Jennifer Hicks' new home near Lake of the Isles borrows from the past but looks to a greener future.
Super-green homes often wear their sustainability on their sleeve. But not Jennifer Hicks' new bungalow near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.
She and her architecture/design team were on a mission: to pack as many eco-friendly features as they could into a traditional-style house that looks completely at home with its century-old neighbors.
The house recently was certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, making it only the third residence in the state to receive that highest rating, as of this month. But you'd never know it to see the house from the street. Or inside, for that matter, where the abundant woodwork gives it a distinctly Old World aesthetic.
The combination is unusual, according to Hicks' designer, Joseph Max Johnson of Domain Architecture & Design. "Houses with higher ratings tend to be contemporary, and the green features tend to be very obvious, almost like they're on display," he said, such as large solar panels. "But here the green features blend in. You don't see them. It looks like a turn-of-the-century house."
That was important to Hicks, who bought the lot and its original 1926 Craftsman bungalow because she loved the neighborhood. The house needed work, but still had bungalow charm. "It looked like a kit home," Hicks said.
But when she discovered what it would cost to fix what needed to be fixed, including the foundation, the electricity, the plumbing and the outdated 6-by-12-foot kitchen with three doorways, Hicks decided it made more sense to build a new house -- one that didn't look new.
"I wanted it to fit the neighborhood, to look right, like it had always been here," she said.
LEED learning curve
At first the neighborhood association was wary of her plans, Hicks said. "I told them I was taking a house down, and everybody panicked," she recalled. "But when I said it wouldn't require a variance, they said, 'You can actually do that?'"
They could, but it was tricky on Hicks' 40-foot lot, which shares an easement and driveway with one of its neighbors. "The most challenging thing was the size of the inner-city lot," Johnson said. "How do you cram a house in so that it looks like it's not crammed in?' We really thought through the floor plan and the spaces."
The decision to make the house eco-friendly evolved as the plans took shape. "I started the project wanting green choices, but I wasn't fanatical about it," Hicks said. But as the green choices accumulated, "I started to ask, 'What would it take to make it LEED [certified]?'"
Going green presented a learning curve for Domain as well as for Hicks. "It was our first LEED project," said owner Deborah Everson. (Domain hired LEED consultant Michael Everson, her brother, to oversee LEED compliance and certification.)
Green is usually a client-driven initiative because it can have cost implications, she said. But Hicks found that some green features were actually less expensive than other alternatives she considered. Using energy-efficient SIP (structural insulated panel) construction was both efficient and cost-effective, she said. The prefabricated panels, a core of insulation between two structural skins, are numbered by the manufacturer, then assembled on site like a giant puzzle. "It's quick construction," she said, and required less labor than traditional building methods.
Hicks was on site every day during construction. "There was not a person who worked on this house that I don't know by name," she said.
Other green features include FSC-certified (Forestry Stewardship Council) hickory flooring, operable skylights to let in breezes, dimmable fluorescent lighting, Energy Star appliances, low-flow showerheads and low-VOC paint.
Twist on tradition
The project also picked up many LEED points for its water-conserving features, Johnson said, such as a smart sprinkler system that doesn't water when it's raining and a pervious concrete driveway that functions like a cistern, collecting runoff. The landscaping includes four rain gardens filled with indigenous plants, and a front yard seeded with a new no-mow grass developed by the University of Minnesota. The low-maintenance yard suits Hicks' lifestyle; she's not a gardener and doesn't want to be. "It's a beautiful, thick landscape made for someone who doesn't want to landscape," Johnson said.
Hicks' green choices are now paying off in the form of lower utility bills. "The heat bills are a quarter of what they were, even though the house is bigger," she said. (The original house was just under 2,000 square feet; the new house is 3,300 square feet, which includes a finished basement.)
Johnson incorporated many of the architectural features associated with bungalows, such as wood built-ins, but with an updated spin. "A traditional bungalow would have dark oak woodwork, but we used light, clear cherry," he said. "The paint colors are brighter than what you would see from that era. We started with the traditional details, then softened them and warmed them up."
Hicks loves the way her house looks and feels. "I didn't have to give up design details for green," she said.
And that's the point, Johnson said. "You should be able to take any style house and make it green."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784