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Not Just Dodging a Draft: Sustainable Building 2030

April 16, 2012 By Karen Weldon, Macalester Colelge

Over the next several weeks Minnesota 2020 will run a series of columns focusing on environmental policy issues. This is part of our continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Environmental Studies Department and its students.

Visiting my grandparents’ Victorian farmhouse each winter, I remember wanting to play with the bear-faced draft dodgers that smiled up at me from the bottoms of doorways. “If you move them, the cold air will come inside,” my parents frequently warned. At the time I thought draft dodgers should be toys. Upon reflection, I now realize that they illustrate the need for more energy efficient homes.

 While drafty homes were not as problematic during the recent mild winter, a change in projected carbon emissions suggests we should pay attention to household energy usage.

 Seven years ago, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that energy use from buildings would increase 44 percent between 2005 and 2030. In February 2012 EIA lowered the projection to 14 percent. While some variables were factored into the study, recent growth in green buildings is likely also a cause. Since the federal government and other organizations have implemented sustainable building policies and codes, it makes sense that energy use may be decreasing due to increases in green building.

Environmentally speaking, this is good news. According to sustainable buildings promoter Architecture 2030, the building sector uses almost half all the energy consumed in the U.S., emitting 46.7 percent of carbon dioxide from manmade sources. This is more energy than both transportation and industry—which account for 33.4 and 19.9 percent of CO2 emissions, respectively— making the building sector the largest contributor to climate change in the country.

With a 2008 policy that calls for carbon neutrality by 2030, Minnesota is a leader of green building legislation. Minnesota Sustainable Building 2030 (SB 2030) mandates that buildings must meet specific energy efficiency standards in order to receive public funding. Based on the Architecture 2030 challenge for carbon neutrality, the purpose of the legislation is to completely wean buildings from the use of carbon producing fuel.

For this purpose, the statute sets five-year benchmarks for energy efficiency. The first benchmark required that buildings reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent in 2010 from the typical energy use of buildings in 2003. Further benchmarks mandate an additional 10 percent decrease. So far, the state is doing a good job of meeting these goals. The model buildings for the program are near the 2010 goals

However, 10 case studies of buildings built before the statue was instituted show SB 2030 has its limitations. While the statute suggests that average energy use will be reduced by 60 percent from the national averages of 2003, meeting the 2010 benchmark only reduced energy usage in Minnesota by 5 percent from 2009 levels.

More importantly, the legislation focuses only on commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings. The statute simply omits residential buildings. Without applying the SB 2030 to residential buildings, the legislation loses a major portion the housing industry. If Minnesota truly wants to be a leader in green building and help reduce energy use as the EIA predicts, leaders should incorporate residential buildings into SB 2030.

The atmosphere is right for stronger legislation regarding green buildings in residential areas:

  • Educational tools available through SB 2030 will train architects how build sustainable homes.
  • The increase in green building has lead to lower costs for energy efficient construction supplies.
  • Estimates suggest that green buildings cost only one- to two- percent more than standard buildings.
  • Many consumers want homes that use less energy. A recent article in “Finance in Commerce” describes how apartment dwellers in Minneapolis prefer energy efficient homes.

• The state does offer some incentives for green energy renovations and construction for residential homes. But, by making mandates for new homes live up to the benchmarks of SB 2030, the state can guarantee lasting change.

Until that time, homeowners can make green renovations using the tips provided by organizations including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and ask policymakers to consider expanding SB2030 to residential buildings. If such legislation becomes a reality, perhaps draft dodgers will no longer be necessary and, just as I wished when I was child, they can be used as stuffed animals.

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