Archive | HOME & GARDEN

Going solar: Southside ramping up renewal energy output

Posted on 02 October 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By Iric Nathanson

Eric Olson with with Sarah and Wren (4 yr-old) and Hazel (blonde 2-yr-old)

Eric Olson is thinking long term when he looks at the financial benefits of his investment in in a solar energy system. “If my only goal was seek the largest possible return, I could have found other places to put my money,’’ Olson says. But the South Minneapolis architect, who lives on E. Minnehaha Parkway, knows that his $20,000 solar investment will eventually pay for itself in terms of reduced energy costs.
Olson’s rooftop system is one of more than 70 solar installations in Greater Longfellow and Nokomis East. Cumulatively, these projects are able to produce over 2.2 megawatts of renewal energy, enough to power a 30-square-block swath of South Minneapolis.
Olson is doing his part with his 20 photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted on the roof of his house and his garage. He is financing his system with a five year loan at a 2% rate from the non-profit Center for Energy and Environment. While his monthly loan payment of $345 is roughly twice as much as his pre-solar electrical energy costs, his first two years of payments are offset by the subsidies he has received through federal tax credits and Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards program.
“We may be paying double initially, but the loan will be paid off in five years.

Eric Olson holds four-year-old Wren while his wife Sarah holds two-year-old Hazel. They put 20 photovoltaic panels on the house and garage with help from a five-year loan from the Center for Energy and Environment. (Photos by Terry Faust)

After that, our solar collectors will generate pure cash flow in terms of lower energy costs over the 30-year life of the system. Since we installed our system last November, it has produced six million kilowatt hours of renewal energy. In terms of our carbon footprint, we’ve planted the equivalent of 72 trees and saved 9,500 pounds of CO2 emissions.
“That’s not a bad investment in the future of the planet,” Olson noted.
In late 2019, when Olson’s solar system was put in place, his contractor, TruNorth, was able to mount the 20 PV panels over a single weekend. But that installation represented the culmination of a multi-month process that began when Olson had his initial consultation with TruNorth’s project manager, James Drummond, earlier in the year as they began working to determine the optimum size of rooftop system for the Minnehaha Parkway bungalow.
Their analysis took into account the family’s past electrical use, the bungalow’s roof configurations and any potential obstructions, including tree canopies, that might limit solar gain. Finally, the analysis factored in weather data provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. TruNorth crunched the numbers to produce a cost and savings projection that incorporated renewable energy subsidies and tax benefits Olson was able to obtain.
“Installing a solar system is not a cookie cutter operations,“ said TruNorth’s Drummond. “You can’t go to the local building supply store to buy your solar panels off the shelf and install them, yourself. A lot of analysis goes into sizing each system. Each one is unique.”

Arun Hejmadi
Across Minnehaha Parkway on 40th Avenue South, Arun Hejmadi has one of the area’s largest residential solar installations. Earlier this year, Hejmadi‘s 45 panels were mounted on the roof of his home and his garage. The Nokomis resident had not wanted to wait this long for a solar array to complement the geothermal system he uses to heat and cool his home. But when Hejmadi received his initial solar assessment several years ago, a local solar developer discouraged him from installing a rooftop system, saying that a large tree shading the southside of his house would limit of the efficiency of the system. More recently, Hejmadi needed to remove the tree, which substantially increased the roof’s solar gain potential. With the tree gone, he was able to install his 14-kilowatt solar array early in 2020.
“I may be spending more for electrical energy now, but I am more than offsetting costs by reduced my annual natural gas bill,” said Hejmadi.

Minnehaha United Methodist

Minnehaha United Methodist Church opted for solar panels to fulfill its social mission. (Photo by Terry Faust)

Down 50th St. at 37th Ave., Minnehaha United Methodist Church’s 40-kilowatt rooftop system was installed at the end of 2018. The church financed its system with a low interest loan from the St. Paul Port Authority through a program known as PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy).
“We have about 18 months of data, which shows us how our system is performing,“ said Chris Kramer, a former chair of the Minnehaha’s solar committee. “A year and half out, the numbers in terms of production are slightly under our projections but they are close. The congregation believes we have made a smart investment at the same time that we are fulfilling our social mission.”

