Design and remodeling

As a homeowner, you have a number of opportunities to make environmentally sound choices when building a new home or remodeling an existing one. Below are some ideas to consider and questions to ask when integrating green building concepts into your new construction or remodeling.

When it is time to build or remodel, you can minimize the ecological impacts and maximize the resource efficiency of your project, while also creating a healthier and more economical environment in which to live. Here are our guiding principles:

1. Build less

Always start with the question, “Do we need to build it in the first place?” A basic tenet of green building is to build less. Not only does new construction demand more in building materials, it can also contribute to urban sprawl and its associated environmental problems. Consider purchasing an existing house that is convenient to public transportation, work, shopping and other services. Alternatively, look into renovating your current home.

Then ask, “If we need to build, can we downsize new construction?” A smaller house demands fewer resources to construct, is easier (and more economical) to maintain and heat, and typically consumes less land space. It can also contribute to a greater feeling of coziness!

2. Be energy-efficient

A study in Michigan demonstrated that the construction, maintenance and operation of a 2,450 square foot, conventional house produces over 1,000 metric tons of global warming gases over its lifetime. This translates into 1.3 million metric tons of green-house gasses emitted annually from the US residential sector alone.

  • Before you start any project, arrange an energy audit to determine needed upgrades or improvements.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances and mechanical systems.
  • Maximize insulation and ventilation opportunities
  • Incorporate renewable energy sources where feasible.

3. Reduce, reuse, and recycle materials

  • Shop for “gently used” building components, or surplus items from manufacturers. Try Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores located throughout Minnesota.
  • Purchase and install materials with recycled-content to help close the recycling “loop” and conserve natural resources.
  • Select locally produced materials. This will reduce the environmental costs and the “embodied energy” associated with transporting long distances.
  • Install durable materials that will last a long time.
  • Encourage your building contractor to recycle, reduce and reuse materials to the greatest extent possible. Shop for a contractor who is familiar with and committed to “green” design and construction concepts. Consider offering your contractor a bonus for reducing, reusing and recycling materials.

4. Choose nonpolluting, healthy materials and indoor finishes

Some conventional building products contribute to poor indoor air quality. Off-gassing is the process by which chemicals are released, through vaporization, from materials into the air. Some building products can off-gas for days, while others may do so for years. Such fumes may be harmful to human health. In addition, the manufacturing process for many of these products can create pollution and health impacts for workers and communities.

  • Select formaldehyde-free pressed-wood products, insulation, and similar items. Products containing phenol-formaldehyde (used in exterior-grade plywood) tend to off-gas less than those containing urea-formaldehyde.
  • Choose no-VOC paints and finishes. VOCs can create health impacts when vaporized, which typically occurs at normal temperatures. A number of building products (like many paints, solvents, adhesives, building materials, and furnishings) release or off-gas VOCs.
  • Look for products that have been certified by GreenGuard, an independent testing program for low-emitting products.
  • Install flooring that can be easily cleaned, such as wood, natural linoleum, cork, polished concrete, and ceramic tile.

5. Protect and improve the site

  • If remodeling activities will impact the site, cover it with mulch first to protect the topsoil.
  • Preserve existing trees and other plants to the extent possible.
  • Consider pervious (permeable) paving for driveways and other paved surfaces. A pervious surface, such as compacted gravel and permeable pavers, will allow absorption of water, reducing stormwater runoff and pollution.
  • Use “native landscaping” techniques. Native plants, trees, and rain gardens will absorb water, reduce your heating and cooling costs, and provide habitat for wildlife. Check out the Yard and Garden page for more information!
  • Consider a green (vegetative) roof.

For more information

PDF icon Green Building: A healthier, more efficient home helps our environment (175Kb)

PDF icon Green Remodeling: Tips for Minnesota Homeowners (470Kb)

Are you a builder? Find about more about the MPCA’s green building program.

Find out more about residential green building.

Federal Tax credits for Home Improvements and Renewable Energy The recent federal stimulus bill has affected the tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements including windows and doors, insulation, HVAC, geothermal, water heaters, and biomass stoves. Homeowner tax credits for residential solar and wind systems and fuel cells. Tax credits available for home builders, too.

Minnesota-specific incentives and rebates: https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/your-home/save-energy-money/#3