A Perfect Retrofit

Not ready to build from the ground up? No worries: Costs for earth-friendly home improvement have finally come down to earth—and the dividends pay off for years and years. Here's how to update your current spread with the sleekest new green technology.


Let There Be Light
A hit in Australia, Solatubes are like big paper-towel tubes that concentrate sunlight into your living space. They’re reasonably priced, easy to install, and just plain cool-looking. Ten to 14 inches in diameter, the shafts bring in natural daylight to reduce your need for electric bulbs. Upgrade Cost: From $300 Where to Buy: Payoff: About 700 watts per hour during the day, for an annual savings of roughly 1,500 kilowatt-hours, or $120

Water Logs
In British Columbia alone, five billion board feet of well-preserved timber await harvesting in dam reservoirs. The Sawfish, from B.C.-based Triton Logging, is the world’s only deepwater logging submersible—a sort of Paul Bunyan meets Jacques Cousteau. Triton’s salvaged products—including Douglas fir, western red cedar, lodgepole pine, and hemlock—range from raw planks to flooring and are certified by the Rainforest Alliance. Upgrade Cost: The same as, or up to 10 percent more than, their virgin counterparts Where to Buy: Payoff: You save a forest

Sheep’s Clothing
Prince Charles is doing it, and now you can, too: Insulate your house, attic, or addition with old-fashioned, renewable sheep’s wool. The batting costs more than its cotton-candy cousin, but it insulates just as well and will last forever if protected from insects—plus you’ll never get shards of fiberglass under your skin. Your choice whether to wear the kilt. Upgrade Cost: $1.32 per square foot (2 inches thick) Where to Buy: Payoff: Natural fibers contain no formaldehydes or VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are mold-resistant

@#95;box photo=image_2 alt=image_2_alt@#95;box

Invisible Sun
Now you can buy integrated photovoltaic panels that fit right into your roofing tiles, windows, and skylights. The panels come in semitransparent or opaque glazes and can serve as shades, thus reducing your cooling costs. Upgrade Cost: $65 invested for every three watts Where to Buy: us.schott.comsolar Payoff: Clean power that initially costs more but slowly pays you back over a 40-year life span

Recycled Kitchen
KlipTech’s PaperStone is a high-performance countertop material made from 100 percent recycled paper and cashew oils. It comes in 13 colors, and costs less than fine stone and composite materials. Upgrade Cost: $25 per square foot Where to Buy: Payoff: A sleek surface that doesn’t emit VOCs and is 100 percent post-consumer recycled

Garden in the Sky
What could be cooler—literally—than plants growing out of your roof? Saint Louis Green Roof Blocks makes two-by-two-foot preplanted sedum squares for mounting on your rooftop. From evergreens to drought-resistant mixes, they’re ideal for cities—and the birds will thank you. Upgrade Cost: $1,500 for a 10-by-10-foot surface Where to Buy: Payoff: Extends roof life by 200 percent, absorbs 60 percent of stormwater, eases the urban heat-island effect, and insulates your house

Stalk Exchange

Bamboo is so last year. Kirei board uses equally earth-friendly sorghum stalks, left over from the harvest in China, that have been washed, woven, and pressed to make this smooth, warp-resistant flooring product. Upgrade Cost: $8 per square foot Where to Buy: Payoff: Though a little costlier than bamboo, it’s equally durable, lighter, and insulates better

@#95;box photo=image_2 alt=image_2_alt@#95;box

Smart Window

Imagine a window that darkens in bright summer sunshine and lightens on cool winter days. Sageglass is an electronically tintable glass whose ions change according to light and heat control. The electronically activated material can be operated with a wall switch, remote, or automatedsystem. Upgrade Cost: Velux America venting skylights, $1,630 (21 12″ by27 3/8″) to $3,455 (44 3/4″ by 46 1/2″) Where to Buy: Payoff: Saves 40 percent on energy bills, eliminates the need for shades or awnings, and blocks nearly 100 percent of UV radiation

Soak It In
Solar hot-water systems used to be big, clunky, and unreliable, but today’smodels actually work—in all climates. Thermomax’s evacuated-tube systems employ a heat pipe in a vacuum chamber to practically eliminate convective heat loss. Heating water with solar energy is one of the best things you can do for the environment and one of the smartest investments. Upgrade Cost: From $6,000 (installed) for a family of four Where to Buy: Payoff: $300 in energy savings per year

It’s in the Can
You probably never thought about capturing the energy of a toilet flush, but the Japanese have. Toto’s new EcoPower flush valves feature flush-powered mini-turbines. The energy produced powers the mechanism for the next automatic flush. When you’re away, a lithium manganese dioxide battery serves as a backup so your sensor remains charged for your return. Also see: Toto’s hydropower faucet. Upgrade Cost: From $593 Where to Buy: Payoff: Hands-free operation, and uses 32 percent less water