Owning a home can be one of the great joys and challenges of life. Understanding the myriad systems that combined to make up your home can be mind boggling even for those of us who spend our lives studying, building, renovating, and repairing them. Until recently, few were aware of the role that their home played in contributing to climate change. Homes and buildings are, in fact, the primary consumers of both energy (43%) and electricity (76%). Our lifestyle choices are having a tremendous impact on our world, and perhaps most importantly, they are habits we can change; we have options available.
In Minnesota, we have a tradition of building homes that perform above the national average. We have an energy code that continues to improve and a building code that is generally enforced, which means that homes built in the last five years are fairly efficient. However, the majority of Minnesota homes are not efficient and must be improved. It is also critical that we not confuse energy efficiency standards with Green building standards, as carbon emissions, vital water resources, occupant health, and our global community are equally, if not more, important.
Standards are important because they define things for us and create a measure by which things (homes in this case) can be judged. Green buildings standards are not new, but they are changing and evolving. They help to cut through deceptive “faux green” marketing practices and create accountability. Perhaps the best known standard is LEED-NC (New Construction); a commercial construction standard developed by the private organization USGBC (US Green Building Council), who recently released LEED-H (Homes) for new homes. Another well-known commercial standard is Green Globes which comes from Canada and has an emphasis on Life Cycle Analysis.
Here in Minnesota, we have two standards which were developed specifically for our climate and local resources. The Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines, developed by the University of Minnesota for commercial and multi-family buildings, are required for newly built buildings built in Minneapolis and St. Paul using public funds. The newest addition to the Green standards family is Minnesota GreenStar (MN Green Star), which was developed through a series of partnerships to create a premier standard that could be applied to both existing home remodels and newly built homes.
With all these standards, it can feel confusing; however, for homeowners there are really only two standards to consider: LEED-H and MN GreenStar. Both standards deliver measurable benefits in the areas of energy and resource efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and community impact. For existing homes, MN GreenStar is the only standard and can be used on all kinds of projects from kitchen and bath remodels to large additions.
Each of these standards share critical steps that are central to their success:
- Education is considered essential, and training is required for various individuals in the process. LEED requires the use of a LEED Accredited Professional on the project in order to achieve certification. MN GreenStar requires that the person doing the work (contractor, remodeler, builder, or homeowner) attend an eight-hour training. Points are given in both standards for using multi-disciplinary teams that have been educated on Green building.
- Third party review is the other cornerstone that makes these standards strong. Throughout the construction process, there are a series of inspections that take place. The process, materials, systems, and implementation must all be documented. This is seen as the biggest obstacle in Green building by some, and an opportunity to improve the building process by others. The value in certification comes directly from having concrete knowledge that work was performed in a particular manner.
- The options and path to creating a Green home utilizes a checklist that contains a series of performance and prescriptive measures. As the project is being designed, the checklist serves as a guide providing options and direction in making decisions and selections.
We have a great opportunity to improve the performance of our older homes, and the first step is using one of the Green building standards to sort through the maze of options and make the best decisions for you, your family, and our community.
Plan B 3.0, by Lester Brown, W. W. Norton, 2008.
Green Home, by Wayne Grady, Diane Publishing Company, 1993.
Green Remodeling: Changing the world one room at a time, by David Johnston & Kim Masters, New Society Publishers, 2004.