From the cars we drive to the long, hot showers we take, lifestyle choices affect the environment. The biggest culprit is our homes, where much of the energy we burn to heat and cool our living spaces escapes through the roof, windows, and walls.
Buyers searching for an energy-efficient place to hang their hats have a wide range of options, from custom-built homes with the latest in green technology, to century-old buildings that have had a deep energy retrofit, to “tiny houses” with composting toilets and other off-the-grid amenities.
Andrew Cooper, 51, said he and his wife, Catherine, 53, are building a green home in Wayland to fulfill their “wish to live comfortably in a solid-feeling house.”
In Medford, Lisa Quinn, 31, has a $200 credit on her electric bill, thanks to a deep energy retrofit that made a once-drafty house much more efficient. Originally constructed in 1916, the three-story building that includes Quinn’s condo was stripped to the studs and reconstructed using green technologies.
For those on a tight budget, a retrofit may be out of reach. A tiny house — usually no bigger than 7 feet by 26 feet — might be a better fit because of the economies of scale.
“The whole appeal of a tiny house is that it’s something the average Joe or Jane can do,” said Derek “Deek” Diedricksen, 37, of Stoughton, a former disc jockey whose show, “Tiny House Builders,” recently debuted on HGTV and the DIY Network.
Those serious about curbing their energy consumption say eco-friendly dwellings are key.
“We have not been cold since the day we moved into this house, and we have energy bills that are a fraction of what everyone else pays,” said Charissa Rigano, 46, of Andover.
She and her husband, Alan Kao, 50, have years of experience working for environmental consulting firms, helping others find ways to be moreenergy-efficient. In 2009, they decided to apply their expertise to their personal lives.
Working with a $600,000 budget, they hired Leland DiMeco of Boston Green Realty and builder Dean Chongris of Ecologics Construction in North Andover to find a parcel with an unobstructed southern exposure for a house builtto the exact orientationto the exact orientation for optimal solar power.
Their 2,700-square-foot contemporary Colonial was framed with concrete forms, 12-inch-thick walls with 3 inches of insulated foam on both sides of 6 inches of concrete.
Other green features include a small pellet stove, low-flow fixtures, and a high-efficiency gas furnace. Twenty-four solar panels provide electricity; two others provide hot water.
The result: The couple’s monthly gas bill rarely tops $100,even when temperatures plummet,even when temperatures plummet even when temperatures plummet, even when temperatures plummet.
“I see a steady flow of buyers who are looking for energy-efficient homes,” said DiMeco, who has specialized in green homes since 2004. “Some are concerned about their carbon footprint. Others are looking for a home with good indoor air quality because they have allergies or chemical sensitivities, or they’re concerned about utility costs.”
The Coopers’ 3,200-square-foot home in Wayland will feature LED lighting, dual flush toilets, solar panels, and, most importantly, insulated concrete form walls.
A dark bronze metal roof, custom stonework, and James Hardie siding will give the home the look of a Vermont farmhouse, Catherine Cooper said, while the attached two-car garage — framed in timber and painted red — will resemble an old New England barn.
The home, expected to be completed this summer at a cost of $750,000, “will be comfortable to live in, with stable temperatures and good air quality, and the added benefit of being low-cost, low-energy to achieve it,” Andrew Cooper said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”“It’s the best of both worlds.”
For Quinn’s Medford condo, Brian Butler of Savilonis Construction in Natick did the deep energy retrofit, defined as renovations that cut energy consumption by at least 50 percent. Insulation was added to the walls, making some as thick as 16 inches, and solar panels were installed on the roof. After a bidding war, Quinn purchased the unit in November 2013 for $410,500.
“There are no hot or cold spots in my condo, and the heat hardly ever turns on,” said Quinn. “I’m glad I found this unit, because energy-efficient homes are really hard to come by.”
The ideal candidate for a deep energy retrofit is an older home in need of significant upgrades because its outdated systems “are fully depreciated,” said Butler.
The Dutch Colonial he recently completed in Belmont is a perfect example, he said. Built in 1927, the three-bedroom at 158 Concord Ave. is on the market for $1,265,000.
Butler, in conjunction with sustainable design and development firm SA2 Studios, retained the home’s classic 1920s style while seamlessly blending green technologies to create a modern, nearly net-zero energy home.
In addition to a steam shower, granite counters, and Jenn-Air stove, the 2,700-square-foot home now boasts a new roof and all-new mechanical systems; wall insulation up to 14 inches deep; German tilt-and-turn triple-pane windows; and airtight exterior doors that are nearly 3 inches thick. The roof injzjJsulation, a hybrid of spray foam and blown cellulose, exceeds building code by 100 percent.
The energy-conscious features ensure the home will use 75 percent less energy than a wood-frame home built on site of comparable size, said DiMeco, the listing broker.
For those looking to reduce their footprint — literally and energy-wise — a tiny house may be the answer.
Diedricksen, who runs Relax Shacks out of Stoughton, said he has built microstructures for as little as $800 using salvaged finds. Others can cost up to $50,000.
“My goal is to spend $25,000 or less and live mortgage-free,” said Miranda Aisling, 21, of Arlington, who hopes to build her 144-square-foot tiny home on the front lawn of the Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord as a “Big Art, Tiny House” public art project.
She’s applying for a permit to build a 20-foot-long Cypress home, a model marketed by Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., a California firm that Aisling has been working with for several months.
“I’d like to involve as many people as possible with the build, and show how art is connected with daily life,” said Aisling.
Once completed, Aisling’s home — with solar power, a composting toilet, and a sleeping loft — would be moved to a permanent site.
Aisling hopes the home will serve as a prototype for Miranda’s Hearth, her long-term goal of a community art hotel that comprises several eco-friendly tiny homes where everything — from the furniture to the soap — is made by members of the community.
“That’s a big part of why I like the tiny house movement,” she said. “Every single person considers every part of their home and builds accordingly.”