The Latest Innovations in ‘Green’ Homes

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Green building and products continue to gain traction in real estate, and some of the latest “green” products not only are helping home owners trim energy bills but also making their homes work smarter.


The Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has unveiled its fourth version of its “Smart Home,” a 2,200 square-foot home that boasts some of the latest innovations in green construction. Here are a few of its features:

–Monitor energy usage. This home was wired to keep a constant close watch on its energy usage. The home features a large flat-screen television that displays a room-by-room measurement of the home’s energy consumption. The home’s automation system also controls the lighting and can track daily and hourly use of energy.

–A mirror not just for your reflection. The Cybertecture Mirror in the home’s master bathroom is no ordinary mirror. You can use a remote to turn it instantly into a computer monitor where you can even check your Facebook page. You can also use it to display time, traffic reports, news, temperature, and even keep track of your weight.

–Movable solar panels. Located in the front of the house, a 45-foot wind turbine provides some of the energy to power the home from the sun. The Smart Home’s rooftop solar panels also are an energy source. Unlike typical solar panels, these panels are soft and roll out on the home’s flat roof so home owners can even take it with them if they ever move.


–Reuse and recycle. The home features several examples of recycling everyday products and turning them into household items. For example, the upholstery on the chairs in the living room are made from recycled automobile tires.



A dated 1968 ranch style home in Cape Coral, Fla., was transformed with a interior and exterior “greenovation”–a green-inspired renovation. Dubbed the “Lemonade House,” the home has become the Florida High Performance Green House, a demonstration home showing off eco-friendly features.

As part of the renovations, the home’s yellow ranch clad in stucco got a facelift with new siding, windows, and roof–all of which are more energy efficient and maintenance free.

Paul Shahriari, the eco-entrepreneur behind the renovation, used energy efficient vinyl cedar shake siding from The Foundry to wrap over the home’s stucco exterior. The maintenance-free siding never needs to be repainted and also helps to give the home a unique, modern, beach-style look, he says.

To contrast with the yellow vinyl, Shahriari used a green, maintenance-free trim (cellular PVC IQm Trim in crisp Polar White). The home then was topped off with an Energy Star-rated silver metal roof.

“A house is greener if you spend less money and time taking care of it,” Shahriari says. “If you can build something in a way that all you have to do is hose it down once a year, that’s green.”

Other renovations to the home included vinyl impact windows, LED lighting, solar hot water heating, low-VOC adhesives, and several green products incorporated throughout the home’s interior.

Shahriari documents all of the greenovations he did to the home–and the savings–at the Florida High Performance Green House web site.

“It’s the only renovation you can do that makes you money instantly, where you don’t have to wait to sell your house to recoup your investment,” he says. “The moment I turn my house on, it’s saving me about $400 a month.”

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Betsy Boyle

    I just want to point out that the vinyl products mentioned in the article, “The Latest Innovations in ‘Green’ Homes,” aren’t necessarily green. Vinyl has been a contentious issue since the inception of the US Green Building Council due to the nature of its production, especially regarding toxicity during production, and the fact that there are very few uses for recycling/repurposing.

    Maintenance free products are often good, but not always.

    Betsy Boyle

  2. I too was surprised to read that they used vinyl for an exterior in an area of High UV rays as a “green ” product. Vinyl is one material Winneshiek County IA can not re-cycle and we have a great re-cycling program that works and makes money for the county!! Cheaper than the cost per ton of the landfill here !! Our recycling manager has asked home builders to try to think of something other than vinyl for the exterior, only place for it once if fads or cracks is the land fill.

  3. I would love to incorporate recycled material in my home and in my clients’ homes eg recycled glass counters or patio made of recycled tires. But everytime I draw a blank because either these products are not available or are way too expensive.
    Any ideas?

  4. Hello Viji

    I am currently working on a LEED project and we use a great website that provides reclaimed materials. It is free to register and they have some amazing and interesting old and new materials for both residential and commercial applications. Good luck!

  5. I am really surprised to see a vinal sided house was profiled.This product takes a great deal of perochemicals to produce and does not recyle easily and usually has to be dumped in a land fill.More information should be given rev FSC Wood,recycled materials and renewable products.Design is key to creating a green house and retofits can easily lower the carbon footprint of a home.Keeping HW Heaters and furnices maintained and tuned are key to creating a green home.For those of us living in the Norteastern section of the US Look at October,2011 they are hosting a series of open homes that are really and trully green and worth seeming

  6. That’s a beautiful design of house, it’s certainly the design many people will like; I’m just not sure with others. With that, owners can save more space in their homes and will not look too small.

  7. Green upgrades are great, and I’m glad so many people are becoming a part of the green home movement. We can double our efforts though by starting with a green home as the base and adding green features like those mentioned above. There are many green home design options and one of the most cost effective ones that my company Homes by Vanderbuilt builds is modular homes.