Nokomis Hardware
A half mile away, on 34th Ave., Nokomis Hardware’s 75 solar panels have been in place for over eight years. Nokomis’s owner, Carolyn Faacks, used All Energy Solar to install her system. She was able to arrange financing through “a pay-as-you-go” lease that eliminated the need for an upfront outlay on her part. Faacks leased her system from a developer who was able to take advantage of federal tax credits and a subsidy from the state of Minnesota. Now that the eight-year term of the lease has been completed, Faacks owns the 14-kilowatt solar system outright.

Minnehaha United Methodist Church opted for solar panels to fulfill its social mission. (Photo by Terry Faust)

All Energy’s Brandon Charboneau has helped Faacks monitor the performance of the 14kW installation.“The monitor enables us to check the system to make sure it is operating properly. Over the past 10 years, there have been no real maintenance issues. The system takes care of itself,” Charboneau explained.
“I’ve always been interested in ways to reduce my consumption of resources. Renewable energy is the end game and the sooner we get there the better the outcome is for everyone,” Fraack said.
While Nokomis Hardware’s 14kW system may be one of the area’s largest solar installations on a free standing retail businesses, it is dwarfed in size by a mammoth system three miles away at 28th St. and 31st Ave. The building at that intersection houses a local renewable energy business, Greenway Solar, and several other tenants. When Greenways system is completed later this fall, its rooftop and a freestanding structure in its parking lot will be covered with 400 PV panels capable of generated 120 kilowatts of renewable energy.
Greenway’s CEO, Paul Krumrich, expects that the 120 kW system should cover the building’s total electrical needs on an annualized basis. Krumrich notes that his solar installation will generate more electricity than the building uses during summer, enabling Greenway to sell back its excess production to Xcel’s energy grid. But during the colder months Greenway will need to draw from the grid to supplement its solar production. “Over 12 months, that should even out,” Krumrich said.

Tangible step
Pete Lindstrom with Clean Energy Research Teams (CERTS) says that the increased interest in solar in Longfellow and Nokomis reflects a trend that is occurring throughout the state.
“Not that long ago, back around 2010, Minnesota did not show up on the solar map. The number and output of solar installations here were miniscule. But that has changed dramatically. In the last year, alone there have been more than 1,000 new installations all over the state. Solar is now generating a gigawatt of power and it is making a real difference. The power is distributive. It is coming from the Methodist church down the street and the family that lives across the alley.”
Lindstrom says that Minnesota is undergoing a solar boom because it is a “win-win” for people who use it. “Costs are coming down so solar makes more sense from a strictly financial perspective,” he explains. “At the same time solar represents a very tangible step that people can take on their own to promote environmental sustainability. Solar development is going to keep building in Minnesota. That’s a very good thing.”

Solar Energy Resources
-Clean Energy Resource Teams:
Renewable energy training
and assistance,

-Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE): Low interest loans for residential solar installations,

-Minneapolis Green Cost Share:
City of Minneapolis solar subsidies,

-Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light: Faith community partnerships to promote climate justice,

-MinnPACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy): Low interest loans for commercial, institutional solar project,

-SunShare Community Solar:
Solar benefits without rooftop

-Xcel Solar Rewards: Solar
incentives for Xcel customers

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Wise construction during COVID-19: Longfellow contractor adjusts work, looks ahead

Posted on 02 October 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Longfellow contractor Phillip Hide can often make a bathroom or kitchen work better by reconfiguring the space. (Photo submitted)

COVID-19 has changed the remodeling business for Longfellow resident Philip Hide of Wise Design and Remodel.
These days, he’s more likely to meet with clients for their consultations over video calls rather than face-to-face.
He’s also asking himself if he really needs to check in with contractors at the site when the project starts or whether the visit can be done via video call for efficiency and to reduce personal contact. It varies, as being on site to assess job details is an important part of his job.
Hide thinks these changes will probably stay around after COVID-19. He’s glad for the them as they fit with the sustainable way he lives and works, and it is helping him reduce his carbon footprint while saving valuable time.

