For some homeowners, renovation means choosing a color scheme, matching floor tiles or picking furniture.
For Missoula architect Pat Supplee and her husband Keith Niederman, it meant pouring their own cement countertops, recycling wooden beams from an old mill and planting a lawnlike carpet on their roof.
"I've been interested in green construction since the 1980s," Supplee said of her house. "I wanted to build a house, and I was living in New York. You just don't do that there."
As one of 10 houses on Saturday's 2007 Sustainability Tour, Supplee's building process uses "green," or sustainable, construction techniques designed to work in harmony with the environment.
The tour is sponsored by the local affordable housing organization homeWORD and offers Missoula residents tours via bike and bus, or maps for self-guided reviews.
HomeWORD tour coordinator Angie Jones said Supplee and Niederman's house is a prime example of what green construction can do.
"There are plenty of examples on the tour of how people can do this and it won't cost them thousands of dollars to make easy changes that improve their environment," Jones said.
After two years, Supplee and Niederman made sure their house was a springboard for countless green renovations. Supplee said she began by carefully choosing a site with plenty of sun and making sure her house was expertly insulated to implement her plan for passive solar heating.
Unlike active solar, which involves solar panels, passive solar takes advantage of sunlight through special argon-filled windows strategically placed on the sunny side of the house. The heat is absorbed into surfaces like the concrete living room floor and kitchen counters, which hold heat in and radiate it longer - with no astronomical heating bill in the winter.
"It can warm 5 degrees in half an hour," Niederman said. "People walk in and say, 'I wouldn't want your heating bill,' and then I tell them my heat's been off since morning."
"I love that," Supplee said.
In warm weather, hot air rises up a stairwell near the middle of the house where it is exhaled from the house by a window and fan.
Now Supplee and Niederman are adding a green, "living" roof to their house - just in time for the tour - with the help of North Carolina-based Xero Flor America.
In a process adapted from pioneer sod houses, green roofs are installed in five layers, the last of which is a pre-vegetated blanket called sedum. The sedum is completely self-reliant and benefits the environment by cleaning storm runoff, ridding the air of greenhouse gases, and cooling the house.
Supplee and Niederman hope that participating in the tour will help educate locals in how to save money while also being conscious of the environment.
"People think green is for the rich, but green isn't out of reach," Supplee said. "It's what the settlers did; we've just gotten so far away from that process."
"As green construction becomes more common, costs will keep coming down also," Niederman added.
And the costs are substantially less, they say. At about 2,800 square feet, Supplee said her house costs about $100 per square foot. This might seem typical, but it is significant - considering that the house is twice the size of Supplee's last home in downtown Missoula, with literally half the utility costs.
For Supplee and Niederman, it almost sounds like a green dream house.
"I hope people realize it's easy to do in increments," Supplee said. "You just do what you can do."
Chandra Johnson is an intern for the Missoulian newsroom. She can be reached at 523-5302 or at email@example.com
2007 Sustainability Tour
Maps for this Saturday's Sustainability Tour are for sale at Burley's Natural Home Supply, Mission Paint and Glass, and homeWORD for $10-$12. Tickets for the bus tour are $17 and only available through homeWORD. For more information, call homeWORD at 532-4663.