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This attractive home in Austin, looks like your standard suburban dwelling, but it's far from ordinary. The eco-minded homeowners designed a hardworking home that's built from durable materials, enlists nature to help heat and cool, and is supremely energy-efficient.
Location was the first step in their green building effort. To save gas (and time), the homeowners chose infill property in a neighborhood that's conveniently close to their bank, grocery store, and children's school. Building in or near a city is inherently eco-friendly because lots, utilities, and services already exist so no energy is wasted to create something new.
Fiber-cement siding and composite wood trim (recycled from milk jugs and wood chips) resist hail, fire, rot, and insects. Limestone, used to face parts of the home's exterior, is inexpensive and plentiful in Austin. It requires less energy to produce than a material such as brick.
The Galvalume metal roof is made from post-industrial recycled steel. It resists cracking and corrosion, and its light color deflects heat. The home's overhangs extend 3-5 feet to provide summer shading. Another bonus: The homeowners don't have to clean the windows very often.
The porch is positioned to capture southeasterly breezes. When doors to the living room are open, the incoming breezes can travel across the room and up the stairwell, where warmer air is released through electrically operated windows.
Linoleum and oak flooring found throughout the home are durable, are easy to clean, and reflect light. Linoleum is made from natural materials. The oak flooring is a smart choice because it's plentiful and affordable. And the homeowners don't have to worry that they're expending energy to import an exotic wood.
In addition to providing hot water, the water heater also handles space-heating needs with a radiant floor hydronic system.
Energy Star-rated appliances, which are high-quality products verified to be more efficient than nonrated appliances, help to keep utility bills low.
On the main level, only the guest room, bath, and home office are enclosed. The open plan offers reduced energy consumption (air circulates naturally throughout the space) and less use of building materials.
Two air-conditioning systems allow for independent zoning of each floor. This makes for better control of comfort, less energy consumption, and greater flexibility as living needs change over time. Digital programmable thermostats sense humidity in the house and correct the level when needed.
Key windows are oriented to capture breezes -- the most effective strategy to save on cooling costs in a climate dominated by air-conditioning.
Attached garages can allow gas and paint fumes and other toxins into the home. This detached carport improves indoor air quality.
Drought-tolerant native plants minimize water usage. Shade from existing trees helps to keep the house cool.
The notion that green-built houses cost a lot more just doesn't add up. According to architect Peter Pfeiffer, green-built houses cost an average of about 5 percent more. However, green-built homes save money on maintenance and up to 50 percent on utilities.
Thanks to solid budget planning, this house (at around $200/square foot) was built for about $50 less per square foot than comparable, conventional new houses in the neighborhood.
Follow these tips to make your home more high-performance -- saving both energy and money in the long run:
-- Trade incandescent for fluorescent and LED lightbulbs.
-- Add insulation to attic flooring, and if possible, to walls.
-- Replace toilets and showerheads with low-flow ones and upgrade appliances to those that are Energy Star-certified.
-- Repair or replace ductwork to ensure the home is properly sealed.
-- Shade windows prone to excess light with awnings and make sure all windows are weathertight.