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Rooftop prairie: Nokomis family doesn’t have to go far to relax

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Home & Garden

“Water quality and stormwater management are really big values for us,” observed Nokomis resident Steffanie Musich as she drinks a glass of water on her rooftop garden. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

When Steffanie Musich sits on her green roof looking out over the rooftop prairie and the tree canopy, it’s hard to remember that she’s in the city.
That sense of peace and relaxation without having to get in the car is exactly what she was aiming for.
The 11-year Nokomis resident, her husband Matt and son live within blocks of Highway 62 and Cedar, surrounded by the constant hum of traffic and roar of airplanes. They’re also close to Lake Nokomis, and have dedicated years to the intricacies of water quality and sustainability issues.
The green roof is an extension of those values, and a way to demonstrate how it can work in a neighborhood.
When Musich read about the green roofs being installed by Omni Ecosystems of Chicago, Ill. they resonated with her. She didn’t want the type of living roof that merely had a sedum tray of close-to-the-ground plants. Instead, she envisioned a prairie.
The problem is that a roof with 1.5 to 2 feet of soil material is heavy – and gets even more so with a load of snow on it. Plus, the costs of a roof like that are typically beyond what a homeowner can pay.
But Omni Ecosystems offered an innovative system using a new lightweight growing medium with a higher capacity for stormwater management, which allows them to build lighter green roof systems that require less structural capacity. Omni’s projects include the O’Hare Terminal 2 Concourse, Harvard Business School, Chicago’s Wild Mile, and McDonald’s corporate headquarters.
The 300-square-foot green roof at the Musich residence cost about $17,000. That doesn’t include the cost of replacing the garage or the flat roof that is underneath.
While the initial cost is higher than a regular roof, the Musich family believes the positive impacts on their mental health, the extended life of the flat roof beneath it, and the environmental impacts are worth it.
It was 2015 when they began envisioning the project. The couple hired Craft Design and Build from Uptown Minneapolis as the general contractor, and Jody McGuire of SALA Design as architect. Steffanie and Matt saved on costs by doing much of the construction themselves, including all the painting, stucco, and finishing work, putting in time in the evenings and weekends. For the rest, they refinanced and rolled the cost in.
It is important to them that the living roof will last 50-100 years, 3-5 times longer than a traditional roof.
The green roof doesn’t heat up as much in the summer, and it provides insulation in the winter. “Green roofs help with urban heat island effects,” observed Musich.
Bonus: brewery space and sauna
The two-car garage on the property was rotting and didn’t have footings under the cement slab. So they tore it down and started from scratch. The new three-car garage uses three sets of three tri-lam beams made of manufactured wood to distribute the weight. A room in the center helps support the load of the roof. As an added bonus, they moved their longtime home brew operation into the new space and got it out of the house.
The garage is connected to the house via a main floor breezeway and a second story deck. An upstairs door offers the only way to access the green roof. Near the plants is a beehive decorated by local artist Jamie Anderson.
Nestled in the prairie is a sauna that’s been a great way to pull the neighborhood together in the winter months.

