Minnesota GreenStar gives homeowners a guide to a green home

Green remodel
This St. Louis Park home is being remodeled using the Minnesota GreenStar standards.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

Green homes are different -- although sometimes it's hard to tell unless you take a closer look.

"Watch your step. There's some stakes in the floor and the plastic is a little bit slippery," says contractor Mike Otto as he picks his way through a dimly lit basement.

Otto points to one of the features that will make this St. Louis Park home-remodeling project green certified.

"This pump that you're looking at over here is the radon remediation system that we've installed," he says.

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Green backyard
The Krafts' backyard is landscaped with natural stone. It will be planted with "low mow" grass this fall. Rain barrels are positioned around the house to collect rain from the roof to water garden plantings.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

Work on the radon system is nearly complete. Otto and his crew just need to pour the concrete floor that will cover the pipes. When it's finished, Otto says the air in this home will be much healthier for the family that lives here.

Good indoor air quality is one measure of a green-certified home. Reducing waste is another. On this project, Otto's crew installed fewer studs around windows so they could do a better job of insulating the walls.

"What we've done is we've eliminated as much lumber as possible without compromising the integrity of the home. We've put the lumber basically where it makes sense to put it," he says.

Otto also used as much recycled wood as possible, to cut down on the use of large trees.

"None of these things add much in the way of extra cost."

Recycled materials
Mike Otto, founder of Mike Otto Construction, holds up a piece of recycled lumber. Much of the wood used in the St. Louis Park remodeling project is recycled.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

Homeowner Larry Kraft wasn't too concerned about extra costs. He says he was sold on the idea of a green house long before he embarked on his remodeling project. Kraft says his main incentive was making sure that his home is healthy for his 6-month-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

He had done a lot of research on green remodeling before he learned about the Minnesota GreenStar program. But he says it was hard for him to figure out on his own.

"We were spending hours on the Internet finding out about bamboo flooring and recycled paper counter tops and all kinds of things you'd never know about."

It turns out that Kraft was right about the bamboo floors and the paper counter-tops. Both choices gave him extra points toward his green certification. But he says the Minnesota GreenStar checklist gave him many other ideas too -- like installing rain barrels in his backyard to catch run off from his roof.

Michael Anschel with the design build firm Otogawa-Anschel says even though many of these green features don't sound sexy, they are becoming more appealing to homeowners.

Kid-friendly remodel
Larry and Lauri Kraft asked their builder to avoid using products containing chemicals that could harm their young children.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

"Especially as we see our economy become a little bit tighter and people become a little bit more careful with their dollars, if they're going to remodel, if they're going to improve their homes that now they're really thinking, 'If I can do this and improve my energy-efficiency in my home, well, why wouldn't I?'"

That's exactly what state officials want Minnesotans to ask themselves, according to Brad Moore, Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The MPCA gave the Minnesota GreenStar program grant money to get started.

Minnesota needs homeowners to reduce their environmental footprint or the state will never achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80 percent of 1990 levels, Moore says.

"Besides reducing on the supply side, some of the biggest reductions are going to be occuring here in the residential sector and then also in the commercial sector as well. And I think what's key is, with homeowners doing this, they're also going to save money."

State Fair goers can see a green building that contains many of Minnesota GreenStar's certification criteria. It's located at the Eco Experience in the Minnesota Progress Building.