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A Minneapolis Green Remodel

Peter Lytle has always been interested in sustainable building. While growing up in the 1950s, he was inspired by the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. More recently, he founded Live Green Live Smart, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based educational organization that promotes green building practices. It should come as no surprise, then, that Lytle would become the first in the nation to complete a remodeling project that received Platinum-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green rating system.

Lytle is quick to admit that the greenest house is the one that isn’t built from the ground up, because it is better to make use of an existing home, rather than build a new one. That’s exactly what he did with his Sustainable House, a post-war rambler in the Twin Cities.

Last year, he began remodeling the suburban home to make it comfortable for modern living while increasing its energy efficiency. Lytle says he and his wife live in the 2,300-square-foot Sustainable House for about $1.50 a day.

“It’s very much a lab home,” explains Lytle, who has opened the house for tours. “It has multiple power and heating systems.” Those systems include a WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC system, linked to four 135-foot-deep geothermal wells, and a Honda/Climate Energy Freewatt system, which runs on natural gas and generates both heat and electricity. Solar photovoltaic panels, added to an outdoor patio arbor, generate additional electricity, which is stored in battery packs in the garage or sold back to the utility if unused. Separate solar thermal panels, located in the backyard, are used to heat water, and radiant in-floor heating provides uniform heat and comfort to the homeowners.

To reduce waste of building materials in remodeling the 1948 ranch house, Lytle reused or recycled 90 percent of the structure. “When we took out 2x4s, we pulled out the nails and reused them,” Lytle says. “We used the rotted wood for mulch.”

Much of the new wood in the house is actually salvaged from landfills. Lytle used reclaimed lumber for flooring, old recycled doorknobs and installed a slab of used granite as a countertop in the laundry room. The home’s lamps and light fixtures were also reused. “If you didn’t tell somebody these items were reused,” says Lytle, “they would never know.”

To reduce energy costs, Lytle installed triple-pane, argon gas-filled windows and updated the residence’s insulation. Solar tubes provide natural light to rooms without windows as well as to the basement. All light bulbs in the house are compact fluorescents or LEDs. “We estimate 70-80 percent savings on energy costs,” Lytle says.

Outside, Lytle used permeable materials for the driveway and walkways to reduce run-off and potential negative impacts on storm sewers and waterways. In addition, the Sustainable House’s landscaping requires no irrigation other than that provided by collected rainwater. “A good green home incorporates the exterior site,” Lytle points out.

Lytle plans to live in the house for a year to accurately record its energy savings and then sell it. The house is on the market for $1.3 million, though he claims it cost about $2 million to purchase and remodel the structure. To date, 4,500 people have visited the demonstration house.

“Green homes sell quicker and for more money,” Lytle says. He expects to see the same result with the Sustainable House, which features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design elements like deep eaves and natural landscaping. “We wanted a timeless design, so this home would still be here in 100 years,” Lytle adds, indicating that good design decreases the likelihood of structures being razed or rebuilt.