Former Kingfield residents go off-grid

Mike Larsen and Linda Nelson’s home outside of Winona. Photo by Paul Neseth
Mike Larsen and Linda Nelson’s home outside of Winona. Photo by Paul Neseth

“It’s a waffle day!” exclaimed Mike Larsen to his wife, Linda Nelson, as he awoke to the sun rising over the prairie.

While most of us wouldn’t think twice about plugging in an appliance — especially on a casual weekend — making waffles means something more to the couple than a scrumptious breakfast.

The former Minneapolis residents moved from their Kingfield home in 2011 and now live outside of Winona in a home that is completely off the grid.

Disconnecting from infrastructure that most of us take for granted has given them a keen sense of the natural cycles that occur around them. When there’s a lot of rain, their 5,000-gallon storage tank overflows and they indulge in a big bath or wash less frequently laundered blankets and coats. When the sun shines for several days, their solar batteries reach maximum capacity, enabling them to utilize the “free” energy on more energy-intensive appliances — a waffle iron is one of their favorites.

“I’m blessed to engage in the abundance and scarcity of the land — the heightened awareness of the great connection,” Larsen says as he reflects on the home they’ve dubbed “The House the Land Built.”

Going completely off-grid isn’t for everyone. We have not yet mentioned their composting toilet, which in all fairness is not as gross as you might expect. 

In the city there is of course already an infrastructure for our homes and businesses to readily tie into. However, as we look toward the years ahead, it can be helpful to bring a little off-grid ethos to our lives and, with it, a bit more connection to the natural world.

Doing so is imperative as buildings consume approximately 40% of the energy in the U.S. and consequently have a large impact on climate change.

To combat this, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has initiated the 2030 Commitment — a program that publicly tracks the profession’s dedication and progress toward achieving carbon-neutral construction within the next 10 years.

It’s quite a lofty resolution for the new decade.

Architects are taking this seriously. In 2018, over 250 firms reported data to the 2030 Commitment’s Design Data Exchange. These projects accounted for energy savings of more than $3.3 billion and an annual overall savings of 17.7 million megatons of carbon dioxide emissions (equivalent to about 21 million acres of forest carbon sequestration), according to the 2018 summary of the AIA 2030 Commitment.

Striving for net-zero is a daunting task — where might a resident in Southwest start?

To evaluate your current energy use and get recommendations for how to save more, have the Xcel Energy Squad pay your home a visit. Their team will conduct a Home Energy Audit that includes a blower door test, which puts a large fan in an exterior door to measure how “leaky” a home might be. (Visit the Excel Home Energy Squad page to learn more.)

Going beyond energy savings to energy production, a glance at the Minneapolis Solar Suitability website can offer you an initial impression of your solar energy potential and the feasibility of putting photovoltaics on your roof. From there, local photovoltaic installers can help establish more site-specific solutions.

As one considers adding onto or renovating a building, meeting with a design professional versed in the complexities of space planning, construction and energy use can be an effective way to digest those (and many more) variables. By listening to clients’ needs and being mindful of resources, architectural solutions can do more with less — oftentimes rethinking how existing spaces are used. 

For example, religious buildings can offer their space to other groups throughout the week. Linda Nelson reduces her carbon footprint by renting space at Judson Church in Kingfield to operate an outpatient mental health clinic, Grove Psychotherapy. Finding abundance in existing infrastructure yields a way to get more out of the resources a building already has with the added bonus of serving a larger community.

Reducing energy use doesn’t necessarily mean giving things up. Rather, it means reframing our perspective to see the abundance around us. Here’s to more waffle days in 2020!

Kyrshanbor Hynniewta is a designer at Locus Architecture. His recently completed thesis at the University of Minnesota and studies the value an architect can bring to single-family home construction.

Adam Jonas is an architect at Locus Architecture at 45th & Nicollet in Kingfield. Visit locusarchitecture.com to learn more.