If you are reading this article, you may already know the importance of considering our planet’s resources when designing our homes. Determining the most sustainable solutions is a real challenge. Should you invest in solar panels? Should you buy the carpet with the Green label? Which design solutions have the highest impact?
In order to help you make these important decisions for your home, designers Greg Kraus, Chie Morioka, and Scott Barsness of Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build provide some helpful tips.
1. “Remodel rather than build new,” says designer Kraus. “It is always the first place to start when considering your home.” An existing home already has the embodied energy built in: the stone was quarried long ago, the lumber represents trapped carbon, and the millwork and cabinets may have been made from local wood by local craftspeople. Additionally, older wall studs are able to handle up to 30 times as much moisture compared to today’s young pine. Greg suggests you find a designer who is well versed in “transforming existing spaces rather than just building new ones.”
2. Kitchens offer lots of opportunity when remodeling. Kraus suggests you “minimize, or better yet, eliminate upper cabinets in a kitchen. This saves building materials and costs,” while also allowing more natural light to enter the room. If no pantry option exists and upper cabinets are needed, placing them on interior walls allows light to flow into kitchen space without disruption.
3. “Don’t design your kitchen for 10 people if the majority of the time there are only three of you,” advises Barsness. “Layout and function are the same to me. I don’t want to design things larger than they need to be.”
4. “Water conservation is easy! Start by swapping out old shower heads for 1.5 gpm models,” adds Kraus. “The technology has vastly improved so that you can hardly tell the difference between the old and new efficient models.” Delta has a series of attractive and excellent performing models to choose from. “Look for the Water Sense label,” suggests Kraus, when shopping for a new water saving device. Toto and Sterling make affordable, attractive, and incredible performing toilets. Dual flush units like the Aquio or the Rockton are obvious choices at around $300. The new 1.28 gallon per flush units from Toto and Kohler are quieter and can also save thousands of gallons of water per year.
5. Improving the efficiency of your windows might help you save some energy, but controlling solar gain and maintaining privacy are sometimes overlooked issues. Designer Chie suggests using “honeycomb blinds for the added insulating benefit. If you have west facing windows, then darkening the rooms with honeycomb blinds may help keep the rooms from over heating in the summer months.” If considering window replacement, calculate payback and energy savings before making a decision. Matching the material and detail of older windows is an expensive proposition. You might get similar energy savings by simply adding a good storm window and filling the weight pockets with a low density spray foam.
My own tip
Be cautious of products that sound too good to be true. Beware of exaggerated, unsubstantiated, or irrelevant claims, and don’t get fooled by a “self awarded” green label. Look for actual data on projects, such as R-values for insulating materials or window coverings, and check local codes before buying and installing a product.
Cats’ Paws and Catapults:Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People, by Steven Vogel, Norton, 2000.
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1977.
Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live, by Sarah Susanka, Taunton, 2009.
Funding A$$istance for Green Building Projects
Established in 1995, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an ongoing project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).
Here are some examples of financing programs, tax incentives, loan programs and rebates:
- Local Option: Energy Improvement Financing Programs
- Austin Utilities: Solar Choice Program
- Minnesota: Renewable Energy Production Incentive
Property Tax Incentive
- Wind and Solar-Electric (PV) Systems Exemption
Sales Tax Incentive
- Solar Energy Sales Tax Exemption
- Wind Energy Sales Tax Exemption
State Grant Program
- Renewable Energy Equipment Grant
- Solar Energy Legacy Grants for Local Governments
State Loan Program
- Agricultural Improvement Loan Program
- Home Energy Loan Program
- Methane Digester Loan Program
- MHFA Rental Rehabilitation Loan Program
- NEC Minnesota Energy Loan Program
- Rental Energy Loan Fund
- Sustainable Agriculture Loan Program
State Rebate Program
- Residential Small Wind Rebate Program
- Solar Hot Water Rebate Program
- Solar Space Heating Rebate Program
- Solar-Electric (PV) Rebate Program
Visit the following link for up to date information on these financing options and scroll down to Minnesota listings: dsireusa.org/incentives