Friday, October 30, 2009

Reality Check

Trying to figure out how to make your existing house more eco-friendly while not compromising aesthetics? Don't know where to start and think you just can't afford it?

Well the (extremely) nice folks over at Shelter Architecture are not only talented, but are offering a great deal called Reality Check. If you live in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, you can pay $400 for a two-hour on-site home consultation, which includes some rough sketches and ideas on how to make your home more sustainable. Even if you aren't looking to hire them, you should at least check out their website. They are an interesting and sustainable group to keep your eye on!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition

When most people think about "green building", an image of a building or a house probably comes to mind first. But true green building also encompasses aspects of the surrounding environment, such as soil compaction of the site, how water is treated on-site or flows away from the site, and connection to the streets. Even considering the reflectivity of the sidewalks and how many trees provide shade can have an impact, and choosing a site within walking distance of amenities is also important. Many green building standards address this in some way, and the USGBC has even created a standard (LEED - Neighborhood Development) specific to addressing these issues beyond just the structures themselves.

The Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition is a statewide effort that is attempting to apply good design principles to streets in Minnesota, which ties directly into green building and sustainable community development. They are looking for more coalition members and supporters, and are having a comment period until November 9th on the draft report guidelines.

The goals of the Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition are:

1. Pass a strong statewide Complete Streets policy in 2010 that includes a concrete implementation process and accountability.

2. Work to ensure ongoing statewide implementation of Complete Streets designs across all jurisdictions.

If successful, the coalition could create streets and roadways in Minnesota that are "designed and operated to be safe and accessible for pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclist, and drivers - all users, regardless of age or ability" - which all contribute to the overall sustainability of our communities.

To find more information, go to or contact Ethan Fawley at 651-294-7141 and

Friday, October 16, 2009

Project ReEnergize

Now is a great time to make home energy improvements before the winter settles in Minnesota. As part of the American Recovery and Investment Act, funds are now available to cover portions of improvements that make your home more energy efficient via Project ReEnergize. A home qualifies if it was constructed prior to year 2000 and is 3,000 square feet or less. There are no income restrictions to qualify, and this rebate can be combined with other incentives property owners may receive. Homeowners must have permission to alter the house's shell, and licensed contractors are required to qualify for the rebate. Second homes, mobile homes, condos, and rental properties do not apply.

A few examples of items that qualify for rebate are below; there are more. See the Project ReEnergize or Minnesota GreenStar website for more information.

Energy Efficiency Measures Eligible For Rebate Maximum Rebate per Household

Replacement Energy Star window without attic air sealing $250 per window
Replacement Energy Star window with attic air sealing $300 per window
Advanced air sealing of attic $800
Attic insulation $800
Exterior wall insulation $800
Replacing orphaned atmospherically vented water heater $750

Monday, October 5, 2009

Swedes to Visit Minnesota Farms

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Sweden to study eco-communities. The trip included small and large cities, and also a few farms. We met some Swedes that were interested in continuing the education exchange and visiting Minnesota to learn more about agriculture here. They arrive this Friday. Read the news release below for more information.

6 October 2009

Swedes to visit Minnesota Farms
Tours Part of Continued “Green” Education Exchange

From October 9-16, Minnesota will be home to two Swedish visitors interested in learning about agriculture and farming practices.

The visit is a result of a connection made through the Rotary Club’s Group Study Exchange (GSE) program. Earlier this year, five Minnesotans were selected to travel to Sweden and live with host families for five weeks. That trip included tours focused on sustainability and eco-communities, including visits to sustainable farms.

The October tour in Minnesota is a collaborative effort of many organizations and communities, including two participants from the recent GSE trip to Sweden. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the South Central Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association will be sponsoring tours, and participants will be staying with host families.

“We saw some really great farms when we were in Sweden,” says Kara Slaughter, GSE participant and board member of the non-profit organization Renewing the Countryside. “So when they decided to visit us here, we wanted to show them examples of great farming in Minnesota.”

This month’s tour will include farms and communities across Minnesota that demonstrate a variety of agriculture and farming practices. Tour participants will visit large-scale farming operations, organic farms, active soybean harvesting and corn hybrid test plots. The tour will likely include a visit to the Morris Biomass Gasification plant and North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory.

“The tour in Sweden was a great exchange of ideas and the people that hosted us were so generous,” says Alison Lindburg, GSE participant and staff member of the Minnesota-based non-profit organization Dovetail Partners. “It is really important that we return the favor.”

The tour is still looking for host families and outing opportunities. For more information, please contact Kara Slaughter at 612-396-7404.

For more information:

Contact: Alison Lindburg,, 612-333-0430
Kara Slaughter, 612-396-7404

Green Building Workshops in the Lake States Region

Here are a few green building workshops happening in the Lakes States region in October and November.

