Inside the Innovation House

We pulled out all the stops to bring the latest home tech features to our Innovation Home. See the 16 coolest things from the home and be amazed by how smart one home can be.

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Bathroom Countertop Ideas

Good-looking countertops -- whether made of marble, limestone, or concrete -- create high-functioning bathrooms that spill over with style. These popular countertop materials are sure to inspire a bathroom remodel.

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Find Your Dream Backyard

Whether you dream of sunning by a state-of-the-art pool or strolling through a simple cottage garden, there's an outdoor oasis with your name written all over it. Take this quiz to find out where you really belong.

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DIY Patio Ideas

Want to boost the beauty and usefulness of your outdoor spaces? Put one of these inspiring DIY patio ideas to work in your landscape.

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Easy Fireplace Upgrades

Does your fireplace need a facelift? Check out these 20 ideas for updating your fireplace with easy-to-apply embellishments and simple-to-make constructions.

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8 Cutting-Edge Exterior Features

The wow-factor of the Innovation Home starts with great curb appeal. See the eight things that make the home's exterior stand out.

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Budget Curb Appeal

Be the best home on the block for less. These budget curb appeal updates will show you how.

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Popular in Home Improvement

Small, High-Performance House

A small house returns big dividends in comfort, energy-savings, and healthy living.


    Everything in this slideshow

    • Designed to Save Energy

      Here's the first rule of building green: The smaller a house the better. A small house requires fewer materials to build and less energy for heating, cooling, lighting, and such. At only 990 square feet total on the main and upper levels (there's also a 590-square-foot basement), this home fits the bill. It was constructed by builder Bob Allen ( for his family in High Falls, New York. Solar power, solar water heating, high-performance insulation, and other features minimize energy costs year-round.

    • Solar Water Heating

      Water is heated with no operating costs by a solar panel system attached to the roof. "The system supplies our hot water from April through November," Bob says. When the sun isn't shining and during short winter days, a conventional gas water heater provides backup.

    • Living Space Extends onto a Deck

      Contributing to the sense of space, the dining room/sunroom opens onto a deck made of ipe wood. This outside living area helps the home live as big as all outdoors during good weather. The barbecue is a center of activity when entertaining family and friends.

    • One-Room Living

      The main public space encompasses the living room, home office, kitchen, and dining room/sunroom. "For two people, it lives comfortably," Bob says. To reduce the home's environmental impact, floors are bamboo, finishes are low-VOC, and fans stir air. "The environment inside is clean, easy to take care of, and simple -- just how I wanted it," the homeowner/builder says.

      To help keep heat from escaping in winter, Bob chose standard-size, triple-pane, high-efficiency windows from the Architectural series by Pella Windows and Doors (; 800/374-4758).

    • Insulating and Finishing Walls

      Doing its job inside walls is a soy-based, blown-in foam from BioBased Insulation (; 800/803-5189). The material achieves insulation values of R20 for walls and R30 for the roof, but its critical job is stopping air leaks by sealing cracks, crevices, and voids. For a snug home on cold winter days, Bob also installed a high-performance and energy-efficient radiant heat system under the flooring.

    • Finishing the Walls

      Interior walls are not standard drywall. Instead, Bob used wheatboard, a dense material made of wheat straw. Handled just like plywood sheets, the material was cut into wide shiplap strips for the walls and narrow strips for the ceiling. "Wheatboard adds texture to the wall that drywall doesn't have," Bob says. The manufacturer is Environ Biocomposites (; 800/324-8187). The material was purchased through ECO Supply (; 800/883-7005).

    • Kitchen Open to Living Areas

      The island serves as a place to eat a snack and as a transitional element between the living area and the kitchen. Bob built the cabinets from PlyBoo (; 866/835-9859), a plywood material made with sustainable bamboo. Appliances are Energy Star-rated for efficiency.

    • Green Sinks and Countertops

      In keeping with his environmental concerns, Bob chose Richlite (; 888/383-5533) for kitchen and bath countertops and sinks. The material is manufactured using layers of recycled paper soaked in a resin. Rock-hard, Richlite looks similar to solid-surfacing. Because of its durability, Bob used Richlite on all window sills and for an outside tabletop exposed to weather year-round. "The material is maintenance-free," Bob says. "The parent company makes a version of it for use in skateboarding parks, so you know it can stand up to just about anything."

    • Double Duty Dining Room/Sunroom

      With glass sliders all around, the dining room/sunroom space feels almost like out-of-doors. The floor is concrete. Thermal shades hold winter cold at bay.

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      Master Bedroom

      Although the master bedroom is a modest 360 square feet, the bedroom is 11x14 feet. Plus, there's room for a convenient bathroom and a 6x11-foot walk-in closet. Bob built in a bamboo wall cabinet with 15 large drawers.

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      Master Bathroom

      Separated from the bedroom by sheets of frosted glass, the bathroom has a modern, practical sensibility. The shower is always open. Bob fabricated the sink and counter from Richlite, which is easy to live with. "When it's time to clean the shower and floor, you can just take the shower wand and hose down everything. Water goes right to the drain in the floor," he says.

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      Fan for Comfort

      Another ceiling fan, this one in the master bedroom, keeps the upper level comfortable in warm months. Though small, the fan works well for little cost.

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      Solar Power Panels

      An array of solar panels is located next to an electric meter about 200 yards from the house. That's close enough to be practical without being intrusive. The system's list cost was about $50,000, but with rebates, tax credits, and a low-interest energy-efficiency loan, Bob went solar for about half that. "The system is supposed to provide 110 percent of my electric needs over the course of a year," he says. "I'm not yet positive it will do all that, but I want this to be a green house, so I put my money where my mouth is."

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      Next Slideshow 24 Tips for Energy-Efficient Homes

      24 Tips for Energy-Efficient Homes

      Learn how to conserve energy and costs in your home with these expert tips for better living.
      Begin Slideshow »



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