Thorntree Commons at Suttons Bay
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AUGUST 31 2007
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August 31, 2007

The New York Times has again mentioned Leelanau in its travel section, this time in an article about celebrity chef Mario Batali, who spends his summers in northern Michigan.

[Batali] flies into Traverse City, then drives to his house a half-hour away. "I can leave New York at 8 a.m. on a Friday and be right where I am now by 11 a.m.," he said, looking out contentedly at the sparkling blue water on a cloudless day in early August. "The best thing is, no one on either coast knows what is going on in this part of the country or how great it is."

The full article can be found online here.

August 18, 2007

The other day I received an email reminder from Sarah Susanka concerning her recently-released public television special and DVD, "The Not So Big House: Home By Design".

Sarah's books have had a huge influence on our vision for Thorntree Commons, so I can't recommend enough that you find time to watch the special. Most of the air dates have already passed, but you can see if it's showing soon in your area on the Not So Big House website. If you missed it or if it's not showing near you, you can always order the DVD. You can even see an introduction by Sarah on YouTube.

August 9, 2007

Thorntree Commons has officially signed on with the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. I became interested in GLREA as the result of repeated comments from those in the field whose work and dedication I admired. It just seemed like an important connection for Thorntree to make. This organization happens also to be the sponsoring agency for the now annual Michigan Energy Fair. For anyone who wishes to learn a great deal about green and sustainable energy sources and applications, I can think of no more efficient way to learn than spending a day or two at the Fair.

My perspective is that of a green and sustainable residential developer and based on that my focus is the energy efficiency of homes. I don't wish to diminish the importance of other issues like indoor air quality, lifetime design, advanced construction techniques, minimizing material waste, local sourcing, etc, but at Thorntree we particularly emphasize the energy side of building green.

As I see it, there are two major pieces to the energy puzzle; first, greatly reducing the demand for finite, carbon based fuels with their inherent negative side impacts; and second, where energy is needed, maximizing the use of clean and renewable sources. The GLREA is dedicated to a systematic program of education and advocacy for renewable energy systems, with a special understanding and sensitivity to the needs and natural resources we have in the Great Lakes Basin.

As an aside, I personally do not believe the use of food crops, even with their renewable component, is an answer to our dilemma. Its current public support is misguided and the fact that it is viewed with such favor is more of indicator of the problem than it is an answer. I can't remember who said it, but the comment has stayed with me: "Ethanol is a mixture of corn and taxes." Taxation used to promote energy technology is important and necessary, but not to subsidize food crops for fuel. If you, the reader, have an opinion on this issue, I always welcome comments and discussion at

August 2, 2007

What better way to spend a beautiful July weekend in Suttons Bay than at the incredible annual Jazz Festival? It has been a success since its inception fifteen years ago and it just gets better every year. With the right amount of dedication one can take in a great six hours plus of fine performances. While this year some responsibilities at Thorntree kept me from watching every performance start to finish, what I did hear was knock-your-socks-off jazz; a transporting and mesmerizing experience.

Our famous local jazz icon, Harry Goldson, was once again at the top of his game, as were the Interlochen Arts Academy Big Band. The Western Michigan University Jazz Quartet had the audience jumping out-of-seats, much to the credit of their wonderfully maniacal one-man percussion section. How could all of that come out of just one guy?

The featured artist of the event was the Marcus Roberts Trio (pictured above), consisting of Marcus Roberts, Roland Guerin and Jason Marsalis. When you combine drive, finesse, precision and subtlety of expression with a totally class act stage presence, what more could you want? And there was a surprise bonus- Bob James just happened to be tagging along, so he and Harry Goldson joined Marcus at the keyboard for the finale. The end came too soon, but I suppose that's the old performer's mantra: always keep them wanting more.

The evening before, while enjoying the early evening on the porch of the family home across from the Park on St Mary's, I noticed a peculiar gathering of folks in uncommon attire even for Suttons Bay's libertarian summer tourist dress code. When the strange tents started popping up, I knew something interesting was about to commence. I decided to take my chair across the street and join the crowd to see what was going on. What followed was a very entertaining rendition of "Comedy of Errors", presented by local talent based in Traverse City. To me, this is just one of countless examples of "where there is a beautiful place to live, talented people will find a way to live there."

Those who were missing out on Shakespeare could have been enjoying the "Tour de Tart" Leelanau Trail fun and fundraiser. For a reasonable donation, one would get a bus ride to Traverse City (with bike on board) and then a cycling return to Suttons Bay on the Tart Trail. This excursion included food and drink along the way and a meal in the marina park at completion of the ride. And, luckily, the weather Gods were with us all weekend.

