Being Green

New Green Certification Program for Homes in the Twin Cities

Greening Minnesota ~ September 2011

Fall is in the air! The leaves are turning gold and red, but there are still some great green initiatives and events happening in Minnesota. There are plenty of people ad local communities working towards a cleaner environment for all Minnesota residents. Read on to find out more.

The annual report on organic farm performance from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and University of Minnesota said 2010 was a good year for organic farms. "Profits improved but were not outstanding." Balance sheets, however, were on average very sound as they headed into 2011. The report said that after a difficult 2009, the median organic producer earned a net farm income of $62,463 in 2010. That was a sixfold increase over 2009 and was consistent with returns earned in 2007 and 2008, which were considered very profitable for the organic sector.

As a Hopkins High School junior, Dustin Kloempken had the bright idea of getting solar panels installed to make his school more eco-friendly. It took six years, but the now-24-year-old's persistence has finally paid off. Six solar panels were installed at the school in September. Hopkins High School now is among just a few Minnesota schools with solar panels. One of those schools, Chisago Lakes Middle School in the north-metro, installed 44 solar panels two years ago thanks to several grants and donations covering the $73,000 cost. The 10 kilowatts of power save the school $1,600 a year in energy costs.

Grandview Tire and Auto's two-year-old building on W. 70th Street in Edina is a model of energy efficiency, with its insulated garage doors, white roof to cut heating and cooling costs and boilers burning waste oil to help heat the building. Manager Rick Murphy says the building would be even more efficient if it had solar panels. He'd like to add them and gradually pay them off over a few years as part of the property taxes for the business. Twenty-seven states, including Minnesota, now allow "property assessed...

Greening Minnesota ~ August 2011

There are some great green initiatives and events happening in Minnesota, contributing towards a cleaner environment for residents. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world. There are more entries than usual this month!

Prodded by a homeowner whose prairie plantings were mowed against his will, the city of Minneapolis has come up with a plan to let lawns go natural. Some suburbs have already taken the step of allowing natural plantings in place of grass, accepting their environmental benefits over the objections of some neighbors who think they look unkempt. The proposal defines the new type of landscaping as an intentional planting of native or non-native grasses, wildflowers, ferns, shrubs, trees or forbs. They're allowed to exceed the city's normal nuisance ordinance threshold of 8 inches in height, or grass that has gone or is about to go to seed. They can't include noxious weeds and have to be maintained to avoid "unintended vegetation." Unkempt turf lawns are specifically prohibited.

Organizers of the Visa Gymnastics Championships, held earlier this month in St. Paul, teamed up with Xcel Energy Center officials to exclusively power Xcel, RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium with wind energy for four days and go paperless at what President Steve Penny called USA Gymnastics' greenest event ever.The sustainability plan also included composting in Xcel Center lobbies. Instead of paper-based programs and bio packets, the revamped USA Gymnastics mobile site fed live scoring to smartphones, tablets and LED screens. Xcel Center has already emerged as one of the country's greenest arenas. Its "50-50 in 2" program, aimed at cutting trash and increasing recycling, has reduced trash by 1.2 million pounds and raised recycling rates from 15% to more than 50% by increasing the number of recycling and composting bins.

Prodded by Hennepin County to boost its lagging recycling rate,...

Greening Minnesota ~ July 2011

It's summer in Minnesota! The sun is shining, the rivers are flowing and the winds of sustainable change are blowing throughout Minnesota. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world.

Edina's new public works building, which formally opened this spring, was built with sustainability in mind. It has geothermal heating and cooling and used recycled materials and its landscape was designed to minimize the development's impact on the environment. A rain garden holds and infiltrates water from sloping parking lots. Native grasses and plants are growing in "no-mow" areas between the sidewalk and the parking lot. Once they're mature, those native plantings should need little care. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how these native areas work or how much money they can save when it comes to caring for public lands and some people are complaining about their appearance as they become established.

Minneapolis is ahead of the pack in at least one way compared to the rest of the country and other bike friendly cities like Portland. Here, depending on the data, between 31 and 45 percent of bicyclists are women, compared to a national average of 26.4 percent. The only thing the biking pundits find more puzzling is that people here also bike in the winter.

Minneapolis became the 10th city to sign on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's urban bird treaty, which brings with it a $70,000 grant to restore avian habitat. Mayor R.T. Rybak's office and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board raised an additional $98,019 by teaming with the city of St. Paul and Audubon Minnesota. The money will be used to enhance the bird habitat along North Mississippi Regional Park and B.F. Nelson Park near Nicollet Island and to create a birding trail in the Lilydale Regional Park along the Mississippi River. The Twin Cities supports more than 300 species of birds. Birds...