7 Oct 2009. Appleton, WI: Building Systems: Retro-commissioning

8 Oct 2009. Brainerd, MN: BAELN Event: Green Business is Good Business Tour

10 Oct 2009. White Bear Lake, MN: Solar Energy: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Photovoltaics

12 Oct 2009. online: Building for the Future: Sustainable Home Design ONLINE

12 Oct 2009. Roseville, MN: MN GreenStar Project Registration Workshop

13 Oct 2009. Apple Valley, MN: Protecting Minnesota's Environment and Saving Dollars: The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment and Apple Valley's Green Initiatives

13 Oct 2009. Pine Valley, MN: Rain Barrel DYI

14 Oct 2009. Madison, WI: Green Building Workshop Series

15 Oct 2009. Bloomington, MN: Green Growth For Business: How and Why it Benefits the Bottom Line

15 Oct 2009. Milwaukee, WI: Green Building Conference

16-17 Oct 2009. Ashland, WI: Upper Midwest Green Schools Conference

19-21 Oct 2009. Bloomington, MN: 9th Annual BioCycle Conference on Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling Conference

24 Oct 2009. White Bear Lake, MN: Solar Energy:Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Solar Water Heating

28 Oct 2009. Lansing, MI: Green Building Workshop Series

5 Nov 2009. Minneapolis, MN: Green Building Workshop Series

5 Nov 2009. online: Green Building Workshop Series

6-8 Nov 2009. Minneapolis, MN: Go Green Expo Minneapolis

17 Nov 2009. Roseville, MN: MN GreenStar Project Registration Workshop

17 Nov 2009. St. Paul, MN: E3 2009: The Midwest's Premier Energy, Economic and Environmental Conference

18 Nov 2009. online: Achieving Better Results through Design Review

18 Nov 2009. St. Paul, MN: Putting Minnesota on the Map: Next Steps for Building a Smart Grid Coalition in Minnesota

Friday, October 2, 2009

A $4750 Tree

Choosing local materials is not only good for the environment, but is also good for your local economy. This post features a guest writer, Greg Nolan of Snowy Pines Reforestation, whose article "A $4750 Tree" documents the importance of wood as a building material and demonstrates the real-time economic impact felt through the story of following just one tree.

A $4750 Tree
By Greg Nolan of Snowy Pines Reforestation 9/29/09

Several years ago I wrote an article for our local newspaper about a $3000 white pine tree (Long Prairie Leader 2/3/99). I am back with an update on another tree. Many of the things from the first article still hold true today but obviously we have refined our skills as a business with the art of marketing and utilization.

The most recent tree was bigger as it had another ten years to grow, and scaled at over 1000 board feet (Scribner). We hired a local band saw mill and target sawed this wood siding at ¾ inch thick. With the thin kerf saw blade and target sawing at ¾ inch thick, we harvested about 1500 square feet of siding and trim from this one tree. The house that we covered with siding from this tree needed about 1,200 square feet of siding. Including trim and soffit material and allowing for waste, we estimated a bid of $4750. White pine makes beautiful siding and can last over 100 years (see tobacco sheds in SW Wisconsin).

The tree, a broken-topped white pine cut near our mailbox, covered the whole house with material to spare. It was a beautiful tree that was falling apart. A portion of the top almost hit me as I pedaled past on my bike one windy day.

The embodied energy in our locally-harvested trees is mostly solar powered. Sunshine is the energy trees use to produce wood. At our mill, solar energy air-dries the wood and solar electricity runs many of our milling machines. No more than 5 gallons of diesel fuel were used to cut the tree, move it to the mill, saw the logs into siding, and deliver the material to the building site.
One gallon of fossil fuel = $1000 economic activity.
Wood is about ½ carbon by weight, which the tree removes from the atmosphere as it grows. We look at our business of milling salvage trees and installing high value, long-lived wood products as a solar-powered atmospheric carbon mining operation.

When it comes to harvesting trees and turning them into installed wood products, there is a thing called an economic multiplier. Every dollar that grows on a tree (money does grow on trees in my business) turns into about $40 in finished installed wood products. With wood flooring I sometimes see a 50 to 1 economic multiplier, and with house framing material you might only see a 30 to 1 multiplier. Most of the multiplier comes in the form of value-added labor (local high wage jobs).

About $600 of this tree’s added value went into state sales tax and self-employment tax (social security). There are also local real estate taxes figured on the finished house that will come for years to come.

When we moved onto our property over thirty years ago we counted our pole-sized (12 to 18 inch diameter) white pine trees (300) and figured if we cut 3 problem trees each year, that our family forest would have white pine trees for at least 100 years. As we cut these problem trees, more seedlings (in a variety of species) sprout into the holes we make in the forest and the trees that we leave get bigger faster than if we left them crowded. Most of the cutting, over the years, consisted of small and stunted trees but we also have taken some whoppers at times from lightning strikes and wind damage. We have seen this kind of monetary return from our lumbering activities more then once on our yearly harvest. The cull trees we cut today are much bigger then ones we cut in the past.
Our standing timber volume for the three-acre stand of white pine at Snowy Pines has increased in the past thirty years from about 20,000 board feet in 1979 (DNR timber plan) to about 65,000 board feet today (Masconomo Forestry cruise), even as we have cut our ration of two or three trees a year. This would be a production rate of about 500 board feet per acre, per year, which is on the high end but still very possible.

Snowy Pines believes that by encouraging local forestry and wood products entrepreneurs with consumer spending and government purchasing, similar stories could be replicated across the lake state region to produce hundreds if not thousands of green service and manufacturing jobs, while we improve our forests.