The Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), through the Minnesota Energy Challenge, is giving away 10 free home energy audits and, for one lucky winner, an energy “makeover” worth up to $15,000. The deadline to enter is May 15. Register online, or a paper application is available by calling 612-335-5852.
Paul Morin, senior building analyst for CEE, said the makeover specifics would depend on the house, but common energy-saving fixes include “insulation and air sealing for sure,” and possibly a new furnace and water heater, upgraded lighting with high-efficiency bulbs, and even new appliances such as a refrigerator or dishwasher.
Besides the 10 audits and the eventual makeover winner, 25 other entrants will receive prizes like programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs and appliance energy meters.
In an effort to increase environmental awareness and provide alternative options for home remodeling, the City of Minneapolis recently launched an online checklist with an eco-friendly building and remodeling guide.
In addition to reducing your environmental footprint, green remodeling and building practices can, over time, result in substantial utility savings. The following tips come courtesy of the city’s green building options website. (The numbering corresponds to the graphic on the website.)
1) Solar Power — Solar water heaters, passive solar and photovoltaics (which make electricity from solar power) are all options to consider. It’s recommended that homeowners consult with an engineer when designing a system, as structural reinforcements are sometimes necessary.
2) Metal roof or light colored 40-year shingles — Metal roofs are both long-lasting and recyclable. 40-year shingles create less waste because of their longer lifespan. Light-colored or reflective shingles absorb less heat and can lower air conditioning bills. In Minnesota, snow-covered roofs in winter mean shingle color won’t typically affect heat gain during colder months.
3) Insulation — An energy audit with blower door testing, performed by your utility company, can identify air leakage. Insulation that is made of recycled materials and/or is formaldehyde-free is ideal.
4) Exterior walls — When re-siding existing exterior walls using oriented strand board (OSB), use low or zero-formaldehyde material. For new construction, try structural insulated panels (SIPs).
5–7) Low-flow showerhead and faucet aerator, dual-flush flush toilets — Installing water-efficient fixtures is an easy way to lower utility bills. Efficiency standards are as follows: 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) faucet aerators, 2.0 GPM for showerheads, 1.6 GPM per flush toilets. For toilets, a dual flush mechanism — with separate flushes for liquid and solid waste — is an added way to conserve water.
8) Tiles — Re-use salvaged tiles or American-made ceramic tiles with 50 percent or more recycled content are best.
9) High-efficiency windows — Insulation, durability and infiltration prevention are key when considering new windows. Have a third-party document the “U” value and infiltration rating — in both cases, lower ratings are better.
10) Paint — Paints and finishing products such as varnishes and sealants should contain little to no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
11) Carpet — Look for carpet and area rugs that use natural materials. (The Carpet and Rug Institute offers “Green Label” requirements.) Both carpet and carpet adhesives should have low emissions.
12) Fireplace/fireplace insert — A fireplace insert can transform an older fireplace into an efficient heating system by circulating indoor air past the fire and back into the room. When dormant, close the damper on a fireplace to help prevent heat loss.
13 and 15) Lighting — Incandescent light bulbs can be replaced with more efficient fluorescent or LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. Similarly, any built-in lighting fixtures shold be able to accommodate LED or fluorescent bulbs.
14) Wood flooring — The use of salvaged materials, rapidly renewable plant materials (i.e. bamboo or cork), re-milled lumber or sustainably harvested and certified wood are all examples of “green” flooring.
16) Kitchen appliances — Select appliances with Energy Star certification. An Energy Star designation demonstrates a product has been tested by a third party and ensures energy efficiency.
17) Drinking water — Adding a sink filter for drinking water (or simply using tap water) eliminates the need for purchasing bottled water.
18) Counters/cabinets — Recycled cabinets can be found at the Minneapolis Re-Use Center or the Habitat for Humanity store. Use countertops made from recycled materials and/or cabinet fronts made from re-milled or reclaimed wood.
19) Home recycling center — A home recycling center is a simple way to ease the burden on local landfills. Recycling information is available at the City of Minneapolis’s Solid Waste and Recycling Division website.
20) Linoleum flooring — Choose an eco-friendly version of linoleum: ‘natural linoleum.’ Created from natural substances like tree rosin, wood and cork flour, limestone dust, and linseed oil, natural linoleum isn’t made from vinyl — nor does it contain asbestos.
21) Heating/cooling, laundry and water heater — The cost of replacing an old heating system with a high-efficiency version (with 90 percent or higher annual fuel utilization efficiency) can often be recovered in three years through energy savings. Installing an integrated system that can also heat hot water will provide added savings. Ground source heat pumps, solar energy heating and cooling systems, and heat-recovery ventilators are other green heating options to consider. Central air conditioning systems should also be high efficiency.
In addition to kitchen appliances, Energy Star ratings are also issued for laundry equipment. Also, keep in mind that top-loading washing machines often use more water than front-loading washers.
22 & 23) Rain barrel or rain garden — Rain barrels placed under a roof or gutter help prevent contaminated runoff from entering storm sewers and travelling into lakes and rivers by trapping water runoff that could contain urban pollutants. The trapped water can later be used to water your yard or garden. Rain gardens are set up at a low-point in a yard to collect rainwater and, like rain barrels, also keep runoff out of storm drains.