Green building for the rest of us


We’ve reached fall. It’s the time of year when a chilly night means flipping on the heat. However, on the first cold night this fall, I didn’t turn on the heat. In fact, I turned the thermostat a few degrees cooler. I suppose this comes with the territory when you’re living in one of Minneapolis’ first affordable green homes.

My wife and I moved into our town home at E2 Cityhomes last month. E2 is a project by Minnesota builders Tom Menke and Nate Smith of The Urban Project. Their goal is to build homes that are energy efficient, sustainable, and affordable for middle-income Minnesotans like my wife and I.

We had thought green building was admirable but out of our price range. We were wrong. In building E2, The Urban Project has changed the conventional wisdom on building green.

The E2 project is a 4-plexof townhomes in South Minneapolis’ Lyndale Neighborhood, taking up only two lots. The lots were the site of a fire which burned down the existing apartments several years ago. The four E2 units are built with insulated concrete forms. These Styrofoam insulated concrete blocks keep each home tightly insulated without the risk of mold. They also dampen outside sound — I haven’t noticed airplane noise I expected in South Minneapolis.

A geothermal ground heat pump heats and cools the building. The system uses pipes buried below the frost line — where the temperature is a constant 50 degrees – that uses the earth’s heat rather than fossil fuels to maintain a constant temperature. What electricity the pump uses comes from wind generators. It will cost us about $300 a year to heat and cool our home.

Along with energy efficient doors and windows, most of our lights will only take energy efficient florescent bulbs. We also save water with low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets.

Our home is on-course to get a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED Gold Certification from the United States Green Building Council. LEED is recognized globally as the standard in green building and energy efficiency.

As we enjoy our new home and the benefits of living green, I’m reminded that building an affordable green home was not an individual effort. It took community involvement to get E2 built. The Urban Project both worked with and received financial and logistical help from the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association. As of today, three of the four units are sold.