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The Heights Development: Empowering Sustainable Futures

The Heights Development: Empowering Sustainable Futures

While Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity works to create, preserve, and promote affordable housing in the metro area, we’re also one of the leaders in sustainable homebuilding practices. We’ve already made great strides, but our upcoming work at The Heights in St. Paul represents an exciting new level in our sustainability journey.

Sustainability at The Heights 

people holding shovels over a dirt mound to break ground on a build site.The Heights groundbreaking in 2023

The Heights development on St. Paul’s Greater East Side is truly a groundbreaking effort by multiple partners. This $450 million project has the potential to be one of the most energy efficient developments ever created in Minnesota with an all-electric community. Our builds at The Heights will be passive homes and aim for LEED-Platinum Certification. Passive homes are airtight and extremely well-insulated; they use 90% less energy than a traditional home! This type of home ultimately represents the future of sustainable living. Here are the other key ways The Heights is reaching new heights when it comes to green-building.  

  • Air source heat pumps: More than 1,000 homes will be built completely without gas lines by using airtight insulation, triple-paned windows, and air source heat pumps. Twin Cities Habitat has been installing these pumps on our single-family homes since 2022. An air source heat pump is a highly efficient, electrically powered system that uses refrigeration technology instead of fossil fuels to generate heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. They've been used in homes around the country for many years, but only recently have they been able to operate in below-zero temperatures in the winter. (A must for Minnesota homes!)

    Heat pump sustainable homeownership

  • Rooftop solar panels: Twin Cities Habitat is increasingly using solar panels in our new building construction and also retrofitting older homes. Solar power produces zero emissions, which further decreases our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. It can also help improve air quality. The Heights will feature solar panels and potentially solar shingles! 

    Solar panel installation 1000x750

  • Geothermal energy system: In March, 2024, The Heights was awarded $4.7 million for Geothermal Energy! The Heights Community Energy group plans to construct and operate a district geothermal energy system at the development. District heating systems are more energy efficient than individual heating systems because heat is generated at a central plant and distributed through a network of insulated pipes, rather than being generated at each individual building. Using geothermal energy means using energy and heat from the Earth's crust rather than fossil fuels.

  • Energy efficient appliances and building materials: Each unit we're building at The Heights will feature ENERGY STAR Certified refrigerators, furnaces, and water heaters. We select the building materials themselves with sustainability in mind. Airtight siding and insulation and laminate flooring made from recycled waste are examples of green-building in action. 

  • Intentional green spaces: In addition to these sustainable building practices, The Heights development will feature trails, wetlands, a new 5-acre public park, and 12 acres of open space. Combined, this will be a beautiful, modern area where people and nature can thrive.

Rendering of wetlands at the future Heights Development.

As host of the 2024 Carter Work Project, The Heights will be in the national spotlight this fall. We hope our sustainability initiatives will be an inspiration for more community scale actions, not just in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, but across the country. We will show that it's possible to address climate change while also helping homeowners keep their energy costs down.

Partnerships Build Communities 

Collaboration is at the heart of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity's sustainability efforts – we cannot do this important work alone. Partnerships with organizations like Doran Construction and Andersen Windows allow us to access innovative technologies and the latest materials that increase energy efficiency in homes. 

When it comes to solar energy, funding support from the City of Minneapolis Green Cost Share program and Xcel Energy’s Income-Qualified Solar Rewards program means we can add solar without impacting affordability. A grant partnership with the Minnesota Center for Energy & Environment through the Environmental Protection Agency helped us pilot the installation of air source heat pump units in Dakota County. Without our partners, our green efforts would not be as successful. We also gain much support through our collaboration with other Habitat affiliates and statewide support organizations. Together, we share knowledge and best practices as we work collectively to reduce our carbon footprint. 

Disparities in Sustainability 

An electric bill, calculator, and light bulb grouped on a table.
Sustainability efforts go beyond environmental conservation; they intersect with larger societal issues, such as economic disparities and racial injustice. Access to affordable housing is fundamentally linked to a family's ability to thrive, and our green homes will help more families be able to experience the power of homeownership.

One of the most tangible ways is by reducing utility costs for homeowners. For many low- to mid-income families, high utility bills can create significant financial strain. The strain is worse when you consider the racial homeownership gap. Families often find themselves forced to set aside a larger amount of their income for utility bills, leaving them with fewer resources to cover other essential needs such as food, healthcare, and education.

Sustainability efforts are not just about constructing buildings; they're about building a more just and equitable society. By addressing the intersection of economic disparities, racial injustice, and environmental concerns, we’re creating a community where everyone has access to safe, affordable housing and the opportunity to thrive.

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