Dividing up jobs, spacing out workers
Following CDC guidelines, wearing masks, social distancing when possible, and good cleaning processes are just part of it of the considerations around COVID-19 for Wise Construction.
“It’s really a case-by-case basis,” said Hide. “I’ve had to navigate with customers’ needs individually. Interior remodeling is particularly difficult with people working from home more. We need to make everyone involved feel safe and still get some work done.”
He focuses on larger remodeling projects, and has found himself dividing them into stages in order to minimize the disruption to clients’ homes. When a client moves out into temporary housing or with family, they are able to do work throughout the house. But for those who are living, working and going to school in the home during the work project, they take another approach.
Dividing up the job isn’t as efficient, but it enables them to partition off the section they’re currently working on with plastic barriers, and ventilate it well with air scrubbers, in addition to opening the windows for natural ventilation where possible.
Hide works closely with clients to communicate when they need to go into other parts of the house, such as the basement to reach the electric panel or turn off the water, so that the homeowner is able to leave the house for a few hours and they can wipe off high surface areas.
For safety reasons, Hide has spread the projects out farther than before. Where a job might have taken eight weeks previously, now it takes 10. He makes sure that the plumbers aren’t in the house at the same time as the electricians, in order to minimize everyone’s exposure as much as possible.
Things are also slower when it comes to inspections and ordering. Each city in the metro has been operating differently since March, and staff have varying protocols they follow. Some materials are taking a long time to order due to manufacturing processes being slowed down.
Hide also navigates differing comfort levels with his subcontractors, and focuses on everyone operating sensibly and respectfully. He sets the safety standards as the general contractor.
Despite the inconveniences, Hide is grateful to be busy as he knows that other industries have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Phillip Hide made use of space under a stairwell by transforming it into a playhouse. (Photo submitted)

Finding creative solutions
After working in the family business in London, England for a decade, Hide started his own remodeling firm and operated that for seven years. His experience remodeling older homes and making the most of smaller spaces has given him a unique perspective on his work in Minneapolis today.
“Many of the homes we worked on in North London were built from around 1880 to 1930 and sometimes much older. There were often challenges with small spaces, old plumbing, hazardous materials and sometimes interesting structural issues to deal with. Finding effective and creative solutions was very satisfying,” he said.
Hide met his wife Juli while she was studying abroad in London and they married in 2007. They moved to South Minneapolis in 2014 to be closer to her family, and are raising their three children in Longfellow.

Environmentally-friendly decisions
Right now, he sees families carving out more privacy for an office area in basements and attics. “People want to explore having us design a space that currently isn’t being used efficiently,” said Hide.
Some clients think they need a large addition to create this space, but Hide often saves them money by figuring out how to use their existing space better and doing small additions instead when possible. Other options they do frequently is bumping out dormers.
“Many houses are badly designed. They can be laid out in a more efficient manner, particularly kitchens and bathrooms,” stated Hide.
Hide’s work earned him the 2018 and 2019 NARI Newcomer’s Award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
He’s certified through the EPA Lead-Safe program, and plans to spend his slower winter months evaluating other sustainable practices he can work into his business in 2021.
“Utilizing an existing space can be a environmentally friendly decision,” he pointed out. So can using materials that may be more expensive to start with but stand the test of time and can be sustainably sourced.
Wise considers factors such as whether a product is shipped from far away or whether it was quarried or made in Minnesota or the Midwest when helping clients evaluate their options.
“COVID-19 has created some environmental efficiency for us, particularly in how we travel and use technology,” said Hide. “That’s something positive we can take away from this and continue to improve on.”

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ON THE JOB with Minnehaha Falls Landscaping

Posted on 02 October 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Groundcover spreads early in the spring, and forsythia offers an early pollen and nectar source for bees. (Photo submitted)

Russ Henry started gardening with his mom when he was a kid. His first job was pushing the lawnmover around the neighborhood when he was 10.
He has worked in the landscape industry his entire career, starting in plant nurseries as a teen, and then moving on to landscaping companies. “Eventually I founded my own company, Giving Tree Gardens in 2005. In 2017, I founded the non-profit Bee Safe Minneapolis, and purchased Minnehaha Falls Landscaping, a 60-year-old landscaping company,” said Henry, who shares ownership with partner Chesney Engquist. “Our companies have been growing ever since we began and continue to grow robustly today.”
Minnehaha Falls Landscaping was founded in 1957, and has been located in the Longfellow neighborhood since 1985. “South Minneapolis is our home base as we build and maintain landscapes all over the metro area,” stated Henry.
Read on for more from Henry.

