Letter from the Editor

Small Home Gazette, Summer 2008

Letter From the Editor: local building materials

You may be familiar with the best selling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He laments the distance that so much of our food travels to get to our plate and urges us to make a more sustainable choice by eating locally produced foods.

What if we applied a “buy local” philosophy to the building or remodeling of a bungalow? For example, could we find the materials we want or need from Minnesota manufacturers?

Analysts at Dovetail Partners, a Minneapolis nonprofit dedicated to providing authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, has investigated these questions and more. Their full report is online at www.dovetailinc.org. (Click on Publications, then Reports, and search for “Green Building Materials: Made in Minnesota.”)

The first part of the report discusses the issues of defining what “local” means. What distance is considered local—200 miles from the construction site? 500 miles? Within Minnesota’s borders? Is it enough to assemble a product within this local area, or must a certain percentage of its components come from the area as well? Does the shipping method—train or barge versus truck or plane—make a difference? The report discusses how various organizations answer questions like these.

The report highlights the multitude of building products manufactured in Minnesota from materials available in-state and elsewhere. The housing slump has forced some of those operations to shut down. It’s also clear that as far as home construction and remodeling go, Minnesota cannot do it alone.

For instance, cement powder—apparently a key ingredient in cement—is not found in Minnesota. While asphalt shingles are made here, much of the raw materials come from out of state. The same goes for drywall—it’s made here but from imported materials. Minnesota is “big” in countertops, flooring, cabinets and millwork—you’ll find several manufacturers using Minnesota materials. For a Minnesota home’s energy system, there are companies manufacturing the components of geothermal systems. There’s even a solar panel maker!

Windows and doors are easy, with two of the big names in the industry here—Andersen Windows in Bayport and Marvin Windows and Doors in Warroad. But the components come from far and wide. There are some smaller window and door companies in the North Star state that get the majority of their materials from Minnesota.

The report is chock full of local companies that provide various products, either from local sources or from materials brought into Minnesota. Best of all, the report lists contact information for every manufacturer mentioned and reference sources for other Minnesota companies.

The bottom line is that building or remodeling a home from materials found or manufactured within Minnesota’s borders is not that far out of reach.