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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Solar Energy Finance Option

October 21st, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Vice President Biden will take some cues from Berkely and institute a financing plan for solar panels linked to property taxes.

This will allow homeowners to get into solar energy and avoid the sizeable upfront costs of the system.

Many of our clients are interested in solar energy but find the initial expense to be too large when added to construction and remodeling costs. Our strategy has been to design “solar-ready”, so the systems could be added at a later date. This financing option may help clear that hurdle. We’ll stay tuned as the story develops….

Link to the San Francisco Chronicle article

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Cohousing in Madison, Wisconsin

October 7th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Last weekend, we visited two cohousing developments in Madison, Wisconsin. This photo shows Arboretum Cohousing, a newish community who hosted the Northfield Cohousing Community‘s contingent of visitors. (Thank you, Arbco!)

I stayed is a guest suite at Arbco. It is part of the “common house”, of which members own an undivided share. The rooms were spacious and clean, and easily accessible to the common house. Gail and Dan gave us a wonderful tour of the facilities and grounds, followed by an informational conversation about startup challenges and a wonderful potluck lunch. I was impressed by their gracious hospitality and relaxed manner, which permeated the place.

Arbco consists of 40 living units, including six single family homes. Structured parking is provided below the living spaces, which was a nice amenity required by the tight urban site. This combination allows the development to nestle into its neighborhood context nicely.


We also visited the Village Cohousing Community, just five blocks away from Arbco.

The village is a bit smaller, with 18 living units, including both existing homes and new townhomes. It was built in the early 1990’s, so Village has had time for landscaping to mature and it, too, blends nicely into the neighborhood. Karen took us through the buildings and shared ideas about how the community handles shared tasks and the like. (Thank you, Karen!)

The trip to Madison was part of the Northfield Cohousing Community’s effort to research cohousing and to prepare for our development in Northfield. These shared efforts help build relationships and understanding among the members as we prepare to design and build a neighborhood for ourselves.

Cohousing offers opportunties for a more sustainable lifestyle and a stronger connection to neighbors.

For more about cohousing, please attend my presentation at Just Food Coop next month:

5 November 2009: “Cohousing Design”
Just Food Coop meeting room, 7:00pm to 8:30pm

You’ll have a chance to meet others interested in cohousing!

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To turn the country around, turn the building sector around.

June 2nd, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer
House for Sale, Northfield

Here’s a typical post-war house. Windows: Single pane, aluminum frame. Wall insulation: R-11 at best. Ceiling Insulation: R-19 at best. Ventilation: none. Foundation insulation: none. In short, this is not an energy efficient home, and neither are the hundreds of thousands like it across the country. Given the housing crash, it is unlikely to receive an equity loan for upgrades. Given the economy, its owner could be facing reduced salary or unemployment, further decreasing the odds of improvement.

Meanwhile, the government is spending billions to help out corporations.

Of the people, by the people, and for the people. Shouldn’t the focus be on the people, not the corporations?

That’s what I like about this article. It makes a compelling counter-proposal to stimulate our economy, helping corporations by directing stimulus to individual households.

Nutshell: Government provides banks with funding for energy efficiency upgrades to existing homes. This will boost home values, tax revenues, construction employment, renewable energy manufacturing and homeowner savings.

Estimated return on investment: fourteen fold, and the stimulus pays for itself in the long run.

Great idea. Great example of how investing sustainably is also investing wisely.

Thanks, George, for the link.

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The Inside of Your Home: Time for New Thinking

April 28th, 2009 by Mary Schmelzer

This article also appeared in the April 15, 2009 Home and Garden insert of the Northfield News.

This great room is divided by curved ceiling treatments

This great room is divided by curved ceiling treatments

It isn’t news that the housing market is drastically different. Houses aren’t selling overnight and the flexibility of moving just isn’t there. This means it is time we think differently about our homes and how we wisely make them our own.

Sarah Susanka’s building approach, “The Not So Big House” is celebrating ten years of success. The theory resonates with many home owners: it values quality over quantity and creating a home for yourself, not a generic sales market. Most people who come to Vivus Architecture + Design subscribe to these principles and want design solutions that provide personalized spaces that are right-sized with features that make living easier and more beautiful.

