The Two-Fer—How Midwesterners Are Saving Money while Cutting

Solutions in action from the Climate 2030 Blueprint

In every region of the country, people are seeing the advantages of improving energy efficiency in residential buildings. Single-family homes, apartment buildings, and even entire neighborhoods can be built new or renovated to boost energy efficiency—saving families money while reducing heat-trapping emissions.

Cleveland may, at first blush, seem an unlikely place to find green homes. The post-industrial city suffers from severe winters, residential flight, and industrial decline. By adding Cleveland to the emerging midwestern "Green Belt"—a reference to the region’s moniker as the Rust Belt—the city’s residents, businesses, and government see an opportunity to attract new industries and reverse population decline.

Artfully mixed with historic housing, the new energy-efficient homes in Cleveland’s EcoVillage add to the diversity of Detroit-Shoreway—a neighborhood of mostly renting families, with a few young professionals and empty nesters. Believing that a stable neighborhood is a socioeconomically mixed one (Hansen 2008), EcoVillage designers worked with the community to integrate these new homes into the fabric of the neighborhood (Metcalf 2008).

The 20 new village townhouses and two single-family homes sold for close to median market prices. Five "green" cottages will soon be available to residents making less than 80 percent of Cleveland’s median income (Dawson 2008). All the homes are equipped with energy-efficient appliances, double-pane windows, extra insulation, and high-performance heating, cooling, and air conditioning systems, to reduce energy use and utility bills.

Some units take advantage of passive solar heating through south-facing windows, and were built with framing that leaves space for more insulation (Metcalf 2008). Four of the townhouses also have photovoltaic panels on their garages, supplying a substantial percentage of each home’s electricity needs. Reports Mandy Metcalf, former EcoVillage project director, "A couple of the homeowners that have the panels were getting negative energy bills, actually getting credits on their energy bills" (Metcalf 2008).

Thanks to these simple construction techniques and the use of energy-efficient products—which are available around the country for competitive prices—heating bills for residents of EcoVillage are drastically lower than those for residents of standard housing. For example, heating costs for one of the three-bedroom green cottages are projected to be only $432 per year—less than half the amount a typical midwestern household expected to spend during the 2008–2009 winter (Cuyahoga Land Trust 2008; EIA 2008c). 

The renovation of Viking Terrace, an income-based rental complex in rural Minnesota, is another green housing success story. With funding from the city and federal governments, nonprofit organizations, and low-income housing tax credits, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership renovated 60 dilapidated apartments into energy-efficient, clean, safe, and affordable housing. The apartments are now equipped with Energy Star appliances and windows, improved insulation, water-conserving appliances and fixtures, a new ventilation system, and a metal gable roof (Minnesota Green Communities n.d.).  Renovators also installed a high-efficiency geothermal heating and cooling system—the project manager’s proudest, and largest, investment (Lopez, 2008). The partnership expects this system to pay for itself through energy savings in just a decade, and tenants say they love it (Lobel 2007).

With these installations, the partnership expects to cut household energy and water use by 40 percent (Buntjer 2007)—a significant decrease in the harsh Minnesota climate. Today all 60 apartments are happily occupied, and 15 families are on the waitlist. Four of the apartments are affordable to families earning 30 percent of area median income, while 47 are affordable to families earning 50 percent of area median (Minnesota Green Communities n.d.)—a strong testament to the desirability and economic benefits of green renovations.


Buntjer, J. 2007. Viking Terrace nominated for national honor. Worthington Daily Globe, August 3.

City of Chicago. 2008. Chicago climate action plan, 22.

Cuyahoga Community Land Trust. 2008. Energy efficient, accessible, affordable: The green cottages. Cleveland, OH. Accessed on October 30, 2008.

Dawson, D. 2008. Personal communication. November 17. Diana Dawson is outreach coordinator for the Cuyahoga County Land Trust, the nonprofit developer of the Cleveland EcoVillage Green Cottages.

Energy Information Administration (EIA). 2008c. Short term energy and winter fuels outlook. Table WF01. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed on October 7, 2008.

Energy Star. 2009. Reflective roof products. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed on January 26, 2009.

Hansen, K. 2008. Can Cleveland bring itself back from the brink? Grist, May 15.

Lobel, H. 2007. Low rent high tech. Utne Reader, November/December.

Lopez, J. 2008. Personal communication. November 17. Jorge Lopez works for the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and was senior program manager for the Viking Terrace renovation.

Metcalf, Mandy. 2008. Personal Communication. November 17. Mandy Metcalf served as the Cleveland EcoVillage Project Director for the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization during the EcoVillage construction.

Minnesota Green Communities. No date. Viking Terrace Apartments. Accessed on October 30, 2008.

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). 2009a. Energy savers: Tips on saving energy & money at home: Water heating. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed on January 26, 2009.

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