Green builder Robert Howard started his work on the Lessner house when it was little more than a shell—fortunately, a very sound shell. “The pier-and-beam foundation was in good shape, and we left it basically as it was, adding to it in a few places to carry the load of the second floor addition,” says Howard. He insulated both the attic (with spray foam in the walls and floor) and the crawl space (with 6-mil plastic sheeting on the walls and floor), where the furnace and air-conditioning units would be. “If you keep your heating and cooling ductwork inside the insulated building envelope, it cuts energy loss,” he says. The HVAC includes a dehumidifier, which contributes to the unit’s efficiency by keeping the AC from turning on simply to reduce humidity. Two tankless hot-water units (one in the attic and one in the pantry) supply heated water only as needed, and photovoltaic solar panels on the roof reduce the electric bill by about 30 percent.
Here, new Energy Star–qualified appliances reduce the amount of electricity used—and the owners' utility costs even more.