A blueprint for reducing your carbon footprint at home

It is often said there are two seasons in Minnesota: Winter and road construction. But during the summertime, Minnesota construction spans wider than the freeways and roads. Besides road construction, it’s a busy time for homeowners tackling home improvement projects. In Southwest, in particular, finding ways to go “green” is a very popular trend. The city of Minneapolis has launched a new website giving residents an overview of all kinds of environmentally friendly building options. Here are highlights from the site:

Solar energy

Solar panels are a great option to heat water in Minneapolis homes, and their fuel is free. Passive solar systems utilize a building’s infrastructure to collect solar energy. These can be integrated with larger building or renovation projects to fuel a home’s daylight or for space and water heating.

Pitched roofs
Install a metal roof or 40-year shingles on the home. Metal roofs are both long lasting and can be recycled at the end of their lives, and 40-year-old shingles are replaced half as often as standard roofs. Additionally, choosing light-colored shingles will absorb less heat and can reduce the cost of air-conditioning in the summertime.

Insulation
Choose an insulation that is comprised of recycled material and additionally does not contain formaldehyde. Chronic exposure to formaldehyde is carcinogenic and can cause severe respiratory and pulmonary irritation.

Exterior walls
More options exist for housing additions and new walls than for simple siding replacement. To replace siding, use an underlayment of oriented strand board (OSB) that does not contain formaldehyde. For new walls, use structural insulated panels (SIPs) between layers of OSB. Or, for a complete structural innovation of exterior walls, use
insulated concrete forms or thermal mass walls.

High-efficiency windows  
 
Purchase durable windows efficient in insulating. Local utility companies can arrange for an energy audit in the home to estimate potential savings and prioritize places for improvement in energy efficiency for windows in your home.

Paint
In addition to paint, caulks, varnishes, sealants, and adhesives can be manufactured with low-, or no-volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Conventional paints are typically high in VOCs that diminish air quality. Alternatively, low- or no-VOC paints are virtually odorless and release minimal pollutants into the air.

Lighting and florescent or LED fixtures

Install fixtures designed for florescent or light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs. Though they are relatively new technology, LED lights are durable and don’t flicker like standard bulbs. They consume less energy — only 0.83–7.3 watts — and have a service life of 50,000 hours. Because LEDs do not emit UV or infrared radiation and therefore do not attract bugs, waterproof LEDs are particularly useful outdoors in gardens or walkways.

Low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and flush toilets
To avoid using excess water, purchase showerheads with a flow of 2 gallons per minute, and faucets with 1.5.  Look for a toilet that flushes 1.6 gallons per flush or has a dual flush system with one option for light waste and another for heavy.

Tiles
Look for ceramic tiles that contain more than 50 percent recycled material, or use salvaged tiles.

Wood flooring

Install re-milled lumber or rapidly renewing wood sources like cork or bamboo. Also, look for sustainably harvested and certified wood.

Linoleum floor

Known historically as one of the oldest flooring options, natural linoleum is comprised of cork, tree resins, natural colorants and linseed oil. When it is time to remodel, the flooring can be shredded and turned into compost instead of landfill waste.

Carpet
Find surfaces that match the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label requirements. These standards test for low emissions from both the carpet and its adhesive.  

Counters/cabinets

Install new cabinets made from re-milled or reclaimed wood, or purchase recycled cabinets and
countertops.

Drinking water

Instead of purchasing water, buy a re-useable water bottle and drink tap water. If you dislike tap water’s taste, install a filter on the faucet.

Home recycling center
Set up a location near the kitchen where it is convenient for the whole family to make recycling a habit. For leftovers and home organization, reuse plastic containers instead of buying them new.
 
Appliances for the kitchen
Appliances can often account for one-fifth of all energy used in a home, but Energy Star products are tested and certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to ensure efficiency and
savings.
    
Heating/cooling, laundry and water heater
Again, look for Energy Star ratings. The monetary difference between a standard washer and dryer and a more efficient system is typically saved and reclaimed within the first three years. Consider solar panels, an instantaneous water heater or other heating options that conserve fuel.

Rain barrel
Rain barrels are placed beneath gutters to trap water runoff from the roof. The barrel prevents polluted rain from entering the sewer system and further contaminating Minneapolis lakes and rivers. Use the trapped water for the garden or houseplants.

Rain garden

Rain gardens are landscaped and constructed as a low point in the yard, and also prevent urban pollutants from entering sewers. While native flowers grow, layers in the garden’s soil filter water as it seeps into the ground.

Green building resource
For more information on the Minneapolis green building options, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/mdr/GreenBuildingOptionsChecklist.asp