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Sustainably Designed Homes Are the Future

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

by Timothy Nolan, Sustainable Stillwater MN

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides YOU as homeowners with tax credits so that you can install solar panels and purchase energy-efficient products like water heaters, and heating and air conditioning systems like heat pumps.

Why is this important? Buildings account for over 31 percent of global energy use and 8 percent of direct energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Some stem from the materials in new construction, renovation, or demolition. Many more come from fossil fuels, primarily to heat space and water or for cooking. The potent chemicals used for cooling and refrigeration can escape as emissions. If we maximize heating and cooling efficiency, we can cut global energy use by 30 to 40 percent. Without aggressive actions to reduce energy consumption in buildings, the global energy demand will increase substantially.

Minnesota’s residential sector’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 32 percent from 2005-2018. This is alarming and indicates this sector is headed in the opposite direction. All the more reason to reduce energy use and enhance electricity efficiency. Plus using less fuel saves money, especially for low-income households whose energy bills consume a significant and disproportionate percentage of income.

We can also shift to renewable energy technologies like rooftop solar or by purchasing wind power. Buy Energy Star certified appliances, Water Sense certified low-flow fixtures, and preserve existing trees and native vegetation. Materials Efficiency, such as locally produced lumber, concrete, cabinets, doors, and siding, reusing excess construction materials, and recycling demolition wastes, is vital throughout the home's life.

The technology that stands out from the rest is heat pumps. A heat pump transfers heat from a cold space to a hot one. In winter, it pulls heat from outside and sends it into a building. In summer, it draws heat from the inside and sends it out. Air heat pumps can also be a great hot water source. Both are renewable energy.

Increasingly, builders are using sustainable design techniques, focusing on the long-term and considering a building's life cycle from planning to demolition. The key is understanding how things are interrelated before we build, striving to integrate structures within the surrounding environment, resulting in safer and healthier buildings that are less expensive to heat and cool and more climate friendly.

Improving our buildings' energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective and fastest ways to reduce electricity demand, slash carbon emissions, and improve local air quality. We can build with high-efficiency solutions like better insulation and windows, efficient lighting, and advanced heating and cooling systems, and reduce refrigerant emissions by managing leaks and proper disposal. Fluorinated gas refrigerants are powerful greenhouse gases. Alternatives, such as ammonia can replace them over time.

We can transition buildings from being a significant problem to being net-positive, producing more energy than they consume. It can also have a significant impact on equity and resilience. The future is now!

To find green builders and other energy-efficient businesses, visit


Resource Links with More Information About How to Improve New and Existing Homes

Ground Source Heat Pumps

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