Green building options checklist

We list green building options that can lower your energy or maintenance bills.

Green options can help you:

  • Save money
  • Have a healthier home
  • Protect the environment

Many green options cost the same as conventional construction and most of those that cost more will save you money in lower energy bills or lower maintenance bills over the lifetime of the investment. If you plan to sell your home in a few years, you should know that real estate companies are starting to plan special marketing tools to advance the sales of green homes.

Disclaimer: The Minneapolis Green Building Checklist contains links to many outside sites. These links are set up to provide information that is currently available. The City of Minneapolis cannot guarantee the accuracy of information found at any linked site. Providing links to outside sites does not constitute an endorsement by the City of Minneapolis.

Solar power

Solar panels for heating do work in Minnesota. It’s a good idea to hire an engineer to design your system because you may need to structurally reinforce your building before adding solar panels - make sure to calculate the added wind forces. For a Minnesota example, check out the Como neighborhood solar project.

If building an addition or large remodeling project try to incorporate passive solar into the design.

Photovoltaics (see bottom of webpage) produce electricity from sunlight. In the last few years there has been a large improvement in the efficiency of the panels and a significant drop in the cost of the panels. Currently it may make more economic sense to use photovoltaic panels and an electric water heater rather than thermal panels for water heating. Financial incentives for installing solar have been extended by the federal government until 2021. States have additional incentives.

Pitched roofs

Install a metal roof or choose 40-year shingle for your pitched roof. A metal roof is long lasting and can be recycled at the end of its life as a roof. 40-year shingles reduce the waste in landfills by being replaced less often. If your roof is more reflective or a lighter color less heat will be absorbed and it can lower your air conditioning bill in the summer. Generally, in the winter your roof will be covered in snow and shingle color will not have any effect on heat gain, so focus on summer benefits.

To make a flat roof green, construct a rooftop garden to prevent rain water run-off. Turning roofs into green space also helps diminish the heat island effect found in cities. Green roofs use special light weight growing materials and require a system to be installed which will keep water from leaking through to the building.


Choose insulation that is formaldehyde free and/or made of recycled materials. When adding insulation to an attic, the minimum R-value should be R49. Before insulating make sure all attic bypasses (including around the soil stack and attic hatch) are sealed to prevent heat and moisture from entering the attic. An energy audit with blower door testing can help determine air leakage. To schedule an energy audit contact your utility.

When re-insulating the walls of a house, if you remove the interior finish you can bring the R value up to current new construction standards by using a high R value foam insulation. If you leave the walls intact and do a drill and fill method, insulate exterior walls to capacity using a method called ‘dense packing’ to prevent air leakage and follow up with an infra-red camera inspection if possible.

For an addition or new construction choose a roof structure with an energy heel to allow insulation over the tops of the exterior walls. Get more information on Minnesota standards, visit the state's Energy Information Center or call 651-539-1886.

Exterior walls

Existing exterior walls: If re-siding and you plan on using oriented strand board (OSB) for an underlayment, make sure it is low- or zero-formaldehyde. Note: OSB is also used for underlayment on roof, floors and in SIP construction, so always check formaldehyde levels for OSB.

Exterior walls in new construction or additions: Consider structural insulated panels (SIPs); these are pre-fabricated panels made of rigid insulation sandwiched between OSB.

Also consider insulated concrete forms (ICFs) or thermal mass foundation walls. Many high performance buildings use insulated concrete for more than just the foundation walls. In ICFs the insulation doubles as the form and has to be protected on the interior and the exterior of the building.

Another option is to consider thermal mass walls. In thermal mass walls the insulation is placed into the middle of the wall before the concrete is poured or in pre-cast concrete the insulation is built in. In both cases the insulation becomes an integral part of the wall.

Consider using the advanced framing technique. It saves money energy and materials.

Showerhead, faucet aerator and flush toilet

Install water efficient fixtures - 2.0 gallons per minute (GPM) showerheads, 1.5 GPM faucet aerators in sinks and 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF) toilets. An option for an existing or new toilet is a dual flush mechanism. The dual flush has one option for light waste and one for heavy waste. See federal government building standards for showers, faucets, and toilets and how to find a water efficient product with the EPA’s WaterSense label.


