Photos by Corey Gaffer
Mark and Kate Hanson believe in practicing sustainability. Their commitment guides every facet of their lives—where they live, what they drive, and what they consume. Mark points to a Native American proverb that captures their philosophy: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
The couple takes that proverb very much to heart. In fact, it led to their resolve to reduce their carbon footprint by building a “net-zero” home—a house that would produce as much energy as it consumed. They intended to demonstrate that such a house could be both beautiful and comfortable.
Mission accomplished. Three years later, the Hansons couldn’t be more pleased. “We were commenting to each other just this morning how much we love this house,” laughs Kate. “We do it all the time.”
With its modern silhouette and asymmetrical roofline on a roomy lot in Roseville, the house stands out, yet is deftly scaled to fit its suburban neighborhood. Its solar arrays on the south-facing roofs, sustainable landscaping, and rain gardens intrigue, but don’t tell the whole story.
The Hansons built their first home in Blaine in 2007, but decided the house was too large, too far from the city core, and not nearly efficient enough for their growing commitment. When they described their wish to build a net-zero house to builder Kerry Hage of Hage Homes, he introduced them to SALA architect Marc Sloot. “We found an architect who truly had as much passion about building highly efficient homes as we did,” Mark says.
One of the original collaborators on Minnesota GreenStar energy standards, Sloot specializes in a holistic approach to sustainability that considers energy efficiency as well as water conservation, materials consumption, indoor environmental quality, and site and community impact. “The whole package might be 15 percent more in costs,” he says. “So people have to be able to see the long game.”
Its compact form follows function. The rooflines of the 2,400-square-foot house and attached garage are pitched to give the solar arrays maximum southern exposure; overhangs on the south side provide shade in the summer and sun in the winter. The envelope of the house, built with a double-stud wall technique, provides an R40 insulation value that keeps heat loss and gain at bay.
The project was still in the design phase when LiLu Interiors came on board. The entire team, including the homeowners and designers Lisa Peck and Christina Rymer, attended GreenStar classes to learn more about sustainability.
The designers sought out products consistent with the couple’s sustainability goals, and presented the backstory of all finishes and furnishings—the manufacturers’ use of recycled materials, sustainable processes, waste-water treatment, manufacturing facility location, and more—right down to the throw pillows on the sofa.
The couple was blown away. “They’d show us some options, and then tell us the story: ‘This paint is no-VOC, but it doesn’t last quite as long as this low-VOC paint, so you’ll be painting sooner.’ It was an amazing level of detail,” Kate recalls.
Thanks to Peck and Rymer, the Hansons’ interior finishes align with their sustainable-but-beautiful mission. The porcelain tile in much of the main living area is made by Crossville, a Tennessee manufacturer that recycles materials and uses low-impact manufacturing. The kitchen backsplash tiles are made locally by North Prairie Tile. The downstairs bathroom countertop of recycled glass is from Rust Brothers, another local firm.
One of the most striking choices is the veneer used for the cabinetry throughout. “It’s a reconstituted wood veneer, made out of scrap from the woodworking industry,” says Peck. “It’s actually very eco-friendly.” It’s also beautiful, with a horizontal grain that complements the graceful curves of the kitchen peninsula and soffit.
The Hansons want this to be their forever home, so aging-in-place features are thoughtfully and unobtrusively incorporated. They can easily live on the main level. The link to the garage can accommodate a ramp, if necessary. The lower level—now a game room, office, music room, and guest bedroom/exercise room—was designed to be easily remodeled into an apartment with its own entrance for live-in help should they need it.
The house is net-zero and then some, says Mark. “It’s actually net-positive.” Though they are on the grid, they produce more energy than they use on an annual basis, and that includes powering their two electric cars.
The house has earned plenty of eco-accolades: LEED for Homes, Platinum Level; Living Building Challenge, Net-Zero Energy certified; GreenStar Home Certification, Gold Level; and GreenStar Zero Energy Capable. An AIA Merit Award also recognized the Hansons for their willingness to share their story with others interested in sustainability.
Meanwhile, Mark and Kate continue to relish their home. From the moment they moved in, the couple says they’ve felt healthier and more comfortable. “We’re in a space that we believe in,” Kate says. “It’s the embodiment of the things we find important. I think all those pieces add to that feeling of health and wellbeing.”