Unlike other sectors in Minnesota, residential buildings have seen an increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the Next Generation Energy Act was enacted in 2007.

Rachel Wagner, owner of Through Design LLC, a Duluth-based company that specializes in ecologically and socially conscious solutions, offered tips on how the industry can build greener homes during an educational session at Minnesota Power's Energy Design Conference and Expo on Tuesday in Duluth.

"We can’t control behavior, but we can control the types of building we design (for clients)," Wagner said. "Because fundamentally, the people who we are working for are trusting us to select what's best for them."

In 2007, bipartisan support in the Minnesota Legislature put the Next Generation Energy Act into law, requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, residential buildings have seen a 11% increase in emissions in 2005-16. That's the second-highest increase after the industry and manufacturing sector.

"So we missed the target in 2015 and we are on path to probably miss the target again in 2025," Wagner said.

Electricity generation, on the other hand, has seen a 29% decrease in emissions during that time period.

To build more energy efficient homes and help put the state on track to meet its goal, Wagner told a room full of stakeholders to strive beyond just meeting the state's energy code when building new homes.

An electric car sits on display at the Energy Design Conference and Expo at the DECC Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
An electric car sits on display at the Energy Design Conference and Expo at the DECC Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

"Don't think that the energy code in Minnesota is going to give you the kind of house that we need to be building in order to reduce energy consumption associated with gas emission from the oil industry," Wagner said. "We can build the kind of houses that our children and grandchildren will thank us for in 30 years."

By 2030, Wagner said she wants to see all new homes with no fossil fuels burned on-site. Then, by 2050, all new homes would have a net-zero in greenhouse gas emissions, meaning whatever the home can't eliminate in emissions will be offset using other solutions.

More than 400 people had registered for the two-day conference Tuesday and Wednesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, said Amanda Oja, customer process analyst for Minnesota Power. Most attendants work in the industry as builders, designers and contractors.

Since Minnesota Power launched the conference 30 years ago, Oja said the intent has been to provide training and education for people to build energy efficient homes.

"We try to do some external sensing of what's happening out in the world," Oja said. "How can we stay ahead of that and prepare people to be ready for those changes?"

Business representatives stationed at the expo Tuesday spoke about how their companies have responded to changing market demands in the building industry, especially in the past 10 years.

Erick Filby, a Duluth-based manager for Marvin, a window and door manufacturer headquartered in Warroad, Minnesota, said some of those demands are pushed by initiatives such as Next Generation Energy Act, while others are driven by codes.

While much of the window industry uses low-E argon-gas-filled windows, or dual-pane windows, because it meets code, Filby said that's not enough if Minnesota is going to meet goals like an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Instead, Marvin has been engineering many of its products to accommodate triple-pane glass, Filby said.

"When there's a higher demand for higher performing products," Filby said, "it gives us the economic viability to introduce more high performing products in the market."

The conference continues from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the DECC. Registration has closed, though walk-ins are welcome.