For tiles, choose U.S.-made ceramic tiles with 50% plus recycled content or re-use salvaged tiles.


For new construction or an existing window replacement, buy the best windows you can reasonably afford for energy efficiency in insulating, durability and preventing infiltration. Insist on third party documentation of the U value (thermal transmittance of .32 or less - the lower the better) and infiltration (air-tightness - the lower the better) rating.

Windows generally occupy 10-15 percent of your wall area. So, when considering window replacement, savings will largely depend on the condition of your existing windows. If you have existing windows in good condition that fit well - especially those with built-in weather stripping - and a good storm window, you may not be able to justify replacement based on energy savings alone. An energy audit can help you prioritize energy improvements and estimate potential savings. Call your utility company to arrange an audit.


While choosing paints and other finishing products, choose low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) primers, paints, varnishes, adhesives, caulks, and sealants.


For carpets or area rugs, use natural materials such as wool or materials the meet the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Green Label requirements. They test for low emissions for both carpet and carpet adhesive.


Older fireplaces in existing homes can become efficient with a fireplace insert that circulates the room air past the fire to heat it and then circulates it back into the room. Otherwise an older fireplace may send more heat up the chimney than it provides to the home. When a fireplace is not in use - shut the damper to prevent excessive heat loss.

An efficient wood burner gives you better heating value for the fuel you burn and minimizes particulates released into the air. Safety is critical and efficiency is important when installing or using a wood burning appliance.

Light bulbs

Replace incandescent light bulbs with florescent bulbs and consider using new LED technology for lighting.

Wood flooring

Green flooring options include : re-using salvaged materials or re-milled lumber, rapidly renewable (fast growing) plant material such as cork and bamboo or sustainably harvested & certified wood.

Light fixtures

Built-in light fixtures should be designed for florescent or LED bulbs.


Install Energy Star appliances and lighting fixtures: these have been third party tested to insure real savings. Look for Energy Star certification when choosing a refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, dryer, lighting etc.

Drinking water

Use tap water or add a filter to your sink for drinking water to avoid buying water in plastic bottles.

Countertops and cabinets

Use cabinet fronts made from reclaimed or re-milled wood. For recycled cabinets try the Habitat for Humanity Store. Countertops can be made from recycled material. Most contain re-cycled glass in various color combinations and are very attractive.

Home recycling center

Build a convenient home recycling center. It is easy to maintain and helps keep our landfills from filling up. Information on recycling in Minneapolis is available at the City’s Solid Waste and Recycling Division website.

Linoleum flooring

Install a natural linoleum floor. Natural linoleum is made from linseed oil (flax) rather than vinyl.

Heating and cooling systems, laundry and water heater

Heating and Cooling Systems: Install high efficiency heating systems that are 90 percent or higher annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) with sealed combustion. The difference in cost between a high efficiency heating system and an average one (AFUE in the low 80s) is generally recovered in three years from the savings. If you are investing in a high efficiency heating system, you can get even more savings from it by having an integrated system that also heats your hot water. Make sure the system is properly sized. Once all your combustion systems are vented out the side wall, be sure to seal off or remove your old chimney or your savings will be thermo-siphoned away through the old flue. Check out the federal government and state of Minnesota recommendations.

A geothermal heating and cooling system - also called a ground source heat pump is a super green way to heat and cool your home and for producing hot water. Geothermal works by having a loop that goes underground and to a coil in your air handling system. The liquid in the loop draws heat from the ground in the winter and is cooled by the ground temperature in the summer.

Solar energy can also be used for heating and cooling systems. Solar space heating can consist of a passive system, an active system or a combination of both. Space cooling can be accomplished using thermally activated cooling systems (TACS) driven by solar energy.

Heat recovery ventilators (HRV) are heat exchangers that use the heat in exhaust air to warm incoming make-up air. They are typically installed in new construction that is built to be very air tight and commercial building with a large amount of exhaust.

