April, 2008
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

One of the World's Greenest Homes is a Remodeled 1948 Rambler


Live Green, Live Smart™ is dedicated to promoting a more sustainable planet through education, linking resources, and fostering a global green community.

Live Green, Live Smart’s The Sustainable House™ is the organization’s major initiative in 2008. This LEED for Homes Pilot Project™ is an ordinary, energy-inefficient and low-performance rambler in a post-war suburban neighborhood.  Instead of tearing down the house and building a larger, more efficient but also more carbon-intensive home, the organization opted to remodel and rehab the house. For the next three to five years, the project team will measure the performance of all systems and materials with state-of-the-technology monitors, and make that information available online in real time.


The home before remodeling, February 2007.


The home after remodeling, November 2007.

By retaining a physical footprint almost identical to the original, and by using the same developed home site, the organization was able to produce a home with 2,300 square feet of well-designed, high-quality living space, protect groundwater and air quality, and build a residential environment that is sustainable, healthy for its residents and loaded with universal design and smart house elements that make living simple, energy-efficient, and fun. A house doesn’t have to be so big in order to provide rich living.

The team designing and building this intensive remodeling project has incorporated renewable energy systems, durable green materials, environmentally safe construction practices, a hundred-year home aesthetic, best-building practices and a commitment to a greener future into The Sustainable House. The remodeled house looks at home in the neighborhood, could easily be mistaken for an ordinary house — but look closely.


The kitchen before remodeling.


The kitchen after remodeling.

Freewatt by Honda and ClimateEnergy In a combustion reaction — like the burning of natural gas — both energy and heat are produced. A typical generator uses the energy and wastes the heat; a typical furnace uses the heat, but not the energy. The ClimateEnergy/Honda Freewatt combined heat and power (CHP) system takes full advantage of the combustion reaction and uses both the energy and the heat productively. Natural gas flows into the CHP unit, which produces 1.2kW of electricity and 12,000 BTUs of heat simultaneously. The electricity is used to power lights, low-voltage systems, appliances, etc. The heat is put into a high-efficiency, low- and constant-flow furnace. Unspent gas also goes into a catalytic converter, which produces more heat and also reduces emissions to zero.


If you dig 130 feet into the Earth, the soil is a constant temperature year-round  of about 55-60°F. A geothermal system takes advantage of this stable temperature to heat or cool a home sustainably with renewable energy. Underneath the house’s front walkway are four 130'-deep closed-loop wells, which circulate a non-toxic glycol fluid. Inside the house is a WaterFurnace that exchanges heat between the earth and the house.

When the house air is warm and the earth is cold, this system acts as an air conditioner. The fluid, which is warmed by compressed refrigerant and heat from the house, loops through the earth, becomes cold and returns to the house. In this way, the earth acts as a heat sink. Heat from the house is deposited in the earth. A traditional air conditioner actually blows cold air through the house, while this system simply takes the heat out of the hot air.

When the house air is cold, the cycle is reversed. The solution running through the earth becomes hot, which heats the refrigerant in the WaterFurnace and turns it into a gas. This heated gas is compressed, making it even hotter, at which point the heat is transferred to the cold air of the house, making it warm. The glycol solution, now cooled, goes back into the earth and continues the cycle.


The average window is one of the weakest points in a house system. With an R-value of 1-0, standard windows do little to keep heat in or out. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the energy lost through inefficient residential windows accounts for two percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Two percent of the country’s produced energy, literally out the window. The casement windows in the Sustainable House, from Marvin, are triple-glazed, use a low-E coating and are filled with argon gas (which is inert). All this means that these windows have an R-value around 8, an eightfold increase in insulation over standard windows. These windows are especially suited for very cold climates — perfect for the Minnesota winters.

Even the landscaping is dedicated to conserving and restoring environmental quality.  Rain gardens capture surface water runoff before it reaches storm sewers; cisterns store rainwater from the roof gutters for use in the low-maintenance natural grass and flower gardens; a permaculture zone and raised organic gardening beds provide habitat and food for birds, butterflies, small mammals and reptiles — and for the human homedweller, too.