Greening Minnesota ~ May / June 2011

May and June are great for undertaking activities in the green movement. Read on to find out about how Minnesota communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world.

First of all, businesses along University Avenue could use your patronage. Construction on the light-rail track installation for the Central Corridor is taking its toll on businesses left struggling. In some cases, revenues have decreased by half as customers forgo trying to get to their favorite places due to the mess. The construction zone stretches from Emerald Avenue on the Minneapolis border to Syndicate Street N. Go have a bite to eat, have some coffee or shop at local businesses as our Twin Cities try to make more public transportation options available to residents.

Melissa Rappaport Schifman and her husband, Jim Schifman, bought a 1950s rambler on a corner lot across from Cedar Lake in Minneapolis with plans to remodel it using green methods and materials. When they discovered what it would cost to solve moisture issues in the basement, they scrapped the idea (and the house) to start from scratch. Ultimately, they built a sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy home with lower their energy consumption (and costs) and great views of the lake.

The long-awaited 4.3-mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail connecting St. Louis Park to the Mississippi River is finally complete. The last mile, through downtown, was ready May 23. The 20-year effort, spearheaded by the Cedar Lake Park Association (CLPA), produced what planners said was the nation's first federally funded bicycle "freeway." Its design, with two one-way bike lanes and a third pedestrian lane, has been reproduced for trails nationwide.

Anoka County also recently celebrated the opening of a 5-mile segment of Rice Creek North Regional Trail. The new trail segment connects the Lino Lakes Town Center with Baldwin Lake Park, through Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve. It also connects Rice Lake Elementary...

Greening Minnesota ~ April 2011

With the presence of Earth Day and the start of spring, April is a popular month for mobilization in the green movement. The future of the real estate industry has a lot to contribute towards reducing humanity's impact on the environment. Homes use a lot of energy and by reducing how much they use, we can be more gentle on the earth while lowering how much money we pay toward lighting, heating, cooling and more. Additionally, the way our communities are constructed and what services are offered within it can affect whether we even have the option to pursue other modes of transportation, like light rail, buses, even biking or walking. Read on to find out about how Minnesota communities are working towards creating a greener world.

The Community Partners Bike Library, a bicycle loan program in the Twin Cities, is back for its second year — with more bicycles, more volunteers, and another $110,000 in funding. The program provides free six-month bicycle rentals to low-income adults. Organizers see the program as a way to share a love of bicycling, along with its health and transportation benefits, to people left out of the mainstream bicycling community. This year, the program aims to reach 200 adults from April to September — 50 more than last year.

A plan to expand urban farming in Minneapolis has received final approval from the city council and Mayor R.T. Rybak. The Urban Agriculture Policy Plan opens the door for farmers to use public land for commercial farms and create a true local food economy in the heart of the Twin Cities. It also recommends incorporating urban agriculture into the city's long-range planning efforts. As part of the plan, the city will review its land inventory to look for places to grow food.

The Coon Rapids Sustainability Commission is hosting its second annual Green Expo at City Hall on April 30. Last year's event drew as many as 800 people. This year, there will be at least 50 exhibitors. The Expo will offer residents a chance...

Greening Minnesota ~ March 2011

Spring is in the air, the snow is melting, and hearty Minnesotans are beginning to stir from a long winter. With our local world getting ready to turn green, its only natural that more projects to Green Minnesota have been popping up. Here is a roundup.

According to the quarterly U.S. wind energy rankings published by the American Wind Energy Association, Minnesota is ranked fourth in the nation in installed wind capacity. Three new, large wind farms that came online late last year pushed Minnesota to No. 4, up from No. 7 the previous quarter. Minnesota ended 2010 with wind energy production capacity of 2,196 megawatts.

Coon Rapids' Homes for Generations program aims to take houses that are older but otherwise solid and "recycle" them by transforming them into homes built to last. In previous projects, builders used recycled and repurposed materials to save money. The fourth project will be even more eco-oriented, using things like recycled paint and solar panels.

Plymouth is hoping to add organics recycling, commercial and multi-family housing to its next citywide contract to encourage residents and businesses to recycle more trash. In contract bids, due March 24, Plymouth invited competing companies to propose a price for the three new targeted services and to describe how they would educate people to encourage more recycling. Firms that include these proposals in their bids can gain points toward winning the three-year contract.

Newport is about to join the legions of cities that have community gardens. The Newport City Council recently agreed to establish the city's first community garden, which will allow residents to grow their own plants and vegetables on a plot of city land that hasn't yet used. Other Twin Cities communities have similar programs. In Minneapolis, all 190 spots for the 2011 growing season at the Dowling Community Garden are already spoken for and there is a four-year waiting list to get in.