One passing reminder: if you live at Thorntree, all this is just a short walk away.

July 21, 2007

As you can see from the image above, Thorntree Commons at Suttons Bay has been recognized as a participant in the LEED-H Pilot Program. I am very pleased to have earned this designation, as it allows me to offer members of Thorntree an additional protocol and educational tool to assist them in the design and build process. I will be working with the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability based in Grand Rapids for training and educational support as well as coordination of the testing, commissioning and rating procedures.

As the developer of Thorntree, and in recognition of what I think is a very useful program, I will pay for the commissioning costs for any member who chooses to build a home that meets LEED-H Silver designation. A message that I want to emphasize is this-- whether one elects to proceed within the context of Thorntree's own covenants and requirements or with the integration of the LEED-H protocols, helping the member to move forward with the design and build process is our goal. Providing resource information and new options to consider are central to our goal. The end result will be an even more beautiful, more efficient and smarter home that will live well and produce a return on investment.

The certification document makes reference to "David Bahle... a builder participating...". This is both correct and potentially misleading, and so I want to be clear: I do in fact have a current Michigan Residential Builders License, but it was obtained approximately twenty years ago and done so for the educational benefit I could gain from going through the process. I have never been a practicing builder or a general contractor and I have no intention of doing so at Thorntree. Each member of Thorntree will select a designer and builder that he or she concludes best meets particular needs and tastes. If a member wants to meet someone who I can recommend, I will pass that information on for consideration. In terms of why the LEED-H program has no language in place for a "developer participating in the LEED for Homes Pilot Demonstration", I've been told that they had no idea there would be a developer who would be willing to make a financial commitment such as this.

When I am uncertain as to best course of action, I try to imagine it looking back twenty years from now. What would I be more proud of? To have participated and perhaps helped shape a very beneficial program will be very satisfying.

July 19, 2007

Once again the New York Times has brought attention to the beautiful Leelanau region. I was pleased to see in the Friday July 13 "Escape" section of the Times a story on Leelanau Wine country with its reference to Suttons Bay:

Loop back and lose your way on the longer and wider Leelanau Peninsula, exploring winding country roads and precious little towns like Suttons Bay, with a neat row of restaurants and boutiques, and blink-and-you'll-miss-it Lake Leelanau.

The full article can be found online here.

June 29, 2007

The 2007 Michigan Energy Fair is history but I'm confident that it will be remembered fondly by all of us who participated (aching feet and knees notwithstanding - the morning after felt like I'd just had my first basketball practice of the season). Many thanks to everyone at the GLREA for their months of planning and the fine execution of this increasingly significant event. What a great way to meet interesting and bright people who are ready and willing to share ideas. I plan on being a volunteer again next year.

Special thanks from me to the folks at Image Design and Hybrid Homes and the rest of their team for allowing me to assist where I could and direct people to their truly incredible Demonstration Green Home, and for allowing me some time to introduce my project in Suttons Bay. The websites for Image Design, Hybrid Homes, and the 2007 Michigan Energy Fair are good places to learn more about what our futures could and should look like. These are great people to consider in your design/build decision-making process.

The one clear message I got out of the Energy Fair was the importance of educating ourselves about sustainability. For those of us who are connected to it as a livelihood, having an informed and committed understanding of what is possible and worthy of consideration becomes all the more important. Exactly which products and methodologies do I wish to recommend to my customers and clients? My own awareness and understanding has been on an upward trajectory for several years, but there is nothing like the diversity and depth of commitment one sees at an event like this to remind me that I always need to be doing more, and that the classroom should never be left behind.

I look forward to next year's event, and I will be in attendance to better represent my small inclusion in the whole scheme of things, but this time it will not be as a vendor or booth "personality." Instead, it will be as a student in the workshops, listening and asking questions in the presentations and bugging vendors on the details of their products and services. Information based on better understanding is the best and most effective way I can make Thorntree a better place to live.

June 27, 2007

Last month I walked Thorntree with my camera to create a visual record of the progress we are making. You can see the resulting Photo Tour in the Photo Gallery.

What you see is the entrance and a sequence of photos as I walk the property. It's obvious that the real road is not there yet, but the entire development is already very accessible (no four wheel drive required), all just from the work that was needed to selectively harvest the pines and hardwoods to make way for the road.