Breaking down the above principles into strategies, these are some of the local interior trends we are seeing:

People are doing all the planning up front, and then allowing the projects to take place in a logical and manageable sequence. Often this allows the homeowners to occupy the house during construction and doesn’t require the same upfront financing. Planning also prevents undoing good work that was previously accomplished or the budget-busting “while-we’re-at-its.”

Useful spaces that save time and money are always assets. Organized closets optimally placed save frustration and repurchasing of items that can’t be found. A good kitchen layout makes cooking, cleanup and entertaining easier and more enjoyable for everyone. By designing efficient living spaces, we are often able to reduce the square footage previously anticipated for an addition. This planning is rewarded by construction savings.

Quality cabinetry, flooring and counters save money in the long run

Quality cabinetry, flooring and counters save money in the long run

We are now seeing fewer projects that are short-term solutions: homeowners are installing high-quality cabinetry, flooring and finishes. This may mean an owner will take on a smaller project, but the enduring appeal and life span of the materials make the decision a good one. Navigating through the available selections takes effort and planning, but it pays in the long run when a remodeling lasts for decades.

Family spaces
Families are just as busy as ever, and demand much from their homes. More homes locally are planning for mudrooms. Mudrooms answer many needs: storage, organization, information/scheduling, pet spaces, and sometimes laundry.

Kitchens are designed with built-in places for homework, home offices, entertaining and specialty cooking. Homeowners are upgrading appliances, cabinetry, lighting and flooring to create hard-working and good-looking multi-use spaces. Open connections between rooms can offer new opportunities for entertaining and family connectedness if they are adequately designed to do so.

A "command center" has its own nook formed by the stairwell

We are seeing less square footage added as more owners opt to create rooms for the whole family: reading, watching TV, playing games and using the computer. Built-in nooks and work counters perform many functions without requiring much floor space. One well-planned hard-working room can replace several others. Instead of a dedicated home office, we often allocate space in or near a common room.

More and more green elements are being incorporated. Energy savings, carbon reduction, kindness to the earth and health are driving factors. We address these desires by designing a tight envelope (good windows, doors, insulation), selecting efficient heating/cooling, and recommending eco-friendly products. Efficiency and durability are strategies that also help “green” a home. Renewable energy systems are an option, too.

Don’t be afraid to make your home your own. The homes we remember are those with interesting nooks and crannies, fun features or rooms beautifully appointed. It takes a careful hand to decipher what is universally charming and what is over-the-top. We often recommend the unusual strokes be items that can be removed: paint, furniture, accessories. Well-done focal points, quality built-ins and beautiful woodwork are features that appeal to everyone.

Bold tile makes a colorful statement in a concentrated area

Bold tile makes a colorful statement in a concentrated area

Color can enhance woodwork and furniture, set a mood, and optimize natural light. Today’s spaces have touches of bright colors mixed with neutrals. Rooms are planned to have color opportunities: backsplashes, stained glass, and walls that sport a focused hue. Local colors include darker, saturated earth tones (mustard yellows, clay reds, brown-based greens) and deeper neutrals.

As you think about making your current home work better for you, employ the trends listed above to make wise choices about your updates. Planning ahead and good design will reward you with usable and enjoyable spaces that will serve you for many years. Let us know how we can help.

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Take the MN Energy Challenge

April 7th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Take the challenge!

The challenge is to reduce your energy footprint. The benefits are cost savings, a more comfortable home, a cleaner environment, and possibly improved physical fitness, to name a few.

The challenge begins with simply bench-marking your current energy usage. Your home mechanical systems, your plumbing, your composting practices, and your vehicle usage all come together in your benchmark carbon dioxide emissions.

The next step is to look at suggested ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. From a list, pick those ideas that seem most readily achievable to you and commit to them. Come back in a year and check your progress. As you select a strategy to employ, the online Member Dashboard will reflect the money and emissions you have saved. Mine says I’ll save $683 per year and reduce my emissions by over 18,000 pounds of CO2.

You can also join an Energy Challenge Team, to see how quickly your individual actions compound into big results. For example, 315 Northfield residents are currently on the Northfield team, saving over $283,000 and 2.4 million pounds of CO2 per year. That is a big impact!

Team Northfield is currently eighth in the rankings, but within easy reach of Fridley, Plymouth, Bloomington, and Prior Lake. Join the MN Energy Challenge and help pull Northfield to the top!

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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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