In the woods of Inver Grove Heights,...

Greening Minnesota ~ February 2011

With all eyes looking towards spring, there have been some environmental developments happening around the Twin Cities and Minnesota, particularly in regards to parks and natural areas. Here are some of the community-related green news and stories that broke in February.

All over the Twin Cities metro, registration for local community garden plots has begun or starts quite soon. Community gardens are popular right now, due to tough economic times and a desire for chemical-free, home-grown produce. People applying for community plots include homeowners, apartment dwellers, senior citizens, immigrants, people who are trying to save money on food and gardeners looking for green-thumb fun. The size and cost of renting a plot varies from city to city. In most locations, plots range from 10 by 15 feet to 20 by 20 feet and cost between $15 and $35 for the summer.

Workers have finished installing new pollution control equipment on the 58 older buses in Robbinsdale district's 114-bus fleet. The $87,000 project didn't even cost the school a single dime. The equipment and installation were funded through Project Green Fleet via the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Environmental Initiative. Green Fleet funnels grant money from such sources as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retrofit the state's school buses and other diesel fuel-burning vehicles. The vehicles get new mufflers designed to cut down emissions coming out of the exhausts. The new mufflers can reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by 15% to 30%. They can also reduce emissions of hydrocarbons. The idea is not only to contribute to cleaner air in general, but to more specifically improve the health of student passengers.

Butch and Ruth Rechtzigel of Inver Grove Heights are protecting the habitat they love by selling 66 acres of land to a state nature preserve. The sale has been about a decade in the making and connects two other protected parcels within the 330-acre Pine Bend...

Greening Minnesota ~ January 2011

There have been some interesting environmental development happening around the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Here are some of the community-related green news and stories that broke in January.

An in-depth survey of 3,000 households in Ramsey and Anoka counties is providing environmental researchers at the University of Minnesota insight into what it would take to get people to make more of an effort to reduce their impact on the earth. They asked about thermostat settings, number of children, cars, bedrooms, miles driven to work, lawn size and fertilizer use, even whether there were vegetarians in the house. As it turns out, most people really do care about their impact on the environment. But what really drives them to change is knowing how they rank on their own personal pollution scores, how they compare to their neighbors, and where they can improve. In the end, the researchers hope to find out how best to influence social norms and change behavior toward a more eco-friendly culture.

More U.S. consumers and developers are turning to factory-built housing for speed, quality and energy efficiency. The prefab market is positioning itself for major growth when the housing industry rebounds. Several prefab newcomers, including ZETA, Minnesota-based Hive Modular and Florida-based Cabin Fever, report healthy annual increases in the number of homes they're building. Several prefab newcomers, including Minneapolis-based Hive Modular, report healthy annual increases in the amount of homes they're building. The prefabs take 5 to 12 weeks to manufacture and 4 to 8 weeks to assemble and finish once it is delivered on site. Prices range from $200 to $250 per square foot. Several carried the Energy Star label and one earned the top, or platinum, rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Not finding a home that you like that's also energy efficient and earth-friendly? Perhaps buying a lot and a prefab is the right way to go.

The Varney Lake stormwater retention pond in White Bear Lake...

Greening Minnesota ~ December 2010

With all the white stuff that has been flying lately, December has been a slow month for green news in Minnesota. There are still a few stories worth noting.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has filed suit against the 3M Co., demanding that it pay the cleanup costs for decades of pollution caused by chemicals that have seeped into the Mississippi River and the drinking water of communities across the eastern Twin Cities metro area. The suit was filed in Hennepin County District Court after months of fruitless out-of-court settlement talks between the state and Maplewood-based 3M.

Forty-six new solar-powered parking meters went online in downtown Minneapolis recently. And quite literally. The meters are solar-powered and use Minneapolis’ Wi-Fi to allow credit card payments, but also accept quarters and dollar coins. In the future, even more older meters, which have been in use since 1992, will be coming down.

About $1 million has been awarded to projects that will light buildings, parking lots and trails, power a drinking water well, and heat water for campground showers via solar energy at parks and nature centers around the Twin Cities and the state. The money is  funded by the clean water, land and legacy amendment approved by voters in 2008. A majority of the park and trails fund goes to acquire and improve recreation areas.

The Xcel Energy Foundation has announced nearly $465,000 in grants in Minnesota. The money went largely to local theaters and arts groups, but some went to environmental groups. It was part of $4.25 million the utility's foundation has doled out this year in the eight states it serves. In Minnesota, about $141,000 in environmental grants went to support nonprofit projects that focus on the connection between the environment and energy.

That's the green news around Minnesota. Have a happy and prosperous New Year and celebrate the arrival of 2011 safely!

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