Blogs > May 2012

Living Small, Living Local - Part 4



 Contributed by Mark Johnson, FAIA


I’ve focused on newly constructed homes the last few weeks so it’s time for a remodeling project. And what an exciting remodel I’ve found to share with you! This week I invited Kelly Grocoff to share with Green Chix about how she and her husband, Matt, tackled a historic home in Ann Arbor with the vision of making it comfortable, energy efficient, and achieving net-zero energy usage. Their home is now so efficient that is generates more energy than is consumes! Here are excerpts from our interview along with some short videos in which Kelly and Matt share their adventures along the way to achieving a green lifestyle!

Q. Kelly, what instpired you and your family to not only pursue remodeling a historic property in Ann Arbor, but to also set a goal of reaching net-zero energy consumption?

A. It's always been important to us to live our lives in a way that really fits with our values. This is our first home and when we bought it we, like many first time home buyers, dreamed of creating a wonderful, sustainable home that would keep ourselves and our community healthy and happy. That requires making very deliberate choices and not being sidetracked by ‘green-washing’. We really didn't think net-zero would be possible for quite some time, but as it turns out, my husband is a bit of an eco-genius. He was able to get our house so incredibly efficient that we were able to be net-zero with our full solar array. Plus, it really makes economic sense.


 Click on this image to see the Video - Energy Efficient Home - An Interview with Kelly and Matt Grocoff, by DTEEnergy


Q. How has living in this home changed your lifestyle from the way you lived in previous dwellings?

A. I am much more comfortable now that in previous homes. We have central air, comfy geothermal heating, and tons of natural light.


 Click on this image to learn more about the home - Mission Zero House


Q. You also raised a young child during the process. Are there any lasting memories for you or your daughter that will cause them to be better stewards of the environment?

A. One morning as I was sleepily standing in front of the open refrigerator trying to figure out what I needed, my daughter said to me, "Mommy, close the door, you're making the solar panels work too hard!" She also loves pointing out other solar panels when she sees them. Hopefully solar panels won't be such a novelty in the future.


 Click on this image to see the Photo Gallery - ‘Before and After’ photographs of the Grocoff historic remodeling project.


Q. You have lived through a major remodel of a historic property and your family survived! Are their any tips you would offer a family on how to survive living through a project like this? Any do's and don’ts?

A. Do give yourself a break. It's hard to live in a construction site, but it's also important to live your life. It took us three months to tile our shower, but that's partly because we refused to work on Sundays, which was our day off to just be together. Do laugh when you're getting frustrated. Do give yourself fun little projects when you're in the middle of another massive project. We called these "house self esteem projects" where we'd paint a room in the middle of a huge bathroom remodel. Don't feel like you have to do it all: order pizza, let the lawn get a little long, and let the laundry pile up for a few weeks so you can focus on getting the work done. Do marry someone like Matt Grocoff, someone you can laugh with, someone who can organize like crazy, and someone who will hold the vision for you when you just want to get it done.


 Click on this image to see the Video - Historic House Turned Net Zero - Family Eliminates Energy Bills . . . Forever


I’d like to thank Kelly for her insights on ‘Living Small, Living Local’ in our interview today. I’m still amazed that the local energy company pays them each month for contributing energy rather than taking energy from the grid! Their house is giving resources back to the community in its second hundred years on planet Earth. If you are in the Ann Arbor area on June 9-10, be sure to tour the Grocoff’s home during MISSION ZERO FEST!






Posted: 5/29/2012 1:58:51 AM by Heather Wallace | with 0 comments

Living Small, Living Local - Part 3



 Contributed by Mark Johnson, FAIA


This week I’m sharing my favorite bi-annual event, the Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Winners of this event spoke at last week’s AIA Architect’s Convention in Washington DC. I’ve participated in six of these innovative homes over the years by sponsoring water and energy saving appliances that help the university student teams compete for top prize. Each team devotes nearly two years designing and building their decathlon entry for this singular international competition. The Solar Decathlon website will lead you to past, present, and upcoming entries for the 2013 Decathlon, all between 600 square feet and 1,000 square feet in size. Though the entries are experimental homes, I can’t think of a better learning lab for exploring the topic of ‘Living Small, Living Local.’


 Visitors tour the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington, with Arlington, VA, left, and the Lincoln Memorial, right, in the background. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.


