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A home made green and lean

Eco-aware rehabber finds that doing right by the earth is cost-effective, too.

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"Before, 'green' and 'energy efficient' were viewed as having an element of risk ... because they were expensive and not well understood," says Mahle. "But we have enough experience under our belts now to shift those perceptions. Green is now viewed as 'value added.' "

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A little research in advance would have helped

When I began, I wasn't sure that was the case. I wanted to go green because it seemed like the right thing to do in light of concerns about global warming. We dived into the renovation process, learning as we went. In retrospect, it would have been easier had I first researched the advances in green building as well as the myriad resources available.

The Envi­ron­mental Protection Agency's Energy Star website ( is a good place to start. It has a primer on energy audits, insulation, and R-factors. It also has an Energy Star adviser page that, when you plug in your ZIP Code, provides lists of ways to improve your home's efficiency and do-it-yourself guides. Turns out, the best way to start is also the most affordable: Insulate and seal your home.

"Before you even start to talk about alternative energy sources, you need to make a tight, energy-efficient [insulation] envelope," says Mark Nuzzolo, owner of Brookside Development in Wood­bridge, Conn. "Once you've reduced the demand [for energy], then you can figure out how to heat it and bring in power."

For a big building or rehab project, go to the NAHB's Na­tion­al Green Building Program and the Green Building Coun­cil's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED pioneered voluntary green building standards in 1993. Many consider them the platinum standard of green renovation. The NAHB also developed a set of standards, which have been accepted by the American National Standards Institute. Both organizations can guide you to qualified contractors.

"NAHB is obviously the biggest player in the home building industry," says Rick Schwolsky, editor in chief of EcoHome Mag­a­zine. "For them to come into this with their conference and a true standard – that's huge,"

Both groups offer a green-certification process. But there's a caveat: To qualify, a homeowner needs to have their involvement from the start. Since I wasn't aware of that, Sheep Dog Hollow will never qualify for a formal green certification.

If you're building or renovating with an eye to the market, a green designation can add 20 percent to a home's value – provided the real estate market in your area includes green attributes in appraisals.

Fortunately for us, though, we have a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rater on board. It's the HERS rater's job to know the best green building practices in order to advise you. They're trained by the Residential Energy Services Network and are certified by the federal and many state governments to give your green project a score. That score is required to qualify for various tax incentives and rebates. We'll get our final score when the house is finished – by September, we hope.

To read Alexandra Marks's other stories and blogs about the Sheep Dog Hollow renovation, go to: