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Buying & Selling a Home

Saving Energy From the Ground Up

Seeking a greener lifestyle, Bruce and Brenda Thompson moved with sons Cameron and Max from Washington, D.C., to Grand Rapids, Mich., and built an ultramodern, energy-efficient house.

Why did you pick Michigan as the place for a "green" house?
We were tired of being in our car all the time, and we wanted a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. There is a lot of innovation in green building in western Michigan.


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Did you work with a green builder?
No. We wanted a house that looked like the other 1920s-era houses on the block, so we chose a builder that we thought did quality design. But we also hired one expert who specializes in green materials and one who focuses on energy-efficient systems.

What makes your home environmentally friendly?
We limited the size to 3,200 square feet above ground and 900 below. Plus, we used techniques and materials that will qualify it for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

We designed the house with a lot of natural light and installed occupancy sensors that turn off lights automatically when you leave the room. For heating and cooling we use a geothermal system that brings air up from the ground, which is warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the outside air. The windows, duct system and soy-based insulation are also designed to save energy.


You didn't use solar panels?
That would have added about $20,000 to $25,000 in costs, and Michigan doesn't offer incentives for solar energy. We put the electrical infrastructure in to support solar down the road, when Michigan does have incentives.

How much more did the energy-efficient features cost?
We estimate that the green elements in our home added about 5% to the cost of building. But our annual heating and cooling bills should be about $2,000 less than those of a typical Michigan home.

-- Interview by Kimberly Lankford