When Charles R. Stinson, AIA, and his sons, Jason and Joshua, purchased a 100-year-old house in Chanhassen, Minn., their initial intent was to tear it down and build new. But as they began demolition, they realized the structure—a former nunnery—had solid bones. So the Minneapolis-area trio decided instead to renovate it in as sustainable a fashion as possible while keeping costs down. “We've been doing green roofs and geothermal and those types of things at my firm, but mostly on more expensive projects,” the elder Stinson says. “It's really hard to find cost-effective green products.”
The key to achieving a green house while capping costs at about $200 per square foot, he continues, was “research, research, research.” Word of mouth led the Stinsons to smaller, family-owned material and product suppliers, many located within a car ride of the site. Their investigations also helped them figure out which features—solar hot water panels, for example—would yield the greatest environmental bang for the buck. “They really work,” Stinson notes. “The payback time is relatively short.”
Limiting the home's size to 2,300 square feet was another cornerstone of their green strategy, according to Jason Stinson, whose company, Stinson Builders, served as general contractor. “The No. 1 thing was that we didn't add anything to the original footprint of the house,” he says. He and Joshua, who acted as project manager, did add a separate garage, though, connecting it to the main residence with a covered walkway that segues into an extensive rear deck. They also hired a local company to help them recycle most of the construction waste from the project.
Exuberant blue exteriors came to symbolize the experience of creating the house, which the family is currently renting out. “The process was joyful,” Jason says. The senior Stinson concurs. “It became a really fun labor of love,” he adds.
And all that green bargain hunting is paying off in other ways for Charles R. Stinson Architects. “Every step of the way, we were thoughtful,” he explains. “Now we can apply two years of research to our other projects.”