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COMFORT ZONE | Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet

Cutting-Edge Cozy

By Helen Thompson

"It was more expensive, but I specified low-emissivity glass for all 40 replacement windows," Joe Bennett says. "They allow the most light inside the house with the least amount of solar heat gain."

The decaying 1917 Craftsman cottage in Austin that architect Joe Bennett and his wife bought in 1995 exuded old Texas charm. But it was obvious that some of the quaint elements of the one-bedroom, one-story house would challenge Bennett's green philosophy.

"We wanted a house with warmth and character," Bennett says. "I decided to show that you could do green building in a style other than modern and minimalist."

For the first 12 years, Bennett focused on the basics. On the porch, he replaced rotting columns with tapered ones typical of Craftsman design, replaced 11 cedar posts with concrete piers for support, and resurfaced it with rock veneer. He weatherized the crawl space, floors, and walls with polyethylene vapor barrier and added a drain system that routes rainwater to the garden.

Of building his own home, Bennett says, "The experience is invaluable, and you get to see firsthand how much waste happens during construction. It made me a better designer."

In 2007, Bennett enlarged the attic and added a loft above it, nearly doubling the home's living space to 2,500 square feet. Now, the second story contains a master bedroom, bathroom, exercise area, office, and utility room. Another office, with a panoramic river view, spans the loft. Its windows serve as a thermal chimney, drawing hot air up the staircase and out the top of the house. He also wrapped the house in ultra-insulation layered with a radiant barrier. In Texas—where temperatures hover at the century mark much of the summer—that's a big deal.

To further capitalize on breezes, Bennett untangled the first floor's warren-like rooms, transforming them into a single space containing the kitchen and living and dining areas. With windows on all sides, there's plenty of light and ventilation. Bennett chose fast-growth eucalyptus for new cabinets and mesquite, which many Texans consider a "trash" tree, for floors. Rare longleaf pine shiplap, discovered when the house's old drywall was removed, now adorns ceilings in the foyer and the master bedroom. Today, Bennett has a vintage house that's thoroughly modern.

"I knew that if I was going to remodel my own house, I'd have to do it the right way," he says. "If you talk the talk, you've gotta walk the walk."

ON THE WEB Tell us your idea of a green living or work space at sierraclub.org/sierra/shelter.



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