4. Stay open about your choices.

How green do you want to be? If your goal is simply an energy-efficient house, you can focus on Energy Star appliances, on-demand water heaters, high-efficiency insulation and windows, and solar technology. If you want to take it a step further, you might consider sustainably harvested woods, reclaimed lumber, salvaged fixtures, and rainwater collection.

Even as you keep up with the latest materials, your selections may be influenced by what's available nearby. While materials can be ordered over the Internet, you'll have to factor in shipping costs and the environmental cost of the fuel used to transport them.

Aesthetics, too, come into play. "We were originally opposed to Hardiplank fiber cement siding, even though it's a green material, for the addition because we thought it wouldn't blend in with the house's original 80-year-old long-leaf pine," says Michael. "But today's stock lumber is so soft it would probably rot in about five years. Bill showed us that fiber cement could be a good match."

5. Think big, but start small.

Sometimes—no matter how good your intentions—your sense of responsibility to the environment has to play second fiddle to your budget. In other words, expect to make some concessions. Michael and Michele's $250,000 budget meant they had to make some tough choices. For example, solar panels that heat water—often considered the best use of solar power—came off the table due to the cost. Instead, the couple is going with an on-demand water heater, which is more efficient with their gas heating.

Remember, going green doesn't require you to incorporate costly extras if you can't afford them. "A lot of my clients think that green building means installing solar panels and rainwater collection systems," says David Webber. "But it can have just as much to do with the insulation you use and the efficiency of your AC unit."

In other words, start with the small stuff, choosing the greenest versions of the things you absolutely must have in the house, while staying on budget. Then—and only then—reconsider your budget if there's something more you feel adamant about having. Let's face it, being green often means using materials that are initially more expensive. But, as Webber says, "If we can do things today that are better for all of us tomorrow, it's worth the extra expense."

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