Sustainable sweat equity: Lawrence homebuilder starts green construction in North Lawrence

Scott Trettel is building three houses on Walnut Street in North Lawrence. Each will have a unique design and feature the latest in green construction techniques.

This house at 630 Walnut, gets a sturdy piece of glass over the front entrance a different approach as Ty Martin and Scott Trettel slowly place the heavy glass over the entrance.

Scott Trettel pretty much came out of his mother’s womb with a hammer in his hand.

He grew up in a home that his father built from its foundation to the eaves, and Trettel would spend hours sawing, sanding and hammering away in his father’s workshop.

The physical labor of construction combined with the creative process of drawing new designs and the exciting experimental aspects of each new project has proven to be his life’s calling. In fact, Trettel was so driven to his destiny that he started his own business while he was still a student at Kansas University’s School of Architecture.

“We are a very diverse group,” Trettel says of his company, Scott Trettel Design Build Fabricate Inc. “We incorporate all of our welding and woodwork into our homes, like in custom staircases and unique cabinetry. We try to keep off-the-shelf items out of our products. We work on custom retail displays; in fact, I just finished a large cosmetics display for Halls department store. We recently finished a massive job for the Spencer Museum of Art. I’ve also done many historic renovations downtown and remodeling people’s homes. We do a variety of everything which keeps us busy.”

But now the focus is on Walnut Street, where Trettel is erecting three new homes, one of which is his own.

“All of these homes are designed by me, but they are requiring massive amounts of sweat equity,” he says. “The budgets we have make that a necessity.”

This grouping of homes is far more than merely glass and wood — these are green homes, and in fact Trettel’s own haven under construction will eventually have zero utility bills because of calculated solar heating and the use of solar panels:

• The foundations are insulated with 4-inch rigid foam.

• The cement floors all boast radiant heat that have sensors that read which rooms need warmth.

• The wood-burning stoves are EPA-certified.

• The exteriors are fashioned from a mix of cedar and painted fiber cement board.

• The walls are insulated with shredded recycled newspaper.

• The homes boast perfectly placed cross ventilation.

• Energy Star low E coating on all the windows reflects the heat gain.

Emily Markoulatos and her husband, Marcos, as well as their two daughters, Eva and Tayte, are anxiously anticipating moving in to their home. One of the allures to Trettel’s designs is the environmental impact.

“We will never have to replace anything,” Emily Markoulatos says. “There was very little waste, and no extra stuff will be going to the landfill.”

Trettel thinks there is a demand for affordable, smaller homes that are not spec houses but are creative in their design. They are efficient and that have only a slight environmental impact.

“The building industry as a whole is so wasteful — it is sickening the volume that gets thrown out,” he says. “It is refreshing to see people’s awareness of green building making people more receptive to nontraditional housing. But, it is still difficult to get bankers and lenders to see the attributes.”

Markoulatos sees Trettel’s attributes.

“He’s extremely creative at using natural resources,” she says. “Scott is thorough in his engineering, and he doesn’t cut corners. He keeps details like material/construction waste in mind while designing, which is pretty impressive and efficient.”

In fact, the smallest of the three homes had a budget for construction costs of a mere $55,000. With purse strings that tight, Trettel had to create inventive concepts like keeping the homes’ dimensions in check with the materials’ dimensions, therefore wasting nothing.

The windows are all new, but he got them from Habitat for Humanity — they were extras or never picked up. Because the windows are mismatched, the design had to reflect that money-saving aspect so Trettel choose to paint them various colors and keep the cement fiber board exterior a rich neutral tone. The 1,000-square-foot home is a product of almost entirely recycled and reclaimed materials.

This well-crafted trio of homes has sleek angles, great sight lines within the houses, beautiful craftsmanship throughout and a design aesthetic that is rich in its brilliance. But the homeowners all have had to play an enormous part in fashioning their “dream homes.”

“As for sweat equity, Marcos has built the whole garage,” Markoulatos says. “We didn’t have any labor for that in our budget. He has traded out labor for some of the countertops and cabinetry. I’ve done all the painting inside and out, and we’ve both worked on the floors, laying the bamboo and tile, and finishing the concrete. Luckily, Marcos and I work well as a team. Scott has helped us with everything along the way too. He’s a great builder/marital counselor.”

The open spaces flooded with natural light and the inherent fluidity of Trettel’s designs have me longing to roll up my sleeves, invest some sweat equity and affix an addition on to my circa 1870s house, fusing the best of the construction process of days gone by with the amazing direction of building, designing and fabricating, Scott Trettel-style.