Solhem, which is Swedish for “Home of the Sun,” is the name of the new apartment building going up on Holmes Avenue between Lake and 31st Streets. Owner and developer Curt Gunsbury says he named the building after a house belonging to a European friend. After the fact, he realized the word Solhem – fittingly – is an anagram of Holmes.
The project first took shape in 2006 in the form of a boutique hotel. By November 2007 concern over the long-term viability of an Uptown hotel led Gunsbury and his investors to redesign the project for residential use. Solhem will house 60 rental units (studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments), with commercial space on the first floor and an underground parking garage. Designed by Gary Fischer and Gary Tushie of Tushie Montgomery Architects, the six-story, 68-foot-tall building will have a spare, European look, with divided windows punctuating a light-colored façade and a recessed top story. At street level, the façade will be clad in historical brick to match its older neighbors. Construction is expected to be completed in August of this year, with tenants moving in by September.
Gunsbury, an ardent environmentalist with roots in the Brainerd Lakes region, has taken care to incorporate numerous green features into the project. He aims to minimize the structure’s energy consumption while facilitating greener living habits for his tenants.
Many of these features will be visible from the street. Hardy native perennials and disease-resistant elm trees will line the boulevard. Vine-covered trellises will provide green screens along the north and east borders, and a green roof will be planted on top of the underground parking garage, along the south and east sides of the building. Whether on the roof of a building or at ground level, as in this case, green roofs are intricate and expensive to build. They comprise up to ten layers of impervious membranes to prevent leakage, materials to absorb run-off and a growing medium for shallow-rooted plants. Water for a drip irrigation system will be pumped from two 500-gallon barrels installed on-site to collect rainwater from the roof, helping to reduce storm-water runoff.
Bike hitches on the boulevard and bike racks and storage lockers beside tenant parking stalls will encourage biking. The location of the building in the heart of Uptown lends itself to walking, biking and riding the bus. To further accommodate tenants who do not own cars, Gunsbury is partnering with HourCar, the popular Twin Cities car-sharing program, to purchase and maintain a vehicle that will occupy a permanent parking spot in front of Solhem.
The first floor will hold an office for Gunsbury, a commercial fitness studio and common areas for tenant use. High ceilings and tall windows will maximize natural light. “Sun-bouncers,” exterior awnings that reflect light through the upper segments of windows, will keep these areas bright while shielding them from direct summer sun.
Inside the building are numerous other green lifestyle and energy-saving features. Lighting fixtures will be state-of-the-art for energy-efficiency. There will be electrical outlets in the parking garage for charging plug-in vehicles. The Kone brand elevator, which uses carbon bands instead of an hydraulic lift, is 50% more efficient than standard elevators and fast enough that one elevator can service the entire building.
Appropriately, solar hot-water tanks will be installed on Solhem’s roof. Water from the tanks will flow, pre-warmed, into standard hot-water heaters, thus reducing the amount of energy required to achieve maximum temperature. Instead of the typical dark-surfaced roof, Solhem’s 10,000 square-foot roof will be sheathed in a white membrane. This “white roof” will deflect the heat of the sun, lowering cooling costs and mitigating the summer “heat island” effect that plagues urban areas like the Uptown business district.
Many of the materials and products that Gunsbury has selected for the units reflect his commitment to a healthy and sustainable environment. Low VOC paints will be used on interior surfaces. Apartment units will have laminate or bamboo flooring instead of carpeting.
Bathrooms will be fitted with low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets to conserve water and kitchens will have Energy-Star appliances. In addition, every unit will have its own heating and cooling system. This arrangement should give tenants an incentive to conserve energy.
One of the more progressive aspects of Solhem is its built-in waste management system. Apartment units will be fitted with receptacles for sorting recyclables. There will be recycling bins on every floor and a central collection site in the garage. Most noteworthy is the fact that every floor access twin garbage chutes leading to dumpsters in the parking garage. One chute will be for source-separated organics (food scraps plus non-compostable paper), the other for traditional garbage (non-recyclable plastics and metal).
Nearly all of the green features described here cost more to purchase and install than the traditional alternative. While Gunsbury may be green, he’s also a businessman with a family to support and investors to appease. When asked about his motivation to build green, Gunsbury explains that he expects to see significant savings over time. In some cases, energy savings will accrue from day one. Other savings will take longer to realize. But as Solhem’s owner, Gunsbury can afford to wait for a return on his investment. His other bottom line? Building green is the right thing to do for the planet.
Sarah Sponheim lives in ECCO and chairs the Environment Committee of the ECCO Board and blogs at www.greenseachange.blogspot.com.