When a quirky old cottage comes on the market, not everyone sees it as an irresistible testing ground for the latest thinking on how to save the earth. Weatherstripping—sure. A wind turbine and a gray-water recycling system—not necessarily. But then, Curt and Christine Mann aren't your typical home buyers. When they went shopping for a house in Atlanta five years ago, they pictured not a McMansion but a Pygmalion with more personality than polish, one that would allow them to experiment with ways to save energy, water, and, in the long run, money, too. As Curt likes to say, "What's good for the environment is also good for the pocketbook."
After zeroing in on a neighborhood with a good school for their kids—Foster, now 9, and Rivers, 12—they found their ideal subject: a circa 1910 shingled house in sore need of an update, sitting on a rare double lot within walking distance of historic Grant Park. The property had a nice vibe, inviting Christine to imagine family meals prepared with the help of a big garden. Curt, a green-building consultant, noted the width of the lot and pictured inching off the grid with the help of solar power.