The gentleman you see is Fred Walton, from Popp Excavating. I hate to brag about his work too much, but he is truly an artist behind the controls of every earth moving machine I have had the privilege to see him operate. He does what needs to be done both by being a good listener and by providing good suggestions. The area that Fred is working on is what the engineers call a retention basin, but the way we will be shaping it and planting it, it will be a lot more like a rain garden.

My thanks to Fred, Greg, Ron, and all the others at Popp for their willingness to accommodate my short term needs and for waiting patiently for the start of the official road later this summer. We'll continue to add updates as the process continues.

I had a good time this past weekend at the 2007 Michigan Energy Fair. You can read a news article about the Fair in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

We also recently made some minor changes to the main page, including a new photo. Let us know what you think.

June 2, 2007

First, we're excited that Mary Bigelow has featured some kind words about Thorntree on her blog at Active Rain. Thanks, Mary!

We left Grand Rapids very early last Friday morning to attend a workshop in Leelanau called Environmentally Sensitive Design and Creating Change. It was organized by the Leelanau County Commission for Planning and Community Development. The 8:30 start seemed a bit daunting but we both felt later that it was well worth the trip.

The more significant presenter was Robin W. Green, the President of Hidden Creek, Limited who was responsible for the creation and development of Hidden Creek at Darby, near Columbus, Ohio. It is well worth the time to visit the web site: The focus of her mission was to protect the Creek, which is considered one of the finest examples of fresh water habitat in the nation. Everything was done with utmost consideration for maintaining and improving its water quality and protecting and re-establishing an ecosystem that would nurture the Creek and the wetlands. I was absolutely convinced that her dedication was well informed and unselfish with respect to the natural resource part of the picture.

I was disappointed, though, that there was not greater attention given to the energy efficiency and sustainable design and build aspects of the project as it related to the homes. I believe the eventual buildout of the clustered development is one hundred and twenty homes. For preservation purposes, home siting is quite clearly defined within each unit of land, but that siting criteria does not encourage or require passive solar gain or natural earth sheltering. Any building methods that may have very beneficial energy use advantages are at the whim of the home owner. What a perfect opportunity to provide strong direction, or better yet, requirements that all homes meet significant levels of energy efficiency along with other sustainable practices. It really is a part of environmental preservation to build energy efficient homes. What is worse on the planet and its existing habitat than global warming? Carbon emissions from homes is a huge contributor.

We all have an opportunity to learn from the experience of others and Robin Green has done much to provide a model to work from. It is my opinion that the next time around, the design and construction of the homes should be given as much attention as the preservation element.

On another note, Jean and I were given a great book for anyone looking into Green Building: Good Green Homes by Jennifer Roberts. We strongly recommend it.

May 31, 2007

I recently attended a workshop at the Grand Rapids Community College Applied Technology Center. This workshop was devoted to a better understanding of the three most well known green building rating systems: Green Built (Michigan), LEED-for Homes and Energy Star. The presenter was Brian Schultz who heads the Sustainable Building Department at GRCC and has been instrumental in the collaboration between LEED-H and Habitat for Humanity in Grand Rapids.

The significant points that I garnered from the session were the overlapping characteristics and requirements and the similar rating processes. If you look back to some of my early observations regarding what is green, I referred to the fact that functioning as a green consumer requires the same kind of skills and attention as consuming in any other market place. It is an economy within a larger economy, whose products and services have varying degrees of quality and functionality.

There is no question that there is a bureaucratic element to engaging in a green home rating process, but it will pay dividends later. It may also be a good way to sort out the competence and the commitment of the builder you will need to find. To that extent, if your designer and building have little understanding of the various green home rating entities and how they work, their understanding of building green is likely suspect. There is a significantly greater assurance that your home will function well in terms of energy efficiency and be a healthy place to live if some process and content observer is brought into the design-build continuum. That third party observer/rater also takes some of the pressure off of you, the homeowner, with respect to understanding some of the more complex aspects of doing it right the first time.

Finally, the additional cost of having a green rated home: Because I believe absolutely that we cannot continue to ignore the realities of diminishing resources, environmental degradation and the health of the planet, it is time to just do it better before it is too late. As the developer of Thorntree Commons, I have made the commitment to pay for the rating/commissioning of any LEED-H "Silver" home at Thorntree. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you have regarding this issue and your thoughts on the other rating systems.

