Eco-State Fair

Posted on August 19th, 2008 – 9:08 PM
By Jason Hammond

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of people from all over, flock to St. Paul to the Minnesota State Fair. Somehow over the past several years between the funnel cakes, concerts, rides and events 350,000 people have taken the time to tour the Eco Experience in the Progress Center Building, making it the single largest event of its kind in the country. The Eco Experience is a collection of resources, experts and exhibitors showcasing a variety of cutting edge green technologies surrounding it’s key attraction the Eco House. The Eco House itself is a collection of green technology alternatives as they may appear in a real world application.

This year I had the honor of receiving a tour of the Eco Experience’s featured Eco House, just days before it’s opening to the public. The 2008 Eco House was designed by Minnesota based Architectural firm Sala Architects and is based on a 2000 sq. ft. modern style home, that SALA designed for a client who became more interested in green building during last years Eco Experience.

The Eco House (at roughly 980 sq ft) is a little more like a cross section or sampling of a home, then it is a complete home, but none the less extraordinary. Constructed in just three weeks, by Showcase Renovations Inc. and Panel Works Plus, the Eco house is designed to give visitors to the Eco Experience examples real life applications of ways that green building can be implemented in both new construction, renovation or remodeling. This years building features structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) to make up it’s core structure. It’s exterior is a combination of green friendly material including cementboard siding, Richlite, and glass. The structure is designed to be passive solar with the majority of it’s triple paned Marvin Windows facing the southern exposure. As well as active solar, through the use of solar thermal hot water heating, solar photovoltaic, and solar hot air systems provided by Twin Cities based Powerfully Green. Even the landscaping is designed to showcase green construction at its best. A permeable paver patio system, along with front steps made of Vast recycled rubber paver blocks, a rainwater capture system, rain gardens and a green planted roof. The interior, not to be outdone, includes Richlite, linoleum and Vetrazzo (crubside recycled glass) countertops, reconstituted veneer cabinets, bamboo and linoleum flooring and recycled glass tiles, all provide by Natural Built Home of the Twin Cities.

Although the home is filled with a collection of green friendly products, my tour guide for the day, Architect Marc Sloot (of Sala Architects), pointed out that green goes beyond substrates and surface materials, and directly to design itself. From site placement to key features, like a high usable ratio of square footage to wall and roof surface area, contributing to better energy efficiency. Additionally, Sloot observed that although any home style can utilize green building techniques, modern design often lends itself to the use of simple, readily available materials, resulting in reduced material use and waste. Sloot also noted that by making sure that the home is not only functional but beautiful, you will most likely better meet the needs of the home owners and give the home a longer lifecycle — definitely green.

So my big question of the day, and one I’m sure several readers are asking —so how is a temporary home green? Well even that question was something the people at the Eco Experience were ready for. Sala Architects paid careful attention to make sure that all the windows used in the Eco House could be re-purposed in the original projects layout. As well, all the SIPs panels, flooring, cabinets, lights and just about everything else outside of sheetrock and some cut pieces of flooring will be accounted for at the completion of the project. But maybe more importantly, the impact that this short lived project and it’s materials may have on the way people look at building in the future, makes it all a little more green.

A rendering of the Eco House at the Minnesota State Fair, Eco Experience.

The Exterior of the home on Minnehaha Creek that served as inspiration for this years Eco House.
The Exterior of this Years Eco House at the Minnesota State Fair Eco Experience features a modern design and green materials.

Triple paned Marvin windows and metal awnings help to harness and shiled the sun for a passive solar effect.

This Solar hot air panel is one of several active solar devices this years home will feature.

The kitchen will feature high efficiency appliances along with alternative cabinet materials such as reconstituted veneers, linoleum countertops and recycled glass tiles.

The fireplace was wrapped in thin steel sheeting (an inherently recycled material)
to give it a really cool visual effect.

When the project is completed on Wednesday and ready for fairgoers this wall section will be filled with a variety of green friendly alternative insulation —here you can see one example, denim insulation.

2 Responses to "Eco-State Fair"

Diane says:

September 1st, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Hey there Jason. I re-read your post today to refresh my memory after seeing the demo house first hand last MOnday while volunteering at Eco Experience. I do have a question for you: 980 sq.ft. Really? It wasn’t even a whole house but that 980 sq.ft. partial house felt bigger than the 1926 bungalow that I live in (735 sq.ft. on one floor). Can you riff a bit on How can that be? trick of “modern” design and open floor plan?

BTW, I had a great time volunteering with MRES, learned a bunch, met lots of cool people and came away inspired by ways to go even more green. As a sustainable business start-up, I was energized by all the interest and all the questions from the many folks who were checking stuff out. The convergence over the past couple years of technology, price/affordability, interest and awareness have been amazing.

Thanks to you and this blog for pointing the way, showing how to walking the talk can be done with style and reasonable $$ — not just a one-time demo/event. Now that you’re out ahead of the crowd, let’s make it a parade!

Jason Hammond says:

September 1st, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Hi Diane,

I agree on the incredible perception of greater space. We lived in a wonderful 1916 craftsman style home for 10 years that had a foot print of roughly 800 square feet for the first floor, yet the Eco-house seemed to be significantly larger than this which was certainly a result of several things. The first one you already hit on, was the open floor plan design which allows the user to visually share spaces. The second is the clear story windows (windows at ceiling height) which allow an elevated sense of space and light. The third is more a result of the building being a demo for an event. What I mean by this is that it lacked an actual roof over part of the building and two walls were removed at the corners to allow for flow of traffic. Although the latter certainly played a role on the open and airy feeling the former are significant in their roles and common features in modern design.

Thanks for the nice comments about my blog and it’s impact but I think there are a lot of people out there (like yourself) who share the same values, ideals and concerns and this has been a nice forum for sharing.