Living Green 365: Home Exteriors

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Living Green 365
Dear Living Green 365 readers:
During the summer, I spend more time looking at the exterior of my home. This month, I saw a loose shingle, some bubbling paint, and unwanted plants along my foundation. Which of these should I care about? Which should be my priority? Read on for tips on how to keep your home's exterior in good condition.

Greening your home's exterior

Summer is an ideal time to work on home improvements that will help your home last longer, keep you healthy, and increase energy efficiency. Take a walk around your home and assess what improvements need to be done this summer.
Inspect the foundation for cracks. Foundation cracks can be a pathway for moisture and pests to enter a home. Excessive moisture can lead to mold and structural deterioration, and pests can affect a home’s structure and indoor air quality. Repair indoor and outdoor cracks right away or hire a professional to do so.
 Inspect gutters and downspouts for damage or blockage. To prevent water from coming into your home, gutters should drain water several feet away from the foundation. Add downspout extensions if needed. Consider a rain garden at the base of a downspout to soak up the water, but locate the garden at least 10 feet from your foundation.
Remove vegetation within one foot of the foundation. Planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead air space that insulates your home in both summer and winter. But keep full-grown vegetation at least one foot from the foundation to minimize moisture problems.
Increase slope next to foundation. Encourage proper drainage by sloping the ground away from the house.
Add a rain barrel. Water from a rain barrel can be used to irrigate plants and grasses. Most commercially sold barrels are designed to keep mosquitoes out. The more water that is collected by a rain barrel, the less water there is to saturate foundations and basements.
Check the roof for damaged shingles. Look for loose and raised shingles or bent flashing around chimneys and vents. Repair or replace as needed. For improved durability, consider installing a metal roof or a 40+ year asphalt shingle roof.
Check siding for peeling or blistered paint. Peeling and blistering paint should be replaced. If repainting, use exterior paints that are low- or no- VOC (volatile organic chemicals) and formaldehyde-free.
Seal exterior air leaks. Sealing on the outside of your home not only prevents air from entering, it can also prevent damage to siding, walls, insulation, windows, and doors due to moisture intrusion. There are many places to apply caulking or foam to weather seal the exterior of your home: doors and windows; vents for furnaces, dryers, water heaters, air exchangers; entry points for wires, pipes, cables, faucets. Learn to caulk and seal your house by downloading the Home Envelope Guide from the Department of Commerce.
If re-siding your house, choose long-lasting materials. Steel and fiber-cement siding are especially durable. Steel can be recycled at the end of its useful life. Remember to do an energy audit if you replace siding. Properly installed, new siding can make your house much tighter, which can change the fresh air requirements for some combustion appliances or for the occupants.
Upgrade exterior lights. Switch exterior bulbs to energy-efficient compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LED). Adding motion detectors to exterior lights will also save energy.
Build a greener deck or patio. If you build a deck, use wood that is certified to be from sustainably managed forests, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification; use reclaimed wood that does not contain chromated copper arsenate, lead, or creosote; or use recycled-content materials. Better yet, install a patio, which typically requires fewer materials than decks to construct. If installing a patio, consider pavers that let the water through. These "pervious" pavers let water soak into the ground, thereby reducing pollutant-prone runoff.
Consider solar. Adding solar electricity panels or solar hot water panels can reduce your carbon footprint and save money in the long run. An installer will perform site assessment to determine if your house is a good candidate for solar. Find an installer near you on this interactive map of solar and wind installers in Minnesota.
Additional resources

Community events and resources

You don’t have to go far to enjoy the outdoors—just pull out your tent and sleep in the backyard! Both kids and adults will appreciate this outdoor experience. Pull out the tent on June 25 to participate in the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout.
Learn about Air Pollution in Minnesota at a free seminar by Frank Kohlasch and Kristie Ellickson, PhD, of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Jean Johnson, PhD, of the Minnesota Department of Health, June 29, 6:30-8:00 p.m., American Lung Association (St. Paul).
Enjoy time outdoors with your family at the Audubon Center of the North Woods’ Becoming an Outdoor Family weekend. Experts will teach a variety of outdoor and recreational classes, such as archery, geocaching, fishing, survival skills, high ropes, reptiles/amphibians, animal signs and aquatics, July 10-12, Audubon Center (Sandstone).
Learn how to compost at Do it Green! Minnesota’s composting workshop, July 16, 1 p.m., Midtown Global Market (Minneapolis).