Thomas Trehus stands next to his small, efficient “passive solar” home in Houston County’s Wilmington Township.
Thomas Trehus stands next to his small, efficient “passive solar” home in Houston County’s Wilmington Township.
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When Thomas Trehus decided to build his own home near the family farm in Houston County's Wilmington Township, he had some specific things in mind. Many would call the small house — completed last winter — “green.”

“It's not that green, but it is very efficient and uses minimum energy,” Trehus said recently.

A “green home” doesn't necessarily refer to the color of its siding. According to the National Association of Home Builders, building “green” involves several factors.

“Also known as sustainable or high performance construction, green building incorporates construction and development techniques, materials and designs intended to minimize a home’s impact on the environment and conserve natural resources,” an NAHB report states. “Green building is a practical response to a wide range of issues affecting all consumers. These include such concerns as rising energy costs, the need to ensure clean water and minimize water usage, and the need to improve air quality. In short, home builders strive to maximize efficiency and sustainability in every aspect of new home construction and in home remodeling.”

The home measures just 1,050 square feet. A detached two-car garage was added in the spring of 2016.

“I like small in terms of space,” Trehus said with a grin. “Big houses are nice when you're having company, and for big parties. But, I have sisters with a lot of kids and they spend most of their time in two rooms.

“I think it (green) means efficiency. Using the least amount of energy and still maintaining your standard of living, your quality of life. That's kind of what I had in mind when I designed the house, laid it out. And I think we've maximized what we can do for now.”

The home utilizes a passive solar design to gain as much warmth as possible when the angle of the sun is low in wintertime. Eaves shelter the banks of windows much more during the summer months, making the house easier to cool. It's a simple, well-proven technology.

Trehus moved into the home in late January of 2016. “The thermostat was set at 65 degrees the whole winter, and the furnace would pretty much only run at night hours after the sun went down,” he said. “It would come on at 11 p.m., midnight, or 1 a.m. It was so warm in there during the day with the sun, that extra heat wasn't needed.”

In the summertime, a single built-in room air conditioner has been sufficient to cool the entire home. Whole house central air just isn't necessary.

Even though the footprint is small, the home isn't cramped. Space is used wisely. One example is a laundry room that basically inhabits a small closet. The washer and dryer are stacked inside.

Heat is provided by an LP boiler system that sends warm fluid through tubing in the concrete floors, warming the slab to provide “radiant heat.” There's also a gas fireplace. And there are lots of windows. The master bedroom alone has glazing on three sides. The house has two baths and two bedrooms. The compact kitchen and dining area presents a wide-open vista overlooking the deck, facing south.

“I wanted light, I wanted small,” Trehus said, “I like a well-lit space.”

“I basically designed it,” he continued. “I had found some information on a house in Sweden online that won some awards for its exterior design. I kind of ran with that exterior as far as the shape if it. There are two sections, basically. I went to a designer in Winona and we laid out the blueprints.”

Trehus also served as his own general contractor, lining up carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. It's an experience that he enjoyed. However, the Wilmington Township resident cautioned others to carefully consider the investment of time and effort that takes before jumping in.

“It can be a lot of work. Especially if it's a larger house,” he noted.

“You should definitely consult with experts. After I had the blueprints, I consulted with the builder, electricians, plumbers. We went over it pretty thoroughly, and I did have to change a couple of things here and there. I worked with some great people. Wayne Buxengard (of Buxengard Builders, LLC, Mabel) built it. Brent Newgaard (Newgaard Plumbing & Heating, Spring Grove) did the plumbing. Joe Stemper (Becker & Stemper Electric, Caledonia) did the electrical work.”

The garage also utilizes passive solar to remain warm in the winter and well lit all year long. “The best energy you can get is the sun,” Trehus added.

Finally, Trehus enjoys living in the country, near his family farm. “I love every minute that I spend here. I'm pretty busy so I'm not home a lot. But I do enjoy it. It's great to have your own space,” he concluded.