You can find information on the origins of each of these institutions and more at the following web sites:

May 27, 2007

Our friends at U of M have sent along a brief update on the graduate project revolving around Thorntree Commons:

At the University of Michigan, work continues to be done on Thorntree's sustainable design guidelines. A document was produced which outlines required and recommended design features along with technical products and materials to be used for the homes built at Thorntree Commons. The design guidelines will also identify building products, materials and systems that contribute to energy and water conservation, indoor environmental air quality, and reduced site disturbance. At present, the University of Michigan researchers are developing schematic prototype designs for the green residences through a series of annotated diagrams. These diagrams visually illustrate how the proposed strategies may materialize in a schematic residential design. A narrative accompanies the diagrams in order to elaborate on the pros/cons of the strategy and to clarify under what conditions its use is most appropriate.

May 2, 2007

First things first, we've decided to adopt a new reimbursement policy to encourage LEED-H Silver certification for new homes at Thorntree. We've added a new article to the Vision section, entitled Considering LEED For Homes.

Many of you may be familiar with the name Adam Bearup and Hybrid Homes, but if not you probably will be soon. His leadership in the field of green and sustainable building is becoming more and more apparent. As mentioned in recent news updates, I have had the privilege of getting to know Adam over the last several months and our trust and commitment to a "better way" is leading us to work in concert more frequently. When I get to the 2007 Michigan Energy Fair in late June, I will be the small fish swimming in Adam's pond, but I can't think of a more satisfying and rewarding place to let people know about Thorntree and the values it shares with Adam's commitments. Eric Hughes of Image Design, a frequent collaborator with Adam will also play a big role in the Fair. Most notable is the demonstration green home that they will be presenting at the Fair, previewed above.

Last week Adam and his lovely wife were spending a working/pleasure get away in Leelanau and I was able to give him his first personal tour of Thorntree at Suttons Bay. Fortunately for me, the property does not take a clever sales pitch to sell it... its beauty and thoughtful lay out speaks for itself. I look forward to further conversations with Adam and Eric and what we can do to make Hybrid Homes and Image Design regular contributors to the structural landscape at Thorntree.

April 25, 2007

Last week the Leelanau Enterprise printed an article about Thorntree. We're delighted. You can read it online at

This coming Monday (April 30th) I'll be attending the first of four Renewable Energy Conferences at Grand Rapids Community College. If you're free and interested (and don't mind paying the $10 registration fee) I would recommend this series. Monday's course is on Solar Photovoltaics.

Last month I attended a workshop sponsored by the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability in Grand Rapids; the venue was the offices of the Greater Grand Rapids Home Builders Association headquarters. The purpose of the meeting was to provide updates on Energy Star rating issues. Mike Holcomb from the Alliance was the presenter.

I encourage anyone interested in building in a green and more sustainable way to keep Energy Star as a regular checkpoint for important updates on what are the priority positions at the federal level. I am consistently disappointed in the lack of leadership from the White House and Congress, but what "comes-down" that can be of benefit should be acknowledged and implemented to the degree that it moves us in a better direction. Energy Star plays a big role in green rating systems generally and all active commissioning institutions, not the least of which is LEED for Homes.

If there is one central point that this workshop wanted to emphasize, it was the careful control of the building envelope. As we better understand and implement the concept of super-insulation the more we realize that it has important considerations besides R-value. This does not mitigate the resistance to heat transfer aspect, but the best and highest end result is not achieved if we fail to address infiltration/air movement issues.

To put it more simply, "sections" with insulation to the max without similar attention to air infiltration fail to achieve the benefit that super-insulation implies. Lack of attention to the integrity of the total envelope also negates the potential for better indoor air quality that is a major component in green building.

In other site news, you may notice that we've added a link to Hybrid Homes on our top navigation menu. As mentioned in our March 13th news update, we've been in regular communication with Adam Bearup from Hybrid and we're excited about his insights and ideas. We hope to continue to work closely with Hybrid as Thorntree comes together, and we wanted to make this connection clear and prominent on our website. We recommend checking out Adam's Hybrid Journal, which he updates regularly.

We're also working on adding a new subsection of the resources page that will aggregate some external articles relating to sustainable building and renewable energy. Stay tuned.

March 19, 2007

On March 12, I attended a presentation at Grand Rapids Community College on Wind Power in Michigan. The presenter was Rich VanderVeen, President of Mackinaw Power, LLC. I had been to a workshop of Rich's a couple years ago and they were both worth the time and very interesting. I did note that his political courage has been raised a notch or two, at least from my observation. His company is responsible for the most dramatic efforts to incorporate renewable and sustainable energy alternatives into the power grid. The two beautiful wind turbines just south of the Mackinaw Bridge are the result of his efforts.

