New tool for green building coming from University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Building Research


CORRECTIONS 12/19/2012 – Two researchers at University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Building Research are setting up a new website that will help developers and consumers identify green building strategies. They are working to make the website, the Minnesota Sustainable Housing Initiative, MNSHI for short, as user-friendly as possible.

William Weber, senior research fellow and Minnesota Sustainable Housing Initiative project manager; and Dan Handeen, a research fellow at the campus Center for Sustainable Building Research described the project at a noontime CURA forum on the status and future of “healthy, durable, and energy-efficient homes” on Friday, December 7. In addition to students, faculty, local developers, and regular citizens were in attendance. The forum was hosted by CURA and moderated by William Craig, acting director of CURA. 

“Our goal (through the sustainable building program) is to ensure that future generations have access to clean air, water, and resources that we do and utilize today,” said Handeen.

Weber and Handeen’s group targets the early stages of building development, in the hopes of helping developers to plan and construct a smarter building, one that satisfies the resident, yet is also energy-sound and better adapted to the immediate and future variations of climate.

“This is about identifying opportunities to maximize energy potential while optimizing” early construction tools, such as site selection, Weber said, in response to an audience question about the sustainable building objective.

The MNSHI website, which has been on line since 2007, is currently developing new tools that will be accessible in late January.  

After the first publication of this article, Weber emailed to clarify and provide additional information about the Upstream tools and curriculum: 

The Upstream tools and curriculum are intended to help non-profit developers make better decisions early in the development process in order to reduce long term impacts. The project was inspired by the idea put forward by Ulrich Bogenstatter who pointed out that, ‘Programming and building specifications in early design… determine up to 80% of pollution output [and] building operation cost.’ The tools address the Green Communities Criteria, which are required for funding by Minnesota Housing.

There are two tools–Site Selection (interactive spreadsheet) and Site Optimization (worksheet) The Site Selection Tool allows for the easy comparison of multiple site options. The tool addresses transportation, access to goods and services, energy, storm water and health. The Site Optimization helps developers to maximize the opportunity for sustainability on a site once selected. It focuses on stormwater planning, density, building orientation and solar access.

The new tool will provide a relative “score” on a 0-170 point scale.

The website also explains other “points of reference,” in the words of Weber, that architects and developers should be mindful of when attempting to plan and undertake construction of buildings, such as: pollution, the direction and angular tilt of the building (regarding sunlight absorption), access to roadways (for healthcare and food resources), and open-space utilization. Taken all together, these factors form a new foundation from which the most modern buildings will be built.

Weber and Handeen expressed confidence that a more streamlined developer/resident information complex would result, ensuring maximum cost-effectiveness and energy sustainability. When asked specifically about the project’s accomplishments thus far and the future ahead, Weber replied that “Capacity building is [our] goal. We’re now talking to others [within the industry] about our project… but each sustainable building that is constructed is a step forward.”


CORRECTIONS 12/18-19/2012:  CURA hosted the event , but is not developing the new tool. That is being done by the University’s Center for Sustainable Building Research. William Craig was the moderator, but not part of the work or the presentation.  Thanks to Craig and Weber for the corrected/additional information.