Here are the top three overall winners from the Solar Decathlon including links to their websites and video tours. The scoring is so close in the ten-category competition that all 20 entries are worth a look. I hope you’ll be inspired by this collection of sustainable homes designed by architecture, design, and engineering students who have not yet ‘put on the blinders’ of designing and building in the real world. Their creativity, energy and dedication are unstoppable...No Fear!


 1st Place - WaterShed - from the University of Maryland. Click on the picture to learn more. Photo by Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.


The target market for the 1st place design is working couples looking for a live/work habitat in an efficient, sustainable footprint. The home’s interior and built-in furniture are highly integrated and convert from work space by day to living space at night. See and hear the compelling story in the WaterShed video!


 2nd Place - INhome - from the Purdue University. Click on the picture to learn more. Photo by Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.


INhome, the 2nd place winner, is designed for transport and mobility, yet it’s a 984 square foot home, one of the largest homes in the Solar Decathlon. The home’s design aesthetic is traditional, it is built of structurally insulated panels (SIPS) and incorporates a combination of passive and active systems for saving energy. Join Mallory Schaus, Purdue student and Project Mechanical Engineer, as she takes you on a tour of the project in the INhome video.


 3rd Place - FirstLight - from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Click on the picture to learn more. Photo by Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.


FirstLight, one of four entries from outside the U.S., took 3rd place in the Solar Decathlon. The home is based on New Zealand’s iconic ‘Kiwi bach’ style, often a summertime habitat, composed of recycled parts, that combines indoor and outdoor living. The FirstLight house is currently being constructed for a fourth and final time on a beautiful site on the coast, just south of Napier in a place called Waimarama. See the FirstLight video for highlights of the entire story.

In next week’s blog, we’ll explore a historic retrofit-remodel home in the same Ann Arbor neighborhood as the 723 Spring Street LEED Platinum home. Both of these exciting homes will be open to the public on June 9-10 during MISSION ZERO FEST!




Posted: 5/21/2012 2:56:19 PM by Heather Wallace | with 0 comments

Living Small, Living Local - Part 2



 Contributed by Mark Johnson, FAIA


This week I invited my friend, Linda Phillips, to share with Green Chix about her family’s experience after moving into a ‘green home’ on an urban-infill lot within walking distance of downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their home at 723 Spring Street was designed and built by Meadowlark Builders, who specializes in building LEED certified homes. Here are excerpts from our interview along with a few short videos of Linda and her Husband, Scott, sharing about their green lifestyle!

Q. As a home buyer and realtor moving to the Ann Arbor area, what attracted you to the idea of purchasing and living in a 'green home?'

A. We were looking for a home with good durability and low energy bills, easy on the environment and little to no maintenance. Also living close to downtown and not having to drive everywhere.

 Click on this image to see the Video - Living LEED Platinum - Perspective of a Homeowner


Q. What are the biggest changes in your lifestyle due to living in a LEED Platinum home in an urban area of Ann Arbor?

A. We’ve probably lost a few pounds by walking everywhere and no major life changes. Everything from library, church, meals, haircuts, post office are all walkable. We have saved on gas and become more "urban."  We’ve also become more energy and water conscience...turning off lights, monitoring energy use, and using less water.

 Click on this image to see the Video - Living LEED Platinum - Introduction to 723 Spring Street

Q. What do you like most and like least about this change in lifestyle? 

A. I like the savings and health issues most; cleaner air in the home, walking more and being close to bus line to the city. The least likable was not even significant. I didn’t really notice anything not to like.

 Click on this image to see the Video - Interview with Meadowlark Builders - Doug Selby & Larry Maciag


Q. Some builders are now promoting that they build green homes. What tips do you recommend to others who are considering buying a green home? Is there anything they should watch out for? Any suggestions for determining if a builder is authentic vs. pandering to the green trend via “green washing?"

A. You should ask for certifications. For example, our home is LEED Platinum certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Our builder also provided an owner’s manual with extensive information on the materials in the home and operating mechanics. Buyers should look for an extended warranty for a green home.

 Click on this image to see and download the model - 3D Model at Google 3D Warehouse of 723 Spring Street LEED Platinum Home


I’d like to thank Linda for her insights on ‘Living Small, Living Local’ in our interview today! You can learn more about ‘new construction’ green living at the website for 723 Spring Street.