The most important immediate issue is the passage of Senate Bill NO. 213 (PDF here). It has important endorsements from both major parties and it is an essential piece of legislation if Michigan is going to have a chance to reap the benefits of any renewable energy system. Its introduction is, "A bill to require providers of electric services to comply with a portfolio standard for renewable energy; to create energy diversity for the long-term security of our economy and environment; to promote the health of our citizens; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain state agencies and officials; and to provide for penalties."

To simplify, Michigan does not have rules and regulation established in any uniform way that allows for the tie-in of alternative power sources with the traditional power grid. Without established connection regulations, "green" power will always be a minor contributor to our energy needs. There are very few states that have not addressed this important issue and we are one of the most conspicuous nonconformists. Correcting this situation would lead to a more diverse energy base, create jobs in Michigan and reduce our demand for energy beyond our borders. The energy companies have been the greatest obstacle... if it passes they would be forced to come on board. This need is inevitable, so why not join forces now? Contact your legislators and get them to support this very timely bill.

For other information on wind power, try the American Wind Energy Association, Wind Energy Basics, Wikipedia, and/or Mackinaw Power.

March 13, 2007

I have been communicating via e-mail and cel phone with Adam Bearup of Hybrid Homes for the last several weeks. This guy is impressive; it almost makes you wonder if he's for real. The message came across loud and clear early on from Adam: "Don't even talk to me if you're not really committed to doing something better."

A visit to will quickly show you why we're so impressed. Adam has two generations worth of investigation into products and processes that lead to very energy efficient homes, designed to be as attractive and pleasing as any home on the market but with the payback of significant reductions in cost of ownership as compared with homes with less thoughtful construction methods.

We have been passing information back and forth on our respective involvements in sustainable and Green building practices. The more we talked the more we each had the sense that we shared a common interest in sustainable building and could work together for the future.

The photos you see here are from my visit to a home just under construction in Holland, Michigan. I wanted to get some shots so that Thorntree visitors could have an introductory real-world view of a home going up with the BuildBlock Insulating Concrete Forms ( system. For some detailed information about Insulating Concrete Forms, the Wikipedia entry on ICFs is extremely helpful.

I was very impressed with this product, and Adam swears by it. Anyone who considers making Thorntree their home should take the time to look at this product and seriously consider making it a part of their design process.

Adam (left) and his right hand man, John Beyrle, working on the site.

We are talking about doing a joint presentation of green building at the 2007 Michigan Energy Fair in Onekama, Michigan June 22-24. This annual fair brings together energy experts, vendors and companies to educate the public about solutions to our energy future. More information on the fair can be found at the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association website. I will be on hand to answer any questions about Thorntree Commons, and I know that Adam and his well chosen colleagues will have a wealth of information to share.

March 7, 2007

We're showcasing Lois Bahle's Solar Envelope home in Suttons Bay near Thorntree. We think anyone interested in Thorntree will enjoy reading about Lois's home, which is in some ways a model for the type of homes that will be built at Thorntree. You can find the new article in the Vision section of the site.

Also in the Vision section, you can now view and download the Thorntree Commons Master Deed and Bylaws. Make sure you have Adobe Viewer installed in order to read and print the files.

Finally, we've put some new Winter photos in the Photo Gallery. We hope you'll enjoy them.

February 22, 2007

The Road To Thorntree

The big news is that as of February 6, the Thorntree Commons Master Deed and Bylaws have been filed with the county registrar, which makes Thorntree Commons a legal reality! The major road construction process is scheduled to begin in early spring, and now, in addition to reservations, units can be sold and their deeds recorded. Things are happening quickly.

You'll no doubt notice that we've changed the image on our front page. David took this photo last fall as the road through Thorntree was being selectively cleared. We thought now was the time to start showcasing Thorntree's progress visually on the front page. Look for more such updates as the project goes ahead.

Finally, we've added some new links to our list of recommended sustainable builders, architects and designers, and we should be adding several more in coming weeks.

January 22, 2007

Thorntree has been featured in the Nov. 16th issue of Northern Express magazine; click the photo above for a larger image (PDF, 1.25mb).

We've added a link to Steinorth Fine Homes to our Friends and Partners page. This list of links is intended to showcase builders, architects designers and others who we believe have demonstrated a commitment to quality work and an appreciation for the need to build "smart" and sustainably for the future.

Finally, Hanna Doniger, a visitor to the Thorntree website, has provided for us via email some insightful thoughts and resources, and we suspect that prospective Thorntree members and others interested in Green building will agree. We've asked Hanna for her permission to post her correspondence here, and she has kindly agreed.

If you would like to contact us in a similar fashion, please do not hesitate to send an email to David Bahle at

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