Out with the Old, In with the Green
Originally published by: Minneapolis Star Tribune — December 31, 2011
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Shane and Erinn Farrell never planned on tearing down their early 1900s bungalow in Minneapolis. For the first six years they lived there, the modest two-bedroom home was perfect for just the two of them. But for three or four? The Farrells decided they needed more room for the next chapter of their lives -- as a family.
"We wanted to stay in our Linden Hills neighborhood," said Erinn. At first they considered adding a second story for a nursery and master bedroom. But architect Eric Odor, of SALA Architects in Minneapolis, discovered that the existing foundation wouldn't support a new second story, the front porch was sagging, and the basement ceiling was awfully low.
"With all the needed improvements, it would cost virtually the same to build a new home," said Odor. "If we just put on a second story, they would still have this 100-year-old house."
After crunching the numbers, the Farrells agreed.
"We decided that it would make more sense financially to start over," said Shane. "Then we could take advantage of the new technologies and build green."
Designing a new house from scratch offered endless options. But the couple were clear about their top priorities: an open floor plan, lots of glass for natural light, three bedrooms upstairs, and maximum energy efficiency. And lastly, Shane requested an unfinished basement to serve as his floor-hockey rink and bike-repair workshop.
The couple also knew what they didn't want: a super-sized house that was too big for their small 42-foot-wide lot and out of scale with other residences on the block.
Odor's solution was to devise a two-story modular home shaped like a narrow rectangular box. It hugs the north property line to give the south side maximum exposure to sunlight. The natural-finish cedar siding and low-hipped roof "look right for the neighborhood," said Odor.
Inside, the open floor plan offers a clear view all the way from the front foyer to the back door. The kitchen, dining room and living room freely flow from one to another, tied together by bamboo floors. A minimalist gas ribbon fireplace is built into the living room wall. The office is located on the far end, with a desk of recycled fir. Toddler Oscar's playroom is tucked behind a bright blue partition.
"We've always liked a clean, modern aesthetic," said Erinn. "But we also want it to feel warm."
To add warmth, Odor juxtaposed traditional elements, such as golden cedar tongue-and-groove paneled walls and light maple cabinets with contemporary galvanized steel railings.
The home is 2,250 square feet but lives larger, thanks to its open floor plan.
"It's an awesome entertaining space," said Shane. "We had 50 people at our first house party, and it wasn't crowded."
The centrally located kitchen is "the nucleus of the house," said Erinn. Its economical design fits seamlessly with the rest of the main floor. "An L-shape with an island is pretty darn efficient," said Odor.
"We can be cooking, doing the dishes, Oscar can be playing and we can still keep an eye on him," said Erinn. "This house allows all of us to be part of everything."
But the couple said their best design decision is reflected upstairs on the second floor. In the initial plan, the second-floor hallway was closed off, and the space above the dining room was designated as a bonus playroom. Odor suggested removing the dining room ceiling, which opened up the main floor to the second floor. This created an inviting overlook facing a bank of large windows that offer treetop views and draw in light throughout the house.
"It looks cool and makes it look less boxy," said Shane. "And it ties the two levels together."
LEED for Homes
The couple's desire for eco-friendly features and SALA's commitment to sustainability led Odor to register the house as a LEED for Homes project, with a gold rating expected this month. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a national program that promotes the design and construction of green homes.
"Building a LEED house wasn't on our radar at first," said Shane. "But we wanted to do something socially responsible and we knew we would make up the costs eventually in our energy bills."
Odor suggested panelized construction of the home because it reduces waste, construction time and impact on neighbors. Plus it would garner a tenth of the required LEED points.
"We'd never heard of panelization," said Shane. "Eric explained the benefits. It wasn't more money and it would save us time."
Panelized construction means that the walls and floors are built as modules in a factory and then trucked to the site and assembled in place.
"It was amazing," said Shane. "In one day it went from a hole in the ground to a framed house with walls and floors. We were able to walk through a house we had seen only on paper."
Other green features include passive solar heat from south-facing patio doors and windows, water-saving fixtures, locally sourced materials, a high-efficiency furnace, a Thermomass-insulated foundation and fiber-cement siding.
When the Farrell home was completed in 2010, Odor estimated that it cost 2 to 3 percent more than a traditional non-LEED home.
The couple have never regretted their decision to tear down the bungalow and build new. "We have a brand new house, built exactly the way we wanted, and it's also increased our equity," said Shane.
"The first house on this lot made it to 100 years," added Erinn. "We'd like this one to last that long."