Married architects Kevin Flynn and Roxanne Nelson built their home with the future of their three children - and the planet - in mind.The project has offered the kids daily lessons in living green.

"When we installed the green roof, we talked about why we were doing it - because it was going to help keep runoff from going to the Mississippi River, and the extra insulation and energy performance it would provide," Flynn says. "Buildings pump a lot of carbon emissions into the air by virtue of their use of energy. Climate change is real and it's happening, and we would like it not to be, so we're trying to do our part to get to the point where we can reverse the escalation of carbon emissions."

Thanks to green technology, the family's home consumes about half the energy of a normal house, but it certainly took a lot of personal energy output to make it happen.


When the couple realized they and their children - Mazzy, 11; Declan, 9; and Cormac, 2 - were outgrowing their duplex on St. Paul's West Side, they purchased a 1940s Cape Code in Highland Park.They wanted to remodel it in a sustainable way - and share their journey with others.

Flynn, who specializes in sustainable design, and Nelson, an architect for Target, kept a blog of their green adventures at that's part shopping resource, part construction diary and part eco-friendly tutorial.


"Our intention is to try and help people who aren't architects and don't have access to the resources we do," Flynn says.

Their posts include:

  • How they got a green roof (from LiveRoof, which comes in preplanted modular trays; delivered by Bachman's)
  • The search for a good-looking compost bin (did you know garbage disposals waste water?)
  • Photos of their recycled glass terrazzo countertop from Natural Built Home


People can still visit the site - which is now updated less often - to search for such topics as appliances, windows, plumbing and more. Check out a recent post on the home's energy savings over a six-month period.

The site also reveals the story of a family's personal adjustment to living in a modern home among more traditional architecture. This, from an Aug. 7 post:"We've been living in our new house for about a month now.We love the amount of windows and the way the house really takes advantage of daylight and cool breezes. So far, we have shades on only one set of windows in one room. No other windows have window treatment yet, and although we love the simplicity of that, it does leave us feeling a bit exposed at times. We are only about 25 feet from the street, and we do have quite a few people looking at our house these days.There are times when we look out the window to see someone looking in. Sometimes we just end up waving to each other.We really don't mind too much - but there are times we feel on display."

They wrote about the true cost of this project, as well:

From a July 27 post: "It would have been easy to always look for the cheapest alternative and least expensive option - but those choices often end up costing much more over the long haul. A building's first cost is somewhere around 6 percent of its total lifetime cost (assuming a 50-year life span).The rest of it is spent in operating and maintaining the building. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that spending a little more now to save a lot later is a pretty darn good value. If I can cut my operating expenses in half with a very modest increase in first cost, the savings will pay for themselves again and again. Call me a liberal if you want to, but that's conservatism at its best! Oh, and all that money-saving happens to benefit the environment, too, so you can still call me a tree hugger - its OK."

But, in addition to green, the home suits the family's lifestyle better.

"We have a lot of hang-out space, and we spend most of our time in the big great room/kitchen, where we make dinner and do school projects and play checkers," Flynn says. "And yet the kids are now able to have their own private space even within their bedrooms - my daughter loves the built-in desk in her closet, and my son will practice the guitar in his closet."


Just how green is this house?

"It's pretty darn green," Flynn says.

Its greenness includes:

  • "A solar thermal system for making hot water for the domestic water needs of the house (washing dishes, clothes and bodies), and a solar photovoltaic (pv) system to make electricity."
  • A green roof (which manages storm water, reduces energy costs, extends the life of the primary roof, reduces noise and improves air quality)
  • Use of salvaged materials
  • Use of woods that were harvested sus-tainably
  • Finishes with low or no-VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Energy-efficient appliances
  • Low-flow showerheads and faucets; dual-flush toilets
  • Use of recycled materials


"It's something we felt strongly about, and we're lucky to be able to afford it," Flynn says. "We made choices.We could have spent more money on the refrigerator or higherend equipment, but we took the money and put it elsewhere in the house ... we always went for the choice that helps save energy and was the environmentally appropriate response."

The couple are currently seeking Minnesota GreenStar's Gold certification (a green building standard), but it shouldn't be difficult.

"We're looking at a very top end of the gold," Flynn says. "It's too bad we can't go higher than gold."

Another goal of the house is to act as a demonstration project for Flynn's business, EcoDEEP - a way to showcase sustainable products and strategies. But in this economy, will people make the investment? Flynn's firm is staying busy with green projects. But, like everyone else in the building industry, business has slowed.

"People aren't afraid to go green when they start a project," Flynn says. "What they're afraid of is starting a project."


On a chilly afternoon in March, the Flynn-Nelson household's thermostat was set at 66 degrees.

Flynn, who works out of his home, said he did not feel cold.

"We got a second energy audit by Xcel and scored really, really high; it's super tight, we've got no air leakage, no heat loss really to be concerned about," he says.

Flynn also keeps many lights turned off during the day, but he's not straining his eyes.

"We love the daylight inside the house," he says. "We have really good windows, properly placed for solar energy when we want it and screened out when we don't.We don't need to have the lights on much, because the light in the house has a nice, even quality to it.We get light in at least two directions in every room, and it feels really open and airy."

Making a home green isn't prohibitively expensive, Flynn says, and the blog lays out the costs in a July 27 post: "Certainly, land costs are a little higher when buying in the city, but overall, this project cost us less to build as a significant remodel than a brandnew home on a new lot would have, in spite of some of the extra surprises that remodels often yield. Most new homes are being con-structed for $170 to $200 (and beyond) per square foot these days - just for normal construction - nothing fancy.When all is said and done, we will have spent under $125 per (square foot), including all the 'extras,' such as high-performance windows, super insulation, solar (hot water) and (photovoltaic) systems and a green roof! I calculate that without all those extras, we would have spent about $110 per (square foot). All those extras added a little more than 5% to our overall budget (the better windows and insulation, roofing, etc. add only a little bit more than the usual suspects do) and offer an average calculated payback of less than seven years - it would be lower yet but our solar systems increase the payback average considerably."

But one of the greenest parts about their new life has nothing to do with the house itself.

"We totally underestimated the neighborhood and how much we love the convenience of everything," Nelson says."I take the bus and train to work, the kids walk to school, and everything we need is close: the movie theater, Blockbuster, the grocery store, the bookstore, the gym. Not needing the car as much has been great. I can't imagine what we did before."

Molly Millett is a Pioneer Press reporter and frequent Spaces contributor.