In next week’s blog, we’ll explore a historic retrofit-remodel home in the same Ann Arbor neighborhood. Both of these exciting homes will be open to the public on June 9-10 during MISSION ZERO FEST!



Posted: 5/11/2012 12:36:11 PM by Heather Wallace | with 1 comments

Living Small, Living Local



 Contributed by Mark Johnson FAIA


My inspiration for this blog series on ‘Living Small, Living Local’ is derived from several sources and an epiphany of sorts. The inspiration includes living in a 850SF apartment in historic Plymouth, Michigan; the Design your Dwelling Competition from Google SketchUp and Dwell; the bi-annual U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon; and the upcoming Mission Zero Fest in Ann Arbor, MI. The epiphany is a perfect storm that combined the brute force of the housing market collapse, two corporate downsizings, college tuition expenses, selling a home at a loss, cashing in an emaciated 401K, a divorce, and ultimately two relocations to pursue full time work. It all piled on in short order, forcing a rapid migration to the ‘new normal,’ a whiplash many of us have experienced in recent years. I’m resilient thanks to God, so these personal circumstances were not devastating, yet they caused me to do a 180 degree turn that now includes the reality of living small, living local.

  At the historic Plymouth town square. Left to right: Local merchants (plus a few national chains), the Penn Theater, our public fountain and farmer’s market.

The town square in Plymouth, Michigan is only five blocks from my apartment, a deliberate decision I made when moving here over a year ago. I wanted amenities to be within walking distance from home. This choice has been wonderful for more reasons than I imagined. I now walk daily for exercise and my destination is often the town square for either a Starbuck’s, a movie, a meal, a local festival or shopping. It’s a dramatically reduced carbon footprint from the way I formerly lived. My local community of friends includes the delightful employees at Starbucks. I often work there during the evenings and use their free WiFi. I know every ‘associate’ by name. We share stories, and they have invited me to birthday parties, church, and their homes. When I travel on business, we stay in touch through Facebook and I get a Starbucks hug whenever I return from a trip. I can’t imagine a nicer community of friends than those I’ve discovered by ‘living small.’


 Click on this image to see and download the winner of the Design your Dwelling Competition by Drew Wilgus.

The Google 3D Warehouse is the world’s largest repository of 3D models, composed of virtually anything that can be drawn. It’s the result of contributors from all over the world using either the free or professional version of Google SketchUp software to model the objects they like. Google and Dwell teamed up awhile ago to create an international design competition to design your own home. The 130 entries are personal and compelling examples of ‘living small.’ Enjoy perusing this collection of designs for the Design your Dwelling Competition.


 The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon - Opening ceremony, 2007.

It was my privilege to collaborate directly with college and university teams of industrious students who designed and built experimental homes for two Solar Decathlons. They were held on the Washington DC Mall and attracted more than 100,000 attendees who wanted to learn about living green and ‘living small.’ The designs are high-spirited examples of what can be done using state-of-the-art technology to create a green living environment. Enjoy the 2007 video recap at The 2013 Solar Decathlon is already in the works. Updates can be seen at the Solar Decathlon website.


 Click on this image to watch a short video about ‘living local’ in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at 723 Spring Street.

The Phillips family, who we’ll get to know better in future Green Chix blog posts, purchased a home designated LEED Platinum by the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) just a few years ago. Living in a green home on an urban retrofit site in Ann Arbor has changed their lives! In this video, Linda and Scott share some of the ways that ‘living local’ has dramatically changed their lifestyle. Their home will be open to the public during next month's Mission Zero Fest in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Next week we’ll take a closer look at the Phillip’s home in Ann Arbor and learn more about how they live green and you can too!



Posted: 5/3/2012 10:29:16 PM by Heather Wallace | with 1 comments

About Me

Cute name. Serious commitment.

Welcome to the Green Chix blog. Each month we are exploring topics that we hope you will find relevant, interesting and supportive of a sustainable way of life. Join Green Chix and become a fellow ambassador for Mother Nature and help us to influence the world and spread the word on sustainable living.

Confident, smart and inspired, Green Chix are teachers, activists, business leaders, mothers and philosphers, infused with the power of nature to bring about positive change to a world in turmoil.








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