Green roof part of system of rain gardens and more
When the house needed a new roof eight years ago, Steffanie and Matt opted for a “cool roof.” The steel roof reflects sunlight and heat away from the building, reducing roof temperatures by 50–60°F over a typical shingle roof and helps the house stay cooler inside. The material is also a lifetime product.
“Water quality and stormwater management are really big values for us,” observed Musich. She started Friends of Lake Nokomis, and has served on the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board since 2014.
Given their proximity to Lake Nokomis, Musich wanted to replace an impermeable surface with one that would hold water in place and not flood the city’s stormwater system. “Part of what we’re trying to do is keep stormwater on our property for a longer period of time to reduce the volume of water the city infrastructure needs to manage during a storm event,” she explained.
Their green roof can hold a one-inch rainfall. More than that runs off the backside where they’ve done some regrading. They added a raingarden for Steffanie’s birthday last year that holds more water and keeps it from flowing immediately into the street. They plan to add another in the front in an effort to hold as much water as they can on site.
Over the years, they had also overseeded the backyard grass in favor of plants (such as clover) that help capture water and provide habitat for pollinators. They mow at 4 inches to allow for a deeper root system, which in turns means the plants are able to take more water into the ground than if the lawn was mowed shorter – a tip she learned through her master gardener training.
The best practices guidelines have been to hold a one-inch rainfall, although Musich foresees that may change as the state has been experiencing more and more high rainfall events. “One inch was unusual and on the high end, but now we’re seeing 2-3-4-6-inch rainfall events,” she said.
Musich pointed out it’s important to keep raingardens 10 feet from a building foundation to avoid basement flooding. Using a French drain between homes helps the water move and protects both homes.
Due to the way their home sits on their corner lot, their backyard is essentially their neighbor’s front yard. The new garage and green roof helped them carve out a private space.
“Plus we’re up in the canopy,” said Musich. “We get to see the birds and the squirrels in their element.”

‘Cathartic to care for natural space’
Initially, they planted 24 plugs with six different sedges, forbes, and grasses that were overseeded with a mix of annuals and perennials. Not everything was native.
White asters, white yarrow, black-eyes susan, mountain mint, purple coneflower, bachelor buttons, baby’s breath, columbine and more grow on the roof. The rooftop prairie starts blooming in April and continues through fall.
“The first thing that starts to bloom is the baby’s breath, which is self seeding. We’ll get a field of white which is beautiful at night,” said Musich. The first year, many poppies bloomed but they haven’t seen any since, and the wild indigo bloomed just the first two years. Meanwhile, the purple coneflower was elusive until the summer of 2019.
“It’s been very interesting to watch the evolution of the plants and the way they cluster and change,” said Musich.
The maintenance of the roof each year is minimal. “I’ll come out here and weed a couple times a month,” remarked Musich. “If I’m having a particularly stressful week, I’ll be out here more frequently. It’s very cathartic to care for a natural space.”

Benefits of green roofs
>>CLEAN WATER
Ordinarily, rainwater picks up contaminants and heat as it rushes across roofing and other hard surfaces on its way to lakes and rivers. Green roofs hold onto much of the rain, reducing the runoff that would otherwise cause water pollution and decreasing the need for additional (and expensive) stormwater treatment infrastructure.

>>LONGER-LASTING ROOFS
Because the waterproofing membrane is underneath the other layers of the green roof, it is protected from factors that can cause roofs to fail: extreme heat, UV radiation, and thermal swings. In general, green roofs last longer than conventional roofs, reducing both consumption and waste.

>>COOLER BUILDINGS AND CITIES
The plants on a green roof shade the building, and further cool it through the natural process of evapotranspiration. If enough roofs in a city are greened, they can combat the urban heat island and help mitigate the effects of global warming.

>>HABITAT CREATION
Green roofs create green spaces in the built environment that birds and beneficial insects can use as habitat. Green roofs also beautify cities, creating better habitat for humans as well.

>>CLEAN AIR
Green roofs improve air quality by taking up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, and by filtering airborne particulates.
~ Information from mngreenroofs.org

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The ‘Warbler Wave’ is coming

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Numbers will soar in mid-May

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Why get excited about warblers? They’re incredibly diverse, colorful, and beautiful. They’re great singers too: a delight to the eye and the ear. They are passing through the Twin Cities right now from their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. Pictured here is the American Redstart, courtesy of Nina Koch (Tropical Wings, River Falls, Wis.). (Photo by Nina Koch)

