Greening your home's exterior

Summer is an ideal time to work on home improvements that will help your home last longer, keep you healthy, and increase energy efficiency. Take a walk around your home and assess what improvements need doing this summer.Instead of the usual grass front lawn, Q has planted Scottish moss.

Inspect the foundation for cracks. Foundation cracks can be a pathway for moisture and pests to enter a home. Excessive moisture can lead to mold and structural deterioration, and pests can affect a home’s structure and indoor air quality. Repair indoor and outdoor cracks right away or hire a professional to do it.

Inspect gutters and downspouts for damage or blockage. To prevent water from coming into your home, gutters should drain several feet away from the foundation. Add downspout extensions if needed. Consider a raingarden at the base of a downspout to soak up the water, but locate the garden at least 10 feet from your foundation.

Remove vegetation within one foot of the foundation. Planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead air space that insulates your home in both summer and winter. But keep full-grown vegetation at least one foot from the foundation to minimize moisture problems.

Increase slope next to foundation. Over time, soil has a tendency to settle, which can cause negative sloping that directs water towards, rather than away from, a home's foundation.  Encourage proper drainage by sloping the ground away from the house. This video shows you proper grading around your home.

Install a rain barrel. Save water and money by irrigating grass and ornamental plants with water from a rain barrel. Most commercially sold barrels are designed to keep mosquitoes out. You can also make your own! Organizations like Friends of the Mississippi River offer classes that teach you how.

Check the roof for damaged shingles. Repair or replace loose and raised shingles or bent flashing around chimneys and vents. For improved durability, consider installing a metal roof or a light colored, 40-year asphalt roof. For more information on roofing choices, see Eco Roofing Options.

Check siding for peeling or blistered paint. Replace peeling and blistering paint. If repainting, use exterior paints that are low- or no- VOC (volatile organic chemicals) and formaldehyde-free.

Inside home illustrationSeal exterior air leaks. Sealing on the outside of your home not only prevents air from entering, it can also prevent damage to siding, walls, insulation, windows, and doors due to moisture intrusion.

There are many places to apply caulking or foam to weather seal the exterior of your home: doors and windows; vents for furnaces, dryers, water heaters, air exchangers; entry points for wires, pipes, cables, faucets. Learn to caulk and seal your house by downloading the Home Energy Guide from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

If re-siding your home, choose long-lasting materials. Steel and fiber-cement siding are especially durable. Steel can be recycled at the end of its useful life. Remember to do an energy audit if you replace siding. Properly installed, new siding can make your house much tighter, which can change the fresh air requirements for occupants or for some combustion appliances.

Upgrade exterior lights. Switch exterior bulbs to energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LED). Consider upgrading to ENERGY STAR qualified outdoor fixtures. Adding motion detectors to exterior lights can also save energy.

Build a greener deck or patio. If you build a deck, use:

Another option is to install a patio. Compared to decks, patios typically require fewer materials to construct. Consider constructing your patio with pavers that let the water through. Pervious pavers allow water to soak into the ground, which helps to recharge groundwater and reduce pollutant-laden runoff.

Consider solar. Adding solar electricity panels or solar hot water panels can reduce your carbon footprint and save you money in the long-run. An installer will perform a site assessment to determine if your house is a good candidate for solar. Find an installer near you at Clean Energy Project Builder.