condensation, unless overall ventilation of the house is addressed at the same time. The same holds true for other seemingly innocuous renovations.

    The improvement ideas in the pop quiz above are all great things to do for energy efficiency and sustainability, yet experience has shown that they can lead to unintended results. These can be prevented through the right analysis and design process. We invite your call to discuss how careful planning can keep your remodeling project on track and improve your home’s performance at the same time.

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    US Green Building Council Membership

    April 27th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    VIVUS Architecture + Design has renewed its membership in the US Green Building Council as an indicator of our interest in , expertise regarding, and support of the sustainable building movement in the United States.

    Ask us how we can help you measure how sustainable your project can be!

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    Quote: Helen Keller

    April 23rd, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
    – Helen Keller

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    Architect/User Preference Difference?

    April 23rd, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    Just read a research summary from the University of Minnesota’s InformeDesign that discussed the apparent difference in aesthetic preferences between architects and building users. To cut to the quick:

    Based on the report, building design that would satisfy both architects and building users would include:

  • pitched roof
  • traditional wall materials
  • strong architectural character
  • I invite you to check out our portfolio; you’ll find that our projects appeal to both the users and the architect!

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    Passive House in North America

    April 6th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    I’ve been reading about and researching the Passive House standard lately, and came across a good article on the topic through

    Passive House was launched from Germany under one basic premise: Invest in the building’s envelope to save energy. Through an air-tight, highly insulated building shell, heat transfer is dramatically reduced, requiring less energy to heat and cool the space. Ideally, the envelope’s high performance would offset the need for a large central heating/cooling appliance and that savings would offset the higher cost of increase wall thickness, added insulation, and imported windows and doors. Cooling would be provided through ventilation and supplemental heat could be added to the incoming fresh air when needed. It is a compelling argument for low-energy homes.

    One question in my mind is about our severely cold winters in Minnesota. Is it cost effective to avoid a heat plant? There are decreasing returns on efficiency with extreme insulation and with the continuous use of fresh air for ventilation, outside temperature has a larger impact. How does an architect strike a balance and still meet the criteria?

    The article suggests that Germany and Minnesota are not equal and may require different standards, whether the Passive House Institute agrees or not. In the end, the goal is low energy, sustainable housing. Passive House is a leader in promoting low-energy homes, but the jury is still out for it’s widespread use in Minnesota.

    We look forward to our first chance to embrace and test the Passive House standard.

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