Tod and Evelyn Frolking are turning their property into a pocket neighborhood of small, solar-powered homes.
For years, Tod and Evelyn Frolking of Granville pondered the question: Is big better when it comes to home building? The Frolkings were not developers by trade, but they do come with informed and valuable experience. Tod is a professor emeritus in the geosciences department at Denison University, where he helped found the college’s environmental studies program.
“I’ve dealt with people and the land all my life,” he says.
Evelyn served 14 years as the headmistress of the private Welsh Hills School where she led an impressive fundraising campaign and building project in the 1990s to move and reconstruct a historic 1810 house so that it became the centerpiece of a new school complex. Fifteen years ago, she retired from education and started Studio Artiflora, a floral design studio that she runs out of her home today.
While they were busy professionals, back in the 1980s, the couple traveled to Germany and Denmark, where they were introduced to sustainable housing concepts, such as net-zero apartments and solar-powered homes. In the late 1990s, they read architect Sarah Susanka’s book “The Not So Big House” and followed her small house countermovement to the building wave of McMansions that was in effect. After the housing crash of 2008, “The Not So Big House” seemed to make even more sense to them.
In recent years, as the Frolkings were considering retirement, they started looking at ways to responsibly develop their six-acre historic farmstead, which sits within the village of Granville. They wanted to downsize their personal property and generate some income. One option was to sell the land. It certainly was a marketable piece of property as the only farmland inside Granville’s borders. Yet, the Frolkings fretted that potential buyers would turn the farmstead into an apartment complex. (The land already had been zoned for apartments.)
“We didn’t want to see that happen,” says Evelyn. “Our neighbors and [residents of] the village would be aghast.”
After living in their 1890s farmhouse for 30 years, they were reluctant to stray far from the property’s agrarian roots. Here, they had raised chickens and goats, loaned a garden plot to a produce vendor at the local farmer’s market and boarded horses, including a white Percheron named Toby who, for a while, was a carriage horse that clomped around the village’s streets.
They started to consider alternatives to selling the land, possibly keeping the farmhouse and barn while developing the land themselves. Eventually, their vision took shape for a pocket community of 10 small houses. After much thought, the Frolkings became developers. On the back acres of their property, they decided to create a small community called “Village Roots—A Farmstead Neighborhood.”
“We envisioned a neighborhood of like-minded people who valued solar energy, green construction practices, smaller homes and historic-looking design,” says Evelyn.
The challenge was designing homes that were energy-efficient yet architecturally stylish, so they called on architect David Labocki of Fidei Architecture in Akron and builder Jordon Labocki of Labocki Homes, who both brought experience in green design and building practices.
Together, the couple and their hired professionals articulated a vision for the homes as detailed in the development’s marketing materials.
“Each home captures the beauty of space but with efficiency,” explains the statement. “Every room is used every day. Every room is filled with details and designed to accommodate the lifestyles of its occupants—functional space, natural light, integrated storage, rich wood, ceramic tile, versatile bamboo, and ‘unabashedly comfortable,’ as author Suskana says. The houses in Village Roots will make better use of raw materials and use less energy to create a place of beauty while increasing the quality of life in the process.”
David Labocki created three designs—all Craftsman-style with maintenance-free fiber cement board exterior siding, stone accents, covered patios, screened porches, low-slung rooflines, wide eaves with decorative supports, tapered columns and a palette of bungalow color options. The homes are one-and-a-half stories and average 2,500 square feet of living space. They feature two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a great room, a full or partial basement, a detached two-car garage with covered walkway plus an “away room” that serves as a den, office, fitness room or third bedroom. Each custom home starts at $550,000.
“Some would say we’re foolish and somewhat risky, but it’s been a nice transition [into retirement] for us, especially Tod,” says Evelyn. For example, Tod recognized that their property’s south-sloping topography was an ideal location to build a series of homes with solar-paneled rooflines positioned toward the sun.
Once the Frolkings finalized plans and secured approvals from the village, they started developing the land and common areas. They cleared some brush, retaining a giant sycamore tree and some other greenery. Next, they created the cul-de-sac and named it “Old Sycamore Lane.” They purchased a 19th century Mail Pouch barn and dismantled it with plans to reassemble it this year as a storage space with a wood-working area and an adjoining greenhouse. They also plan to add a community garden with plots for each resident.
Village Roots takes shape as the buzz for small living expands nationally with more eco-villages, tiny house vacation retreats and backyard granny pods. Tod estimates the payback for the solar panels will be eight to 10 years given the tax credit, electricity costs and Ohio’s solar power potential. An added bonus of installing solar panels on new homes is that the solar systems can be fully integrated into a home’s overall wiring plans.
In December, the Frolkings’ dream project got its first inhabitants. Larry and Heidi Drake became residents of Village Roots when they moved into their new home after living for 30 years in a 150-year-old, two-story house in German Village. As they anticipated that the steps to their German Village second floor would one day be a problem, the Drakes started searching for a new home. After considering a range of locations from Ohio to Maine to Europe and even Costa Rica, family members who lived in Granville read about Village Roots and shared an article with them.
“It was the first place where we both kept saying, ‘Huh, this place could really work,’” says Heidi. “What we really liked was it was a place we could age in without feeling like we were aging.” She pointed to the amenities of the common green spaces, bike path, accessibility to downtown Granville and Denison’s arts and theater performances.
For their new home, they started with one of the original design plans, then worked with the builder to tailor the interior space to their needs. They kept all the rooms on one level, creating vaulted ceilings in the living space and den. The builder also added custom details such as built-in bookshelves, ceiling beams and a tray ceiling with indirect lighting. They even added a display shelf for Larry’s collection of model ships and filled two transom windows with glass panels created by Franklin Art Glass of German Village. The home features 16 4,640-watt solar panels, a 10-kilowatt-hour LG solar battery, invertor and conduit for electric car charging, as well as an energy-efficient insulation package and heat pump.
“We’re waiting to see how much we’ll gain from the solar panels, since our home is brand new and so energy efficient in comparison to our installer’s other clients,” says Larry, offering his best guess at 25 percent in winter and 80 to 90 percent in the summer.
“The house is super energy efficient,” adds Heidi. “At our home in German Village our air probably turned over 10 times an hour, but here the home is so airtight we had to install an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) to turn over the air.
“Although we love, love, loved our 150-year-old house, it was not very energy efficient to say the least,” she adds. “So, the thought of having a house that was pretty airtight, and comfy and cozy, and also had solar panels and green building materials was in keeping with our values.”
With the first home now complete, the Frolkings are even more excited about the prospects for Village Roots. Three more homes are slated to begin construction this spring. As the neighborhood builds out, the couple says they anticipate staying in their vintage farmhouse nearby and becoming part of the community that they built.
“We’ve given up field walks with our dogs in exchange for coffee with new neighbors,” says Evelyn. Plus, the couple appreciates the peace of mind that comes in knowing the land’s use for future generations.
“Not everyone is concerned about legacy,” says Tod. “For us, it’s our legacy to leave the village with something better than they would have had.”