When replacing or adding a central air conditioning system sizing is important. Efficiency is lost if the unit is oversized.

Laundry and water heater

Laundry and Water Heater: Look for Energy Star ratings when purchasing laundry equipment which takes water and energy conservation factors into consideration. Front loading washers use less water than top loading machines.

Install a water heating system that conserves fuel. Options include:

  • A high efficiency water heater(side wall vented just like a high efficiency space heating system)
  • An instantaneous water heater (tankless)
  • A integrated system with a furnace or boiler
  • Solar hot water heating
  • Geothermal assisted

In new construction you could eliminate the need to have a chimney. In an existing building you need to securely close off or remove the chimney once all the combustion appliances are side wall vented otherwise the expected savings of the high efficiency appliances will be thermo-siphoned up the chimney.

An instantaneous water heater is also called tankless because it heats the water ‘on demand’ rather than storing it. You may want to install more than one if you expect your family to use a lot of fixtures with hot water at once.

An integrated system uses the space heater to heat the hot water too. This method makes use of a heat exchanger in the heating system and a storage tank for the hot water. Since you are using your heating system year round with this approach, an investment in high efficiency pays off even more quickly.

Rain barrel

Rain barrels capture water runoff that is contaminated with common urban pollutants and prevents it from entering storm drains and traveling into our lakes, streams and rivers. Simply place a rain barrel under your gutter from your roof. Rain barrels may have faucets so you can attach a hose and water your garden with the captured rain water. Learn more about how rain barrels are an ecologically sound idea.

Rain garden

Rain gardens are landscaped, designed and constructed as a low point in a yard to collect rainwater and prevent rain run-off into storm sewers. Native plants often adorn rain gardens. A rain garden design incorporates layers for filtering the water as it seeps into the ground. Often swales (low areas to carry water) are constructed along the property line to direct run-off away from structures and neighboring property. Bring the swale and the run-off from the roof and driveway to a rainwater garden.

Stormwater management

Stormwater management helps protect our surface water (lakes, rivers, ponds, wetlands and other water collection areas) from being contaminated by common urban pollutants. It helps improves surface water quality, helps the environment, protects fish, wildlife and aquatic plants, and for safe recreational use. The City of Minneapolis provides financial incentives for implementing stormwater management practices.

In addition to rain barrels and rain gardens, reducing impervious surfaces can also help with stormwater management. On an impervious surface the rainwater washes off rather than being absorbed. Paved driveways and most rooftops are prime examples of impervious surfaces. The water run-off can be reduced by use of alternative types of surfaces such as a new type of paver or newly developed permeable asphalt or concrete for the driveway and walkway that allows the rainwater to pass through into the soil.

Rooftop run-off can be absorbed by having a roof top garden. Turning roofs into green space also helps diminish the heat island effect found in cities. Minnesota Green Roofs Council has more information on green roofs.

Green landscaping and outdoor living

Plant trees to winter-protect and summer-cool your home: Use evergreens to the north to block wind and green leafy trees to the south, east and west for summer cooling. After the leaves drop off the windows can capture the sunlight in the winter.

Plant a native garden that utilizes plants that are natural to our area and the prairie. Native plants have naturally adapted to our weather and soil conditions reducing the need for fertilizer, herbicides and irrigation. Use native plants in a planned landscaping design.

Plant low maintenance groundcover: A low maintenance groundcover is similar to a native garden in that the groundcover is hardy in our conditions.

When constructing decks, gazebos and other outdoor living spaces use decking of 50% or more recycled content. Make sure the product has been tested and approved for use in Minnesota. Or use treated wood that does not contain chromium or arsenic for decking and check that the connectors are compatible with the treated lumber. Using treated wood with an incompatible connector could result in early corrosion and failure of the connector. If you can’t find the information on the label, ask a sales person for help. Remember to check with the City of Minneapolis to see if a permit is required. Reuse any topsoil on the site that is moved during construction.

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