Minnetonka house is a showcase for green living

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2007 - 8:45 PM

More than $1 million has gone into a Minnetonka rambler to make it an example of how to save energy and money.

Peter Lytle has gone to extraordinary lengths to set an example.

To show other people how to live in harmony with the environment and lighten their footprint on the Earth, Lytle has spent more than $1 million to buy and revamp a 1948 Minnetonka rambler as a "green" home.

By equipping it with four kinds of alternative energy and the best available insulation, windows and indoor air system, he has made it a lesson in how to operate an ordinary home with far less energy and expense.

Now he and his wife, Vivian, have moved in with furniture made with recycled wood, carpets of natural fibers and energy-saving kitchen appliances, all to model the green life. Their goal is to make the house -- and the lifestyle -- look inviting, attractive and easy enough to inspire other people to follow their lead.

Lytle, 58, is a management consultant and founder of Live Green, Live Smart, a Wayzata-based environmental organization.

"I have always had, since college, a really great concern about what we are doing to our environment," Lytle said.

"As you get older, and especially as you have children, you start to think about what you are going to leave them."

Lytle wants to leave a healthy, sustainable environment.

Although Minnesotans live in a part of the country that is now lush and green, Lytle said, "I just came back from Atlanta, where they have three months worth of water left."

Energy and water shortages are already a problem in many states, and there isn't much time left to fix the way houses are built so that they use less energy and water, Lytle said.

After searching several states, he chose the rambler -- at 3502 the Mall, a tree-lined street off Minnetonka Boulevard west of City Hall -- to make his statement because the corner lot makes the house easy to see and it is close to public transportation, a hospital and a grocery.

On the outside and in

From the street, the house looks like a nicely updated rambler with shiny new windows, an attractive roof and design details highlighted by decorative stone. But the design of the yard makes it clear this is no typical rambler.

The hollow pools of two rain gardens, outlined with stone and native plantings, occupy most of the yard. Less obvious is the tubing that directs rainwater collected by roof gutters to an underground cistern, where it can be pumped out later to water the yard. The cistern has a big round metal cover on it -- another curiosity.

Inside the front door is the center of the house -- a great room with kitchen, an eating area, and space for a couch and chairs. On either side are compact bedrooms and baths. The basement has a third bedroom, plus more living space and a utility closet with a dazzling lineup of alternative energy technology. The generator, heat pump and solar-powered hot water heater are principal features.

Lytle built the house as a showcase, and tours are going on constantly. The local chapter of the Harvard Club alumni group visited Tuesday morning. TV and movie documentaries of the project are underway. And Lytle has created learning modules for schools.

Rick Bauerly, a St. Cloud businessman and Harvard Business School alumnus who toured the house, is thinking of building his own green home. "It struck me as very livable and aesthetically pleasing," he said.

Another member of the Harvard group, Ram Ramakrishnan, said he found the house full of ideas for saving water, energy and money. "For example, solar water heating," he said. "With energy costs going up, those things are becoming more economical."

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