The first things you notice when you step foot in the newly built modern Scandinavian-style home uniquely nestled into the established neighborhood in Mahtomedi, are the open-concept floor plan, the light and bright rooms, the quality finishes and efficient use of space, and the decidedly “less is more” approach to the décor synonymous with the style that has its origins in the cold, winter days of Northern Europe.
But to John Sharkey, owner of Sharkey Design Build and GreenHalo Builds, it’s also what you don’t see that makes this innovative, Reggie award-winning 2,200-square-foot home so appealing. Especially if you like the idea of spending a mere $300 a year on utility costs. Yes, you heard that right: $300 a year.
But more on that later.
Sharkey began his foray into the construction business at the age of 15 re-roofing houses with his sister’s boyfriend. And, he says, “When I turned 18, I just kind of accidentally started a construction company when a family friend in the business asked if I wanted to do all the roofs and siding.”
Large contracts followed and things were humming along until the housing crash of 2008. Always adaptable, Sharkey quickly pivoted to flipping homes. But as things started to improve economically, someone asked if he could build a custom home.
“Sure!” says Sharkey. “I realized then that was my niche and I created Sharkey Design Build.”
The creation of GreenHalo Builds, which is also run out of the Sharkey Design Build downtown Stillwater office, once again began when someone approached Sharkey—this time about building “healthy” homes.
He loved the idea.
“We did a lot of research on the subject of healthy living and healthy homes, such as solar energy, low VOC products, high-efficiency heating and cooling,” says Sharkey. “It took us about two years to put together a business plan and pick the right partners.”
And with a plan in place, Sharkey and GreenHalo set out to build “net-zero” homes, meaning the cost of operating and maintaining the home is drastically reduced, compared to typical homes.
“People were dabbling in this net-zero living in the Twin Cities, but it’s mostly been in homes that are priced at $800,000 and above,” says Sharkey. “I wanted to make it more obtainable.”
The Mahtomedi home priced in at $499,900.
The Nuts and Bolts
But what, exactly, are the elements of GreenHalo homes that allow for those delightfully low energy and maintenance costs and high indoor air quality? Well, according to Sharkey, there are many.
First, all GreenHalo homes have a minimum of 14 solar panels to power it; they can go much higher in number, but they want to keep the price point down so their typical number is 14. “And there is an $8,000 rebate (half from Xcel Energy and half from the federal government), so that’s a really big component of savings,” says Sharkey.
Another element is the structurally engineered panels (SIPs), which are 15 times more airtight than traditional insulation; an airtight home means less cost to heat and cool.
Each home design, too, lends itself to this idea of no wasted space. “The fronts of each home can be created to look any way the homeowner wants, but the backs and the sides of the homes are squared off to avoid any loss of energy,” says Sharkey. “No bump-outs or bay windows.”
Inside the homes, it’s all about using the healthiest, most efficient products out there. The Mahtomedi model, for the bamboo flooring, showcases an environmentally friendly company, Cali, which is known for its extremely low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) it puts off into the home and environment. There are LED lights to reduce energy costs, a high-efficiency HVAC system, a “smart” technology system, Andersen windows, LP siding, just to name a few.
Have an electric vehicle? Yep, each GreenHalo home comes equipped with a Tesla charging station in the garage.
Beautiful, Functional … and Popular
Sharkey highlighted the Mahtomedi home on the Fall Parade of Homes. It was a hit. “We had over 800 people come through the home; and some people came from six hours away to see it,” he says. “They love the idea of it. “
The home also features custom cabinetry and millwork—thanks to the company’s in-house cabinet makers—and in the kitchen, Cosentino waterfall countertops, a “space for everything” pantry that will make you want to amp up your cooking skills, high-end appliances and a conveniently located dining area. A cozy living area with lots of light pouring in is the perfect spot to sit and chat.
Upstairs, Cali floors in a lighter blonde wood sets the stage—not to mention makes for a healthier home by having no carpeting—and the space boasts a “pajama lounge” that acts as a second place to hang out and relax, laundry room, two impressive bedrooms, a perfectly appointed master suite, and a second-story teak deck. A dropdown attic ladder leads to a plethora of storage space, as the home is built on a concrete slab.
With the popularity and enthusiasm for the homes, Sharkey is excited for what lies ahead.
Along with the interior design expertise of Christina Miller, owner of Christina Lynn Interiors in White Bear Lake, GreenHalo has built, decorated and sold eight houses, has a ninth and tenth in process, and they just broke ground on the first of 14 homes in an “eco village” in Stillwater, called EcoRidge.
“We’re trying to create a community of like-minded people that want to live this healthy kind of lifestyle,” said Sharkey. “It will be all solar powered, we’ll be working with naturalists to help with community garden and landscape design, there will be paths and lots of outdoor living,” said Sharkey.
Folks can choose an existing design to speed up the building process, or they can pick a plan and customize it to meet their needs.
The enthusiasm has been so great, in fact, that Sharkey thinks he’ll be building more healthy homes than traditional homes.
From Colleague to Customer
Miller, who selected the interior and exterior finishes for all the GreenHalo models thus far, is also a devotee of the modern Scandinavian aesthetic, and the idea of environmentally friendly living. And as of February, she’s a customer.
“I’m excited and honored to be part of these projects as their interior designer, as well as living in my very own GreenHalo home,” says Miller.
That $300 Annual Utility Cost?
“When I say $300 a year, it’s not like we’re trying to figure it out on the back of a napkin; I pay for these homes to get energy audited,” says Sharkey. “It all comes down to the HERS rating, which tells you how energy efficient a home is. Our Mahtomedi house had a HERS rating of 24, which was the lowest on the entire Parade of Homes tour.”
On average, the HERS rating on assessed homes in Minnesota in 2020 was 58.
“The whole Builder’s Association was really captivated by this number because they don’t see anybody pushing it to this level,” says Jen McAlpin, owner of McAlpin Marketing, who helps spread the word about GreenHalo.
And Sharkey knows this is where his heart is.
“We have a ton of passion behind this,” he says. “It’s something new and fresh—and who doesn’t want to live in a healthy home.”