Green dig

Southwest couple’s home among state’s first to meet GreenStar remodeling standards.

BRYN MAWR – There were two reasons Lauri Kraft wanted to participate in a new "green" home-remodeling pilot project, and one of them she cradled in her arms.

He was Jason, the 4-month-old child Kraft held as she talked about the addition to be built this summer onto her home near Cedar Lake. The other reason was Jamie, now 2-and-a-half years old.

Lauri Kraft and her husband, Larry, are among the first homeowners to seek Minnesota GreenStar certification for a home remodeling project. With their contractor, Mike Otto Construction, the Krafts are planning an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient remodeling project.

"I think our perspective has changed a lot since we had children, certainly in terms of safety," Lauri Kraft said.

When the Krafts first discussed building a great room and some additional storage space, Lauri Kraft wanted to use green techniques that would limit the amount of chemicals brought into her home. Her grandfather was a homebuilder, and she pictured all those nasty varnishes and paints he used.

The Krafts were also thinking further down the road.

As a parent, she said: "I think that you’re more conscious of the impact you’re having on the environment because you’re thinking about what it’s going to be like for your children when they grow up."

Theirs is one of 20 projects enrolled in a pilot program designed to test the new Minnesota GreenStar remodeling standards. Those standards will be made available to the public this summer ahead of the program’s official launch this fall.

Tailored to Minnesota

Minnesota GreenStar is a collaboration among the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Green Institute, the Builders Association of the Twin Cities and the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) also provided funding to get Minneota GreenStar off the ground.

Green Institute Executive Director Corey Brinkema said there are several dozen existing green remodeling programs in place across the country. GreenStar is tailored to Minnesota builders and homeowners.

"We want to get the average builder into the program here and now," Brinkema said. "We don’t want to wait 10 years for that to happen."

The program sets green standards in five categories: energy efficiency; resource efficiency and durability; indoor environmental quality; water conservation; and site management and use. A project earns points toward certification by incorporating green remodeling techniques, such as the installation of energy-efficient appliances or the use of wood harvested from sustainable forests.

Brinkema said the Green Institute would review and approve GreenStar projects during the design phase. An independent third-party group will inspect the projects during and after construction, he added.

GreenStar supporters expect certified homes will eventually be eligible for tax credits, rebates on construction costs, lower utility rates and other benefits. For now, Brinkema said, homeowners can seek out existing federal tax credits and utility company discounts for energy-efficient homes.

Those benefits are meant, in part, to offset construction costs, which Brinkema acknowledged could be higher for a GreenStar certified project. Meeting the tougher standards could add a premium of 5 percent or more, he estimated.

Laura Millberg, a green building specialist at the MPCA, said there was still too little data on green residential construction to compare the up-front costs with long-term value.

Greener, smarter

Mike Otto, the builder on the Kraft project, was chosen for the GreenStar pilot project because he had already spent years trying to green his business and encouraged others to do the same.

Otto said there are two common misperceptions about green construction: contractors think it is more complicated, and homeowners think it is more expensive. Neither is necessarily true, he said.

"I think the biggest challenge that [building green] poses right now is education; educating the trade contractors, educating the clients," he said. "The big push is to let people see green is affordable.

"Anybody can do products that are green if they’re given the right tools," he added.

Otto said he has incorporated more green building techniques into his projects as client demand for environmentally friendly construction has grown. It started with simple things, like trying to cut down on construction waste that would end up in a landfill, and grew from there.

When he finally saw the draft guidelines for Minnesota GreenStar certification, Otto realized he had already put a number of the techniques into practice.

For instance, he has long taken steps to limit airborne dust during home remodels, not only because it’s a health hazard, but also because homeowners appreciate a clean worksite.

Otto generally recommends spray foam insulation, which is more expensive than traditional insulation but improves a home’s overall energy efficiency. He’ll also opt for sturdier CDX plywood instead of the commonly used oriented-strand board because the former stands up better to moisture.

In many ways, Otto said, building green just means building smarter. And these days, up to one-third of his clients are asking about green building choices.

"In the future, I think green is going to be the norm," he said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.