Longfellow resident Dave Zumeta walks the neighborhood every day, with eyes and ears lifted toward the sky. He has been an active birder for 61 years, and this guy knows his stuff. He has identified 182 different species of birds between the railroad bridge at 27th St. and West River Rd., and the Lock and Dam #1 – a distance of less than four miles.
Zumeta was hooked on birding by the time he was eight years old. It’s an activity that doesn’t require any fancy equipment to get started, especially for children. It’s a great family activity, and many species can be seen without binoculars.
Zumeta said, “All you need to do is to look and listen when you walk outdoors.”
Many people think spring is the most exciting time of year to bird watch. The “Warbler Wave” has officially started, which means that the northern migration of these small songbirds (5” average length) to their summer breeding grounds has begun.
The warblers are trickling in from Central America and Mexico, but their numbers will soar between May 10-20 in the Twin Cities. Some of them will stay in this area all summer, but many more will continue their migration to Northern Minnesota and Canada. According to Zumeta, “A person can see a ton of these little birds before the trees leaf out.”
Warblers are Zumeta’s favorite birds, bar none. He not only knows the subtleties of their markings, but can also recognize their songs. His favorite place to watch for warblers isn’t Costa Rica or the Greater Antilles Islands. It’s a sinkhole on 34th St. and 47th Ave. just a stone’s throw from his house. He said, “Seven Oaks Park is the reason we moved where we did. I think it’s one of the best places to bird watch anywhere – and it’s a warbler magnet.”
Zumeta has seen 26 different kinds of warblers there over the years. Even their names are beautiful: the Mourning Warbler, the Hooded Warbler, the Golden-winged Warbler, and the Bay-breasted Warbler, to name a few.
Because the sink hole is a large, natural depression in the ground, it affords protection for migrating warblers from wind and cold. The best days for birding, according to Zumeta, are nasty, rainy, windy mornings in mid-May. He said, “I’ve seen dozens of Yellow-rumped warblers hopping around on the pavement feeding on days like that. The park is surrounded by ornamental conifers such as white pine, white spruce, and northern white cedar. Warblers and other songbirds feast on the insects living in the buds.”
Zumeta is a longtime co-leader of the Longfellow Community Council spring and fall bird walks in the River Gorge. He has generously offered to take out family groups of up to three people for one-hour informal warbler walks between April 25 and May 25, if all are willing to practice social distancing. The suggested minimum age of children is seven years old. Binoculars (and binocular skills) are helpful, but not necessary.
Dave Zumeta can be reached at dzumeta@comcast.net for questions or scheduling.

1st of 3
This is the first of three consecutive stories on Birds in the Mississippi River Gorge with local bird expert Dave Zumeta. Watch for Raptors in the June Messenger. These stories are meant especially for families with young children. If your child is interested in bird migration, look up the Blackpoll Warbler – an almost unbelievable long distance marathon flier.

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All Energy Solar celebrates 10-year anniversary

Posted on 24 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘The time is now’ for solar power, according to co-owner Michael Allen

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Richard Franco has an exterior Smart Meter that measures his home energy use in 15 minute increments. He also gauges his family’s energy consumption (and availability) using an indoor meter and a smart phone app. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The numbers are in. The U.S. Department of Labor’s statistics predict that over the next decade, solar installer jobs will grow more than any other occupation.
All Energy Solar is a company in the Midway that designs, installs, and monitors solar power systems for homes and businesses – and they’ve been doing it for 10 years. Their new, expanded headquarters in Energy Park made it possible for the company to stay in St. Paul during a time of significant growth.
The solar energy industry is booming, which is good news for the environment and for the economy. The jobs that are produced can’t be outsourced or done by robots – the work has to be done by local people.
President and co-owner Michael Allen said, “Last year, we installed more than 1,000 solar power systems. This year, our goal is 1,250 installations. While our company has a six-state reach, the lion’s share of our business is right here in the Twin Cities.”

