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Don Shelby’s House Sets Standard for Green Living

Former journalist's new home in Excelsior is filled with sustainable features.

After delving into the climate-change debate and becoming a proponent for environmentally friendly living, decided to align his actions with his talk. So after retiring from 45 years in journalism, Shelby set his sights on building a unique home in , where his wife and he have always wanted to live.

The two-bedroom, 2,600-square-foot house exceeds average sustainability standards while intentionally having a historic look to match the Excelsior neighborhood. Unlike other older homes, however, it will have a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 18.

The HERS score is a measurement of energy efficiency with 100 as the reference point. Shelby’s house will be 82 percent more energy efficient than the HERS reference home.

“We were willing to do whatever it took to accomplish ethically what we thought was necessary to accomplish,” Shelby said. “This place has very few bells and whistles.”

His home does have an abundance of sustainable features. His water conservation system includes five collector barrels that catch rain from the roof, two rain gardens, and a 3,000 gallon cistern.

Permeable pavers made from recycled materials make up the driveway and walk way to the front door. When water falls on the pavers, it drains into an underground retention pond, which can handle up to 6 inches of rain an hour. A drip irrigation system serves as a back-up water conservation system.

Eco-friendly techniques like the ones being incorporated into Shelby's new home represent one of the fastest growing trends in home building and remodeling and shows no signs of slowing down.

“What I wanted to do is build a house where all the water that fell onto my property, stayed on my property,” Shelby said. “It would never go into the street. It would never go into the gutters. It would never go into Lake Minnetonka.”

Solar panels lie on the south-facing garage roof. Solar power will account for 60 to 70 percent of his electric bills. Unused solar power will flow into the power grid.

Shelby said, “So you become a sort of mini-utility. And the fun part is that the utility company has to pay me for every kilowatt that I generate.”

Inside the house, wooden flooring recycled from old barns and bridges has already been laid, so the floors will look more worn when Shelby and his wife move in.  

Other reclaimed lumber in the house includes the 800-square-foot cottage that once stood on the property. The 1890 cottage was beyond repair, but rather than fill several dumpsters with the demolished house, Shelby hired a company called The Unbuilders.

“They took the building apart board by board and saved every board that was in that house,” Shelby explained. “I couldn’t toss that wood out because I love wood.”

Shelby pointed out the dining room, which will hold a 3-foot-by-8-foot dining room table he is making out of reclaimed lumber. Other rooms include a mud room, powder room, kitchen and back kitchen.

Shelby said, “I’m a cook. I’ll have all of my appliances in what’s called garages. Put them in, slide them out. There’s efficiency involved in this.”

A hidden cupboard in the back kitchen provides pantry space and leads to the basement, which holds the geothermal system. The system heats the house by drawing heat from the earth to warm the house through pipes laid underneath the floor. It draws heat out of the house to cool it.

As part of well-insulating the house, the windows are triple-paned and filled with argon gas. Such windows prevent the winter cold from leaking inside the house, as well as trapping cool air inside the house during the summer.

“It’s a very, very tight house,” Shelby said. “There’s no penetration.”

The second floor of Shelby's new home contains the grandchildren’s room, complete with kid-sized appliances and the master bedroom that includes a large walk-in closet.

On the opposite end of the second floor, Shelby has his own area, which takes on the look of a cabin. It will hold his office, awards, and a big screen TV, where the family can watch movies.

“I don’t watch much television,” he admitted.

Shelby and his wife plan to move in late March after the Parade of Homes. By the time the house is finished in late February, Shelby estimates it will cost more than $1 million. But he doesn’t want the price to scare people away.

“Part of being an early adopter is that you’ve got to pay the price of technology before competition has driven prices down,” Shelby said.

He cited the 20 percent decrease in the cost of his solar panels as an example.

To reduce the carbon footprint produced by shipping building materials, Shelby contracted with local companies. Landschute is the main architect and builder of the home. Other contractors include Vast and Manomin.

“We end up with a house that we both just absolutely love. And it’s the right thing for us,” Shelby said.

He’s excited to move to Excelsior, where he will have access to Lake Minnetonka, a basketball court, and local restaurants and cafes. For this baby boomer, Sunday mornings will be an opportunity to enjoy his retirement—and get to know his new neighbors.

Meme Mine January 04, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Climate change wasn't energy or little kids planting trees, pollution and not the entire environmental issue. It was a 25 year old CO2 death threat to billions of children and a "necessary" EXAGGERATION to maintain environmental awareness. Fear was not sustainable and condemning billions of helpless children to the greenhouse gas ovens like goose stepping greenzis and with such childish glee is something for history to judge us all for. Science gave us pesticides don’t forget so you are left to believe lazy copy and paste news editors and politicians. Do the math.

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