This is just a sampling of all the major technologies in the home, which are explained and illustrated on the Sustainable House Technology page of the Live Green, Live Smart Web site. There also is a Sustainable House Q&A Forum, where one of the first posts is “Total Cost of Project?”

Roger Hankey inspects Sustainable House

“We do not inherit this earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

This Native American proverb closed a letter thanking Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Inspector, for inspecting the house that was remodeled to become Live Green, Live Smart, the Sustainable House™.

Live Smart Executive Director Peter Lytle noted Hankey's “work toward a more sustainable future.”

Referring to the proverb, Lytle wrote, “If we live with this understanding, each of us can help preserve what we have come to enjoy and love about our planet and will be able to share this with future generations.”


Roger Hankey (left), ASHI Certified Inspector, takes lead contractor, Keith Poets of Quality Builders, on a tour of the Live Green, Live Smart remodeling project in Minnetonka, Minn.

Hankey inspected the post-War rambler in Minnetonka, Minn. It become the first remodeled house to be awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s™ (USGBC) highest certification level for residential Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design™ (LEED).  He said that the entire project was videotaped for a television series, and he will probably appear in the first episode, conducting an exterior tour of the property with Keith Poets of Quality Builders, the lead remodeling contractor.

Hankey, who was the first ASHI member in Minnesota, owns and operates Hankey and Brown Home Inspections in Eden Prairie, Minn., and has received Angie’s List® Super Service Award 2002-07.  

Design Concepts used in Live Green, Live Smart’s The Sustainable House™

  • LEED Green Design principles for sustainability;
  • Century House Design for more than one hundred years of quality occupancy;
  • Universal Design elements for a home suited to all ages and abilities;
  • Xeriscape and Permaculture Landscaping for eco-friendly management of site, plantings and water usage.
  • Smart House Design to manage the house systems and aid occupant comfort.


  • House is approximately 2,300 total square feet (includes both levels).
  • Lot size 1/3 acre; high ground with mature trees.
  • Original construction: 1948 frame with stucco construction that reused some lumber from another house; low energy efficiency.
  • One-level ranch-style home redesigned for fully liveable mainfloor and lower level; contemporary Prairie-style exterior and interior design.

Energy Usage

  • $2.50 per day estimated utility costs.
  • All electric energy is sustainable, with additional wind power purchased from Xcel and excess electric energy sold back to the grid.
  • Natural gas is used for heating; solar water heating.
  • Clothes drying is by wind and sun when weather permits.

Insulation, Sidewall, Roof and Window R-value — Resistance to Heat Loss

  • Anticipated: Roof up to R 50 plus
  • Windows up to R 5
  • Walls between R 25 to R 29

Building Codes and Permits

The house complies with the building codes and permit requirement of Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Recycling and Conservation

Materials management follows the “Mottainai” movement, which expresses the spirit of using things with great care, not wasting what is valuable. We reduce, reuse and recycle all the material in the house.

  • Wood from deconstruction was reused or recycled;
  • Nails were removed and reused or recycled;
  • Pipes, wires and ducts were recycled;
  • Appliances, furnace, AC, kitchen cabinets and lights were recycled;
  • Stucco, cement, stone were reused in roadways;
  • Asphalt shingles were recycled;
  • Pavers were reused on the site;
  • Responsible disposal was practiced with lead-based trim and windows, ceramic tile with asbestos adhesive, moldy drywall and lath;
  • Healthy plants and bushes reused; mature trees were protected and maintained;
  • Organics are composted on site;
  • 65% of original house remains intact.

Live Smart, Live Green
1415 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 100

Wayzata, Minnesota  55391

Visit www.livegreenlivesmart.org to learn more about this groundbreaking project.

Reprinted with permission from Live Green, Live Smart.