‘They did the heavy lifting’
Richard Franco was an All Energy Solar customer in 2019; he had 12 solar panels installed on his home last spring. He said, “I’d been interested in solar panels for a while. There were tax credits and rebates in place, it seemed like a hedge against energy costs continually rising, and, of course, there are the obvious environmental benefits.”
Franco had seen signs for All Energy Solar in his neighborhood, and appreciated that they were a local company. When one of his neighbors had solar panels installed by All Energy Solar, Franco knocked on his door. The neighbor described his experience as extremely positive, and Franco’s would turn out to be as well.
In Franco’s words, “They came out and evaluated everything, determining that my steeply-pitched, south-facing, relatively unobstructed roof was perfect for solar panels. They did all the heavy lifting, and got the logistical stuff set up with Xcel Energy. While I was making sure my homeowner’s insurance would cover solar panels, All Energy Solar didn’t pressure me in any way.”

Richard Franco’s home as seen from the back yard. His 12 solar panels generate between 20-24 kilowatt hours on a sunny day. On a typical day, his family uses between 5-7 kilowatt hours. The surplus is sold back to Xcel Energy for .08 cents/kilowatt hour.(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Individualized assessments set them apart
Michael Allen was working in the solar energy industry for 10 years before he started All Energy Solar with his brother Brian a decade ago. He said, “It’s easy enough to buy a solar energy system over the internet, but it will likely end up costing you more in the long run. We believe that individual attention is essential for having a system work optimally. If it isn’t installed properly, it might not be up to code or pass the insurance inspection.”
He added, “We model every home or business we work on in 3-D imaging, and interpret exactly how the panels will be integrated with smart, efficient design. There are trees and structures that get in the way of the sun. If the south side of a property is shaded, maybe the panels will have to be placed on the east or the west.
“Our consultants are highly skilled at at site design, and every site is different.”
All Energy Solar helps homeowners choose a system that is appropriate not only to their site, but also to their energy needs. Energy use is evaluated on a 12-month cycle, and those numbers inform the design of each solar power system.
Community solar gardens are growing in popularity, and Allen supports the idea – to a point. He explained, “When you look at it carefully, it’s a continuation of the idea of renting electricity. Somebody builds a solar garden in an outlying area, pumps a lot of energy into the grid, and customers get a slight credit on their Xcel bill.”
He believes the motivation for installing a home solar energy system is the same as what gets people to buy, rather than rent, their home. It’s empowering to generate your own electricity — and it’s a sound investment.”

‘The time is now’
According to Allen, the technology of solar panels hasn’t changed much over time. They use the same technology developed by scientists at Bell Laboratories in 1954. What has changed tremendously in the inversion technology that converts DC (direct current electricity collected from the sun) into AC (alternating current electricity that can be used in the home).
Solar panels typically come with a 25-year warranty. Once they’re installed, they are relatively maintenance free. There is no need to keep them clear of snow and ice. The panels are dark colored, and will clear themselves on their own. Allen said, “Don’t go up on your roof to check on them!”
The solar industry is a global industry, with the U.S. being – so far – a very small part of the market. According to Allen, “Not even 2% of the energy used in this country comes from renewable sources. Collecting energy from the sun is a simple, safe technology that we just haven’t adopted in a big way. We have the opportunity to move forward with the Green Economy in this state and in this country, and revolutionize our infrastructure to be truly renewable. All of the technology is ready. The time is now.”
For more information on installing solar panels on your home, or to learn about job opportunities with All Energy Solar, visit www.allenergysolar.com.

“We’re proud to be part of this economic sector based on renewable energy. With Governor Walz calling for statewide carbon-free energy by 2050, awareness of the benefits of solar energy
will continue to grow.”
~ Michael Allen

Benefit this year
If you install a solar panel system in 2020, 26% of your total project costs (including equipment, permitting and installation) can be claimed as a credit on your federal tax return. If you spend $10,000 on your system, you owe $2,600 less in taxes the following year. The solar tax credit will be less in 2021, and will expire in 2022.

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Original wood windows worthy of restoration

Posted on 08 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Why not work with what you already have?

