Ely’s Adventure Inn is a Lean, Green, Hospitality Machine


by Jenna Lewein • August 2011
Solar panels on the roof of Adventure Inn

Susan and Mike Edgington know how important it is to protect the environment. As people who rely on the pristine beauty of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Superior National Forest to bring visitors, the Edgingtons, owners of Adventure Inn in Ely, MN, want to make sure that they are doing all they can to support a healthy environment. In 2009, they decided to replace their two old, inefficient buildings with one new, highly efficient one. With the help of Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), the Edgingtons were able to design and build a new structure that would reduce their total energy use by half, while getting as much of it from renewable sources as possible.

In fact, it was meeting two CERTs representatives that encouraged Susan and Mike to apply for a CERTs grant in the first place. CERTs Director Lissa Pawlisch and Jill Curran from Energy Smart stayed at Adventure Inn when the idea for a new, renovated facility was still just a dream in the Edgington’s heads. According to Susan, the visit “Planted the seed to find a green architect and to move forward with an energy saving design. So in a way, (they were) inspiration to go the extra mile.”

The Adventure Inn is a proud member of the Green Hotels Association, an organization made up of dedicated managers who strive to conserve water and energy while reducing solid wastes. Some of the many ways the Adventure Inn has been made more environmentally friendly include the installation of energy-efficient light bulbs, increasing green space to absorb runoff, collecting rainwater, shopping locally and installing a hook-up for electric vehicles.

The majority of Adventure Inn’s energy savings is generated by the installation of solar water heaters that provide hot water for the entire building. According to Conservation Technologies, the Duluth-based company that installed the system, it will reduce Adventure Inn’s yearly carbon footprint by 51,000 pounds.

In order to prepare for such a large project, the Edgingtons spent a lot of time in the planning stage. They met with Ely Economic Development, Susan says, “to get a feel” for their project. This meant they were able to bounce ideas off others and gain contacts, as well as reaffirm their decision to take on such an ambitious project.

They also spoke with other local business owners in order to see what other people had done to make their businesses more environmentally friendly. These businesses included The Laundry Room, a laundromat that uses a solar thermal system to heat its water for the washing machines, and Piragis Northwoods Company, a canoe outfitter that purchases wind power to keep the servers, data centers and offices that support its website up and running.

The Edgingtons contacted and hired Wagner Zaun, a green architecture firm located in Duluth, MN, to design the new building for the Adventure Inn. From the beginning, Susan states “Both Mark and myself felt comfortable with their expertise, we also had looked at one of their designs and really loved the thought that went into the building.”

According to Susan, the new building was going to have to hold their office, laundry and living quarters along with ten new guestrooms. “It took several designs to find a building that would give us everything we needed for our business without sacrificing our goal to reduce our footprint,” explained Susan, “We are blessed with southern exposure so the solar part was easy to include and we were able to maximize the number of panels to supply most of our hot water.” Susan adds that any excess hot water generated is run under part of the floor, which is made of materials that store thermal heat. Any heat absorbed by the floor will be slowly released underfoot, acting as an additional heat source in the wintertime.

One of the largest challenges was zoning. The Edgingtons found that they were limited to a specific size and area, and also found themselves in an unexpected tussle with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) over 17 feet of frontage road along the border of their property that MNDOT took in the 1930s for a snow fence. Looking back, Susan advises “We would recommend doing more background research with regulations,” as the initial design went over budget due to the constraints imposed. However, thanks to the cooperation between Adventure Inn and the Wagner Zaun architects, many of the design problems were resolved.

The new Adventure Inn opened for business in June 2011 and so far things are looking good. Susan says that the new rooms are already getting rave reviews and that the solar water heaters can heat their water up to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors can use this hot water to enjoy a soak in the Jacuzzi tubs included in their rooms while admiring the furniture built from reclaimed, century-old white pine.

As for the old buildings, they were “freecycled”. Susan explained: “We advertized (people) to come and take window, doors, usable toilets and furniture, sinks too. The Ely fire department will also use the building for a practice search and rescue by filling the rooms with smoke. When the building is gone, we will be paving over and making better parking for our guests.”

The Edgington’s Adventure Inn is set to inspire not only visitors but the community around it as well. Susan and Mark are sponsors of E3 or Energy Efficient Ely and are planning to host several workshops on energy savings and new renewable technology, with a small talk on their design and the building process. Susan also noted that she was surprised at how many local Ely residents have said they feel happy and uplifted by what they have done. By investing in their community, the Edgingtons have made it clear that they believe Ely is a great place to live and worth investing in. “Perhaps because we are looking forward and into the future,” Susan muses, “many others will feel a bit more secure about the future as a whole.”

Project Snapshot

  • Project: Replace the 2 older inefficient buildings of Adventure Inn with one super energy efficient, solar thermal building.
  • Technologies: Solar thermal water heaters, energy-efficient fixtures, increased green space, reclaimed lumber.
  • Grant: $2,500 NE CERT grant
  • Total Cost: $37,000+

For more information about the Adventure Inn, visit their website at http://www.adventureinn-ely.com or call Mark and Sue at 218-365-3140.

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Minnesotans building a clean energy future


    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission