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Bernard and Michele Drevnick's new house on Galahad Road in North Hudson has many windows to provide views of the St. Croix River and provide passive solar heat. (Submitted photo)

River location inspired the design of the Drevnicks' LEED Gold home

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River location inspired the design of the Drevnicks' LEED Gold home
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Bernard and Michele Drevnick didn't set out to build a LEED Gold certified home.

Michele had always wanted a place on the river, is how Bernie tells it. In 2010, an older home on Galahad Road in North Hudson owned by two elderly sisters came on the market.


Tom Nielsen, the Drevnicks' realtor, suggested they have a talk with the sisters and make an offer. After some negotiations, the Drevnicks owned the house and picturesque lot, situated high on a bluff overlooking the St. Croix.

"Item No. 1 was, how do we do it? We had never built a house before," Bernie recalls.

Michele was visiting the Sandeen Agency when owner John Fehr suggested that "a property like that deserves an architect." Fehr recommended that the Drevnicks talk to John Kalmon, a Hudson-raised architect with an office nearby at the corner of Second and Vine streets.

They knew they wanted to build an energy efficient, environmentally friendly "green" house, says Michele. "We didn't know to what extent we wanted it."

"No. John talked us into it," Bernie deadpans.

What the Drevnicks ended up with -- after demolishing the old house -- is a two-level, 3,500-square-foot home that blends into its setting. The house's contemporary form allows river views from most of the living areas. And the double, slanted roofs provide space for south-facing clerestory windows that bathe the interior in daylight.

Four-inch-thick foam insulation on the exterior walls, LED lighting, rooftop solar photovoltaic and thermal panels, high-performance windows, vaulted ceilings that accommodate passive heating and cooling, and a carefully integrated mechanical system make the home extremely energy efficient.

The energy demand of the house is a quarter of that of a typical new home, according to Kalmon.

Outside, the sustainable features include natural plantings, a short-grass prairie and a rainwater collection system used to irrigate the yard. The rainwater from the roofs is stored a 2,500-gallon, underground cistern until it is pumped onto the lawn.

LEED certification

The acronym LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The LEED rating system began in 1998, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The council now has almost 20,000 member organizations in 30 countries, according to its website.

There are rating systems for a variety of types of construction, including retail, health care and school buildings, neighborhoods, homes and more.

The rating for homes is based on a 125-point scale, plus 11 innovation-in-design points. Platinum certification is awarded to homes earning 80 or more points; Gold, 60-79 points; Silver, 50-59 points; and basic, 40-49 points.

The point system rewards projects for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Asked what motivated the Drevnicks to go after LEED certification, Michele replies, "That's a good question." They talked with Kalmon about that when they were deciding who should pay the certification fee.

"It benefits me, because I can use it for marketing and it promotes what I do," Kalmon allows. But it also ensures that owners get what they are paying for.

A third party conducts inspections to make sure the house is being built to specifications. And in the end, the owners receive a project manual that documents and explains every component of the house.

In addition, the LEED program assists the owners in the design process.

"(It) really helps prioritize and organize your decision-making," says Kalmon.

"I like the environmental part of it, too, because you're (making) wise use of the land," Bernie says. "Not all of it is mowed grass where you're using all the pesticides and herbicides ... And it's designed in a way that makes the best use of the natural riverway, less river pollution, all of that."

Environmental family

The Drevnicks' son, Paul, is a professor of biogeochemistry with the National Research Institute for Science of Canada, and is researching the effects of pollution in the Arctic and high alpine lakes.

But Michele says it wasn't Paul who influenced their decision to build a LEED certified home.

"He says we influenced him as a kid" when it comes to nature and conservation and enjoying the outdoors, she says.

Michele owns and operates Hudson Hearing Clinic, located in Hudson Hospital and Clinics. Bernie is semi-retired and helps take care of the couple's rental properties.

The Drevnicks' former home on Krattley Lane in the town of Hudson also harmonized with its wooded surroundings, and had south-facing windows that provided passive solar heat in the winter.

"We knew that worked. We knew the sun part worked," says Michele.

"We hadn't researched all this stuff. We just trusted that John and the people that he got could build a house," she says. "I know that a lot of people would spend a lot of time learning everything they could about the different kinds of heating and cooling and insulation. I would say that's why you get a professional to do it, because that's his job."

Kalmon says the Drevnicks were pretty typical of people who come to him wanting to build a green house.

"That's why the LEED program is so good," he says. It leads homeowners through the decision-making process -- from where the house is located to the components that go into it -- assuring them that the finished product is truly green.

Kalmon visited the Drevnicks at their previous home at the start of the process. He observed how they lived and asked questions about their preferences in room structure and windows and what they wanted in the new house.

"My thought was a log home and it moved to this," Bernie says jokingly.

Blending indoors and outdoors

Something that became apparent to Kalmon early on is that the Drevnicks wanted plenty of windows.

There are 42 of them, according to Michele, plus four patio doors and three glass French doors. The linear form of the house provides views of the St. Croix from most of the rooms, both on the main floor and the lower level.

The Drevniks wanted a sunroom, screen porch and a dining room. Kalmon brought all three together in one room, with wide screened patio doors and tall windows. It's a music room, too, since Bernie brought his drum set in and Michele added a player piano.

The room opens onto an outdoor patio on the river side of the house.

The idea is to allow people to move seamlessly between the indoors and outdoors, Kalmon says, similar to the way many California homes are designed. It's much more difficult to accomplish in a harsh climate like Wisconsin's, he adds.

"It is all about blending the interior and exterior. You can sort of move in and out visually and physically," he says of the entire house.

The interior finishes include rift cut white oak, stained with a dark mahogany finish, for the cabinets and doors.

Vertical grain Douglas fir millwork was selected for its warm tone, according to a description of the house provided by Kalmon. Natural hickory, stained concrete and tile were used for the floors.

Custom milled cedar accents the ceilings throughout the upper level. The three fireplaces are finished with St. Croix limestone and tile, and provide focal points in the living and bedroom areas.

Matching rooms on the upper and lower levels provide space for a future elevator.

The lower level is designed to accommodate visiting family and guests. It has its own living area, a second full kitchen, bedrooms and large bath.

Design-build project

Kalmon not only designed the home, but served as the construction manager.

"That's to control the investment in design and all the time and effort and money that goes into that," he says. "You're assured that it's going to be built that way."

Kalmon used local subcontractors, including Zappa Brothers Excavating for site preparation; Steiner Plumbing, Electric and Heating for the electrical and heating and cooling systems; Jim Sabin for the framing and siding; and Nordic Builders for the finish carpentry.

"I really strive to create a team," Kalmon says. "Everybody's got to be working together. It's got to be a positive culture because you can't do what you need to do with a bad attitude. It doesn't matter if it is an owner or a contractor, if there's conflict things suffer really fast."

The Drevnicks give Kalmon high marks for how he managed the project, from the design to the completion of construction.

"We've been pleased through the whole process," says Bernie.

Open house

The Drevniks will host an open house for the general public on Sunday, Aug. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Their home is located at 539 Galahad Road.

Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
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