HOME IMPROVEMENT

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Joe Hayes was working as an elementary school teacher in 2009, when he bought his first home. A classic South Minneapolis bungalow, the house had one major problem – its windows.
There were no storms on the outside, and all of the original glazing was gone. Metal pins held the window glass panes in place. The previous owner had cut and removed all the sash cords, and filled the side cavities with insulation. None of the windows could be opened.
The restoration project Hayes had to embark on eventually led to a career change. In the course of making many, many repairs, he realized he had a passion for it. Hayes found satisfaction in producing quality craftsmanship, and in working with his hands.
In the last three years, he has built Hayes Window Restoration into a full-service business providing repair and restoration of pre-1940 double-hung wood windows. Hayes said, “We have a clearly defined niche, and we do a good job of staying in it.”

Don’t discard and replace
In a building industry where “Discard and Replace” has become the moniker, Hayes offers homeowners a better option. Why not work with what you already have? His seven-person team brings knowledge, professionalism, and an ability to troubleshoot the nuances of older homes to every window restoration project.
Many of the older homes which dominate South Minneapolis are architectural treasures, whether they are large or small. Hayes explained, “The materials used to construct these homes were high quality, and the craftsmanship was excellent. Traditional joinery methods were brought over from Europe, and these homes, including their windows, were built to last.”
He pointed out, “The people who find us understand this. They have a sense that their old windows are meant to be there. A lot of our clients see themselves as stewards of their homes. With window repair and restoration, we’re not only doing what’s right for the house – we’re also doing what’s right for the environment.”

Old-growth white pine windows irreplaceable
Many of the nearly century-old homes in Longfellow and East Nokomis have windows made from old growth wood. Hayes said, “The old growth white pine from Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin can never be replaced. Those forests are gone.”
What’s the difference between old growth and new growth wood? Old growth wood had time on its side. Because of its age, it developed tight growth rings, dense heartwood, and is high in pitch – which makes it naturally insect and rot resistant.
The new growth wood used in replacement windows has none of those attributes, because it isn’t given time to develop them.

Original windows can be effcient too
Why are people so quick to replace their original windows? Hayes chalked it up to marketing. He said, “We live at the epi-center of three huge window manufacturers. It’s in their best interest to sell new windows, but how long will the replacements last? Look at the life of your manufacturer’s warranty; you can expect maybe 20 years before you need to replace them again.”
Window replacement companies tout energy efficiency and cost savings, but it’s worth reading between the lines. The general thinking is that it takes decades to get a return on investment. With proper care and maintenance (including weather stripping and quality storms) original windows can rival the energy efficiency of replacement windows at significantly lower cost – while keeping original windows out of the landfill or incinerator.
When considering replacement versus restoration, remember to factor in resource extraction and the energy needed to make new windows, too. The carbon foot print is not small.

Window preservation workshops
Hayes Window Restoration is licensed, insured, lead safe certified, and operates all year long. The turn-around time for full window restoration is about six weeks. They will secure your window openings for warmth and comfort while your windows are being worked on in their shop. Sash cord replacement, weather stripping installation, and other mechanical problems are done on-site, as is spot glazing in the warm months.
Hayes said, “We restore and repair windows in every kind of home from a one-bedroom Longfellow bungalow to a Cass Gilbert mansion on Summit Ave. We offer a range of services that make our services do-able for most homeowners.”
Through a partnership with Rethos (formerly the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota), Hayes has been active in teaching others how to maintain and preserve their own windows. In the past six months, he offered three workshops that covered everything from glazing to sash cord repair.
Hayes Window Restoration is also a proud new business member of ReUSE Minnesota, a non-profit organization focused on bringing visibility to the reuse, rental, and repair sector.
In the interest of promoting restoration, Hayes said, “Do it yourself if you can, and if you can’t – call us.” Their company website (www.hayeswindows.com) has a bounty of DIY tips, reports from the field, and other interesting and helpful tidbits in the section called Old Window Almanac.
“I have yet to meet an old window that I couldn’t restore,” said Hayes. “I’ve seen hopeless parts, but not hopeless windows.” To arrange for a free consultation, call 612.259.7855 or email info@hayeswindow.com.

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