Green still catching on

April 25th, 2011 by Peter Schmelzer

Today I renewed our membership with the US Green Building Council. We support the work of the USGBC in transforming the marketplace toward more sustainable materials and design.

It seems that Green is still catching on, but it is becoming more commonplace. On our boards is one residential masterplan including a deep energy retrofit of the existing home. Already in our portfolio are homes integrating passive solar heat, natural ventilation, super-insulation, daylighting, photo-voltaics, solar water heat, and geo-thermal heating and cooling systems. With each project, we consult with the owner to bring in strategies that fit the site, the budget and the owners’ sensibilities.

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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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    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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    200,000,000,000 gallons

    February 5th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

    That’s the number of gallons of surface water sucked into power plants each day to generate this nation’s electricity.

    Per DAY. That is a staggering number, even in the land of 10,000 lakes.

    What does that look like?

    That’s over half of the daily flow of the Mississippi River through New Orleans.

    That’s like filling and draining the Metrodome four hundred forty-five times each day, including the arc of the dome.

    Or, consider 4.6 times the water that crests Niagara Falls each day.

    When you think of conserving electricity, think of conserving our waterways, lakes, and streams.

    This colossal hidden cost lurks behind each kilowatt on your monthly utility bill for steam-generated power, whether coal or nuclear.

    Ask what you can do to conserve electricity in your home and business.

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    Northfield to Minneapolis on the Metro Express

    November 12th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

    This week, I’ve taken the Metro Express bus to Minneapolis then home again.

    The occasion is the 75th annual Convention of the Minnesota American Institute of Architects, favored by architects near and far for quality opportunities to learn about current practices, philosophy and materials in the industry.

    Metro Express appealed to me as a supporter of sustainablility and as a guy who would prefer to avoid driving in rush hour traffic.

    It has been a pleasant experience. The driver is polite and conversational, the ride is smooth and continuous, taking just less than an hour to downtown Minneapolis. The walk to the convention center gives me a chance to stroll Nicollet Mall and take in the local architectural vistas.

    At $10 to ride (each way), the cost is very competitive with driving myself ($10 parking per day plus about $11 in gas). After a long day of seminars, it has been very nice to have travel time to process information and unwind instead of pumping the clutch through stop-and-go traffic.

    The departure times work well for all-day events downtown.

    I recommend you give it a try when you get a chance.

    Thank you to the Northfield Transit Initiative for your work in making this bus route an option!

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    Looking for a few good homeowners…

    November 4th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

    LEED for Homes

    VIVUS would like to help a few good homeowners to achieve a LEED for Homes certification. This could be new construction or a significant remodeling of your existing home.

    LEED for Homes helps us measure the sustainability of your project through a point-based rating system. At the same time, it encourages market transformation within the construction industry toward more sustainable materials and practices.

    We would like to hear from you if you desire a greener home.

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