How has COVID-19 changed how you operate?
We responded to COVID-19 in a number of ways, all designed to provide safety for our clients and staff. Among these changes are our new No-In-Home meetings with clients; we do all our meetings in the landscape with ample social distance. We are lucky to have three families employed in our company with multiple family members each. This means some of our team members live with each other and we pair up family members on teams as much as possible. We instituted hand sanitizing procedures, and we always wear masks in public spaces. For employees who aren’t feeling well, we offer paid sick time to ensure they will quarantine safely. Additionally we pay for treatment for injured employees, our employees health and well-being is paramount. We take COVID-19 very seriously for the health and safety of everyone we work with and the whole community.
How has demand for your services changed with the pandemic?
Our hearts go out to our friends who own restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, day-cares, and all the artists, cooks, and crafts-people whose livelihoods have been harmed by the pandemic. We are among the lucky ones. Demand for our services has sky-rocketed during the pandemic. With so many folks stuck at home and everyone’s vacation and dining-out budgets left untapped, our phone hasn’t stopped ringing all season. We started booking for next spring in July because we’ve been so booked up. We’ve grown every year since we’ve been in business and this year we weren’t sure if that would be possible.
What trends do you see right now?
People are investing in landscape designs for the long term and transitioning to low-maintenance spaces. We’re installing a lot of patios, walkways, and retaining-walls this year as well as converting a lot of lawns into low-maintenance gardens and no-mow Bee Lawns! This year we’re also seeing a lot of folks install bee, butterfly, and hummingbird gardens. A lot of people are yearning to do something ecologically beneficial with their landscape, and we’re here to help.
How can folks create useful outdoor spaces?
We need to start thinking of turf lawn as a temporary ground cover because it is one of the highest maintenance forms of landscaping. Instead be a hero to local wildlife by adding multiple layers of blooming canopy to your landscape. Grow the urban forest in your own lawn by working from the ground up. Start with composting the soil and then add ground covers, perennials, shrubs, and trees to provide a verdant, attractive space for birds, bees, and butterflies.
How do you seek to be environmentally-friendly in your business practices?
We grow organic habitat in every landscape we manage and we teach hundreds of people every year how they can be heroes to wildlife in their own yards. Each year we install dozens of pollinator friendly landscapes including rain-gardens, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, bee-lawns and food forests. We’ve been organic for 15 years and we use the knowledge we’ve gained to help transition institutions away from the use of pesticides. We started a non-profit organization called Bee-Safe Minneapolis which has helped many organizations (including Minneapolis Public Schools) eliminate all pesticide use indoors and eliminate round-up from school grounds.
What sets your business apart?
Minnehaha Falls Landscaping is a business rooted in healthy soil. Whether designing and installing enchanting landscapes, educating about local ecology, or advocating for safer landscapes for kids and wildlife, we spend all our time giving back to the community that we grew up in. We understand that the health of our community, the health of the planet, and healthy soil are one-in-the-same.
You can follow our adventures and learn all about our methods for soil health, organic landscaping, and low-maintenance gardens on our blog at

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ON THE JOB with Buck Bros.

Posted on 02 October 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Longtime Buck Brothers employees Scott Vetsch (left) and Buzzy Napoly return to install new windows at a home where they built a garage previously. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Tracy Kruse didn’t start out to be one of the few women in construction, but it is a role she has enjoyed. The daughter of a high school shop teacher, Kruse was looking for work after college and ended up building movie sets in the Twin Cities.
After a few years traveling and juggling family commitments, she told her Seward neighbor, Joe Buck, that she was interested in a change. He offered her a job on his crew.
This year, Kruse and fellow long-time employee, Jason Manthey, are taking over from Joe and his brother Bob.
“Our company was started in 1983 by Bob and Joe Buck, with the goal of concentrating on remodeling urban core homes and respecting the historic design and detail of these homes,” observed Kruse. “We will continue our commitment to providing high-quality service to our community.” She added, “We have worked on older, single-family homes for over 35 years, and understand the challenges that these homes present. Over the years, we’ve handpicked a project team that can work with homeowners to design the space, anticipate the issues that older homes present and manage the construction of the project.”
Read on for more from Kruse.

Jason Manthey and Tracy Kruse are the new owners of Buck Brothers.

