Best Practice

GreenStep City Best Practices: Buildings and Lighting
Efficient Existing Private Buildings {BP No. 2}

Provide incentives for energy, water and sustainability improvements in existing residential, not-for-profit and commercial buildings/building sites.

Optional Best Practice for Step 3 Recognition

Category A cities: implement this best practice by completing any two actions.

Category B and C cities: implement this best practice by completing any one action.


Optional Metric for Step 4 Recognition

Metric # 2: Green Buildings


In virtually every city the number of existing buildings dwarfs the number of new buildings being built every year. This huge stock of existing buildings and the building sites on which they sit, most of which were not designed for resource efficiency, offer many opportunities to make sustainability improvements. Even buildings that are relatively new frequently present a number of economically beneficial opportunities for efficiency upgrades, which help meet greenhouse reduction goals and also pay for themselves in reduced operating costs. Moreover, buildings with high energy efficiency and whole-building optimization improve occupant quality of life, employee productivity, and have a higher resale value.

Greenstep Advisor

Best Practice Advisor Photo

Peter Lindstrom, Local Government Outreach Coordinator, Clean Energy Resource Teams: 612/625-9634,,

Connection to State Policy

  • Energy utilities are required to demonstrate annual efficiency or conservation reductions under the 2007 Legislature's Next Generation Energy Act.
  • Every public water utility serving more than 1,000 people must adopt a conservation rate structure or a uniform rate structure combined with demand reduction methods by January 2015.
  • State law (504B.161) requires that, in every lease or license of residential premises, the landlord or licensor covenants to make the premises energy efficient by making improvements where the money to be saved in 10 (or fewer) years is anticipated to be more than the cost of making the improvements.
  • Every water utility must create a capacity use plan and verify that there is enough water to meet projected needs out 25 years in the metro area and out 10 years beyond the metro.
  • Minnesota's Rain Sensing Technology Law requires that all automatically operated landscape irrigation systems include rainfall sensors (which have a 1-yr. payback period) that will inhibit or interrupt the operation of the landscape irrigation system during periods of sufficient moisture.


Major Benefit

  • The Local Energy Efficiency Policy Calculator estimates impacts of adopting one or more of 7 energy efficiency policies (for existing public buildings and existing residential buildings) on energy savings, cost savings, pollution, jobs, and other outcomes over a time period set by the user, who inputs data regarding local energy and economic characteristics and level of investment. In Minnesota, Sustainable Buildings 2030 (SB2030) is the premier energy standard, which can be worked into city policy.
  • A mass retrofit of single-family homes could make a huge dent in greenhouse gas emissions: these homes are responsible for 38% of all building energy use and 73% of all residential use. Investments in retrofits also produce immediate economic impact, as most of the money is spent on labor costs for newly hired workers who tend to spend this money locally and increase its multiplier effect. $1 million spent on retrofits creates between 8 and 11 jobs and generates about $300,000 in taxes, according to estimates.
  • Affordable housing is critical for low-income Minnesota residents, but many affordable multifamily housing units are in need of repair and come with high energy bills. Energy accounts for up to 20% of renters costs. Lowering operating costs for building owners can help them maintain affordable rents and free up capital to preserve additional housing.
  • According to Energy Efficiency: Engine of Economic Growth (Environment Northeast: 2009), all the money that government agencies, utility companies, and others are spending on efficiency programs not only saves energy, it pumps cash back into the economy - from $6 to $8.50 for every $1 spent.
  • Even simple changes to routine building maintenance can have significant impact. For example, painting 1,000 sq. feet of roof white to create a cool roof is estimated to reflect enough sunlight to counteract the effects of 10 tons of carbon dioxide. Use the Roof Savings Calculator linked to from the Energy Star Roof products page to determine if a cool roof makes sense for a specific building in Minnesota. Note also that light-colored pavement also reflects sunlight, which offsets urban heating and air conditioning costs.
  • One-third of Minnesota residential water use is for outdoor irrigation and one-half of that is wasted from overwatering. New precision spraying nozzles can result in 30% water savings: up to 1,400 gal./year. Irrigation system controllers/timers cost about $100. Just by using a soil moisture sensor to communicate with the controller, water use can be cut by 60%.