Green remodeling an option for Minnesota homeowners

Remodeling an existing home can be one of the most environmentally friendly, resource-efficient actions that a homeowner can take. Renovation offers the opportunity to reduce home energy demands, reduce home maintenance costs and increase comfort...

Remodeling an existing home can be one of the most environmentally friendly, resource-efficient actions that a homeowner can take.

Renovation offers the opportunity to reduce home energy demands, reduce home maintenance costs and increase comfort efficiently and cost-effectively.

And when compared to new construction, remodeling tends to use materials and natural resources more efficiently.

By the same token, remodeling, like any building activity, can create waste and pollution. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that can be taken to minimize the ecological impacts and maximize the resource-efficiency of remodeling projects, while also creating a healthier and more economical environment in which to live.

Here are some suggestions for "greening" one's home renovation efforts.


Individuals with allergies and/or chemical sensitivities may find it necessary to seek additional or alternative expertise and information.

Inform your contractor (and other building professionals) early on that you want to renovate in an environmentally responsible manner.

Guiding principles

  • Plan ahead, plan early. It's generally easier and less expensive to incorporate "green" materials and concepts during the early stages of project planning than to add them later in the process. Including green features upfront also lends itself more easily to an integrated design strategy, which considers a house as a "system" with interrelated parts.

Green building is, however, a fairly new concept, and locating appropriate products and services can take some effort.
The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (MOEA) offers a Green Building Products Directory ( ),

which is a useful resource.

The Internet is also a helpful vehicle for researching products. Be sure to look for products that are certified by such organizations as Green Seal, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) or Green Guard or that have been evaluated by such entities as Environmental Building News.

  • Consider a "no build" strategy. Is additional space really needed?

Or could current space be configured differently to meet one's needs? Less construction equals less waste, pollution and resource use.

  • Consult with local officials and/or encourage your contractor to do so, before initiating a "green" remodel. Building officials are more likely to be supportive if they are brought into the process early and are kept informed about the products and systems that are designated for the project.
  • Consider long-term costs. Some, but not all, green building products may cost more initially, but provide long-term energy, maintenance and/or health savings. When shopping for products, consider their "life cycle," not just upfront, costs. Life-cycle costs include the total cost of a product or system over its entire life, including design, development, procurement, operation, maintenance and final disposal. Be aware that as markets for green products develop their prices may decrease.

Look for opportunities to make practical cost-tradeoffs to achieve maximum benefit. For example, spending more on insulation could be balanced by the need for a smaller furnace and/or air conditioner.


  • Seek out contractors and other building professionals who are knowledgeable and eager to build "green." The OEA can provide some guidance on selecting a contractor. Other sources of information include the Energy and Environmental Builders Association (, American Lung Association's Health House Program ( and Energy Star Homes (
  • A green home is only as green as the materials and practices that are used to maintain it. Make a point of using nontoxic cleaners, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes and similar products; energy and water-efficient practices and appliances; and environment-friendly lawn care/landscaping techniques.

Other remodeling ideas
Older homes, though typically well constructed, can be dry and drafty in the winter and hot and humid in the summer. Homes with oversized HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems can be uncomfortable and costly to heat/cool. Twenty to 40 percent of a home's heat loss occurs through its windows. Paying attention to these problems can reduce excessive energy use, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel depletion.

  • Arrange to have an energy audit conducted to determine needed upgrades or improvements.
  • Purchase Energy Star®-rated appliances, windows, heating, air conditioning systems and similar products. Home appliances typically account for 21 percent or more of a home's energy consumption
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescents.
  • Install programmable thermostats. If your home is large, consider adding multiple, "zoned" thermostats.
  • When replacing home furnaces or air-conditioners, make sure to size them correctly. Oversized systems can be inefficient and expensive to operate.
  • Consider purchasing insulation that is: formaldehyde-free (batts), contains recycled content (such as cellulose), certified as low-emitting and/or free of HCFCs.
  • If window replacement is desired or needed, look for double (or triple) pane, low-e coated, Energy Star® labeled windows.
  • Maximize natural light through strategic window placement, use of solar light tubes or skylights and/or use of clerestory windows.
  • Use overhangs (like awnings) on all but the north side of the house to minimize unwanted summer heat gain. Make sure to size them correctly so that winter heat gain is permitted
  • Orient large windows toward the south. In northern climates, south-facing windows can help to improve heat gain in the winter. West-facing windows, on the other hand, can result in excess summer heat build-up.
  • Use shade trees on the east and west sides of a house to minimize summer heat gain. Consider evergreen trees, shrubs or similar plantings on the north and/or northwest sides to buffer winter wind.
  • Also consider: 1) incorporating passive solar design into remodeling plans, 2) purchasing an on-demand water heater, and 3) installing other renewable and efficient energy systems (for example, solar collectors, geothermal or radiant in-floor heat).

Build less
As compared to small houses, large homes can require more energy to heat and cool, more materials to construct, use more land and create more pollution and waste through their construction and operation.

Construction waste averages 3 to 5 pounds per square foot of space.

  • Create small, flexible, more intimate spaces. Incorporate built-in-storage and similar techniques to maximize space.
  • Minimize land consumption by building "up" instead of "out."

It is not necessary to accomplish all of these strategies in order to have a "green" remodeling project.
When selecting approaches, use common sense and work within your budget.

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