How has COVID-19 changed how you operate?
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of how we run our jobs. One thing we have always been proud of is running a tight schedule. With lead times on materials becoming longer and longer, it has created some challenges. We require our staff and subs to wear masks and gloves as possible while on the job site. We have created washing stations on the job sites. We are not having more than one trade at the job site at a time, which has also increased the length of our projects. Social distancing can be a challenge in construction as many tasks take more than one person, for example installing windows. While working in homes, we isolate ourselves as much as possible with plastic barriers. At the end of each workday, we sanitize any areas that the homeowner may come in contact with, handrails etc.
What trends do you see right now?
Families are looking for more liveable space in their homes with many people staying home. We have seen an increase in basement remodels and additions.

Scott Vetch installs new windows on the upper level of a Minneapolis home.

How do you seek to be environmentally friendly in your business practices?
We’ve always been proponents of energy-efficient design and construction, and our projects have won awards from Minnesota GreenStar. We have extensive experience at providing clients with creative options for building projects that conserve energy and promote efficiency.
What sets your business apart?
Our extensive experience has enabled us to build a team of designers, field staff, and sub-contractors who provide the quality service and high value that our clients demand. Homeowners need to trust the tradespeople who work on their projects to provide quality and stay on schedule and on budget.

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Remember to care for the trees

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Minneapolis asks homeowners to water boulevard trees

Lend a hand and water boulevard trees. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

This spring, 9,400 boulevard trees were planted in the city of Minneapolis.
According to Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Forestry Director Ralph Sievert, “The new plantings include river birch, Kentucky coffee tree, buckeye, tree lilac, alder, ornamental pear, honey locust, linden, hackberry, gingko, larch, and more. These are trees that do well here, but haven’t been planted in large numbers before. This year we went for a big mix.”
The trees got in the ground in record time. In response to the pandemic, the park board had to come up with a new tree-planting strategy. Instead of sending several staff out together, crew members worked individually from small utility vehicles. One person dug holes, the next person planted trees, and the last person mulched and watered them. Sievert said, “It worked so well, we might stick with this method in the future. We got the whole job done by Memorial Day, which was weeks ahead of schedule.”
The park board has five large capacity trucks for watering, but they focus on trees that homeowners can’t get to: those planted on medians, in parks, and in front of apartment buildings. If your home or business has received a new tree, it is up to you to keep it watered – and the first year that a tree is in the ground is critical.
Every new tree comes with a slow release water bag zipped around its trunk. The bag should be filled by hose or bucket once a week. Its contents will release slowly over several hours, allowing for better water absorption into the roots.
Sievert has been in the forestry department long enough to see several dramatic tree events hit Minneapolis since the invasion of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
American elm had been the dominant species across the city, and the loss of the nearly 100-year-old shade canopy was devastating. Realizing that monoculture plantings had failed, the city changed gears and planted dominant species block by block instead.
When the Emerald Ash Borer arrived a little more than 10 years ago, Minneapolis began to suffer another huge loss of its boulevard and park trees. Sievert said, “We’re in year seven of our eight-year plan to remove all of the ash trees from Minneapolis boulevards and parks. By the end of next year, about 40,000 ash trees will have been removed and replaced. The only ash trees left on city boulevards will be the ones residents are paying to treat themselves for Emerald Ash Borer.
“In light of all that, we’ve revamped the way we look at boulevard trees once again. The latest rule is that if a block has more than 10% of any one kind of tree already established, we won’t plant any more of that species. The key is to diversify.”
It is unusual for a municipality to provide boulevard trees at no cost to homeowners. The park board also removes sick or dying trees and grinds their stumps free of charge.
The tree canopy in Minneapolis is currently about 29%. The higher the percentage of tree canopy, the better off city residents are. Trees increase energy savings by providing shade; they decrease storm water run-off by mitigating rainfall; they increase property value with their beauty.
Sievert said, “The pandemic has hit us hard this spring and summer, just like it did everybody else. In a normal year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would receive significant revenue from events held in parks like weddings, concerts, fun-runs, and the like. This year, that hasn’t happened. We’ve kept our public spaces open, but we aren’t hosting events to discourage people from gathering.”
That has created a predicted budget deficit next year of approximately $6,000,000.
Sievert said, “The 2021 planting season is going to be tricky. Maybe there won’t be money for trees in the spring? Let’s take care of the trees we already have, by remembering to keep them watered, and by being careful with lawn mowers and weed whippers when working around the base of trees. Any damage to their bark is an invitation for pests and disease enter.”

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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)


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
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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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The ‘Warbler Wave’ is coming

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Numbers will soar in mid-May


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 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


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

“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?


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 ( 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

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