‘Green’ building ideas are taking root

By Jacquee Thomas

Small Newspaper Group

Sod roofs and solar panels are part of dreaming green, as are ground-source heat pumps, and "smart lighting systems."  

"Green" homes and buildings promote a sustainable, earth-friendly environment by preserving energy and resources. People who dream green will find that their dreams are attainable.

A growing number of buildings in Rochester are using them, not only to help the environment but also to save money. For instance, the recently completed International Mutual Assistance Association building has geothermal heating and lots of natural light; and Olmsted County’s planned Public Works Service Center will have a white roof, primarily south-facing window exposures and a minimal amount of outdoor paving.


"Green" homes are affordable, says Larry Merritt, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Environment. They use heating and electricity systems that are energy-efficient.

Examples of green measures in buildings include:

• Solar energy to power heating and/or lighting and "smart lighting systems" with skylights and large windows to reduce the need for electrical light.

• Geothermal heating and cooling systems that draw from the earth to help preserve energy, he says. While the Midwestern climate changes from cold to hot over the year, the temperature beneath the "frost zone" remains relatively the same.

Ground source heat pumps draw ground-temperature air to cool interiors during summer and to help raise the temperature during winter. This, along with other "green" amenities, eliminates the need for air conditioning and reduces natural gas use in winter.

• "Green roofs" help lower a building temperature during summer and help hold in heat over the winter, Merritt says. They also reduce storm water run-off, as they absorb the water and let it out over a slower period of time.

"Some roofs have gardens with plants and native grasses, others have sod," he said.

As for green construction, Merritt says, architects and designers include non-toxic adhesives and non-toxic paints. Some use bricks from buildings that have been torn down.


Some designs call for bamboo flooring. "With other woods, you have to chop down a whole tree," Merritt says. "Bamboo is harvested. It regenerates."

Greenspace runs Tuesdays. For more on environmentally friendly topics, see

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