Tenth Anniversary: Our Favorite Natural Homes

Get more information about the natural home of the year choices. When you’re finished, vote for your favorite!


1. Paradise Found

This vintage cottage, which served as Red Cross emergency housing during the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, was revamped into a two-story home. The family’s philosophy of putting minimal strain on the earth directed them to use “honest” materials. Renovated using eco-friendly techniques, the home features a solar water-heating system and roof gutters that direct rainwater into an underground cistern for irrigating trees and plants. The home also features a naturally cooling ventilation system created by strategic placement of 70 windows, 14 indoor fans, sliding doors and vents.

2. Long House on the Prairie

Strategically designed and placed on the property, this home seamlessly blends into the surrounding grasslands. The open layout incorporates low-emissivity windows, concrete floors that hold solar heat during the day and release it at night, and a dynamic cross-ventilation system. The rectangular home is built into a hill to help insulate it from strong winds and utilizes every interior space to its maximum potential. For example, a wall of 12-foot-high windows frames the grasslands while also capturing the sun throughout the day.

3. Welcome to Casa Neverlandia

The greenest aspect of this downtown Austin, Texas, house is not the salvaged materials or the solar panels–it’s Talbot and Kay, the avid conservationists and self-described “card-carrying hippies” who own it. The couple’s home uses only about 200 to 300 kilowatt hours of electricity a month with the assistance of their solar panels. The home includes skylights that diminish electricity demand and numerous windows and doors that invite the breeze in. The eco-friendly home has a whimsical flair both inside and out.

4. A Fabulous Green Prefabricated Home: Living in L.A.

Low-VOC, formaldehyde-free materials, LED bulbs and solar panels are a few of the many eco-friendly aspects of this prefabricated home. LivingHomes CEO and founder Steve Glenn’s home serves as a model home for his sustainable residential prefab development company. The residence, composed of 11 modules, was the first to receive a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes program. The prefab home includes a roof garden that repurposes stormwater runoff and also insulates against summer heat. The interior includes cutting-edge Energy Star appliances and cabinetry built from reclaimed or Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.

5. Manhattan Transfer

Tapping into the constant temperature 1,200 feet underground, a Tribeca architect pioneers the use of geothermal technology to heat and cool this rock solid, energy-efficient family home. The family of four live in a five-story, 6,000-square-foot home and office space (4,000 square feet are for John and his family; 2,000 are for his five-person office). The family chose limestone and oiled wood floors, low-toxic paints, natural linoleum, and natural wood finishes that wouldn’t outgas harmful chemicals. In addition to these eco efforts, the home was built using insulated concrete forms (ICFs)–and the first of its kind in the city. These structural forms, made of polystyrene foam insulation and concrete, were chosen for their superior insulation qualities.

6. Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

Homeowner and artist Jay Shafer wanted a home that would meet his spatial needs without exceeding them. His house (also known as Tumbleweed) was built with only about 4,800 pounds of building materials, less than 100 pounds of which went to the local landfill. Saving on land, building materials and emissions, Jay built an 8-by-17-by-13-foot home that, when placed on a flat bed, fits snugly into a single parking space. Jay was able to build Tumbleweed for $42,000, which included quality materials and construction.

7. Yankee Ingenuity

Tony and Sally Grassi’s house blends New England tradition with cutting-edge green technology. Run entirely by renewable energy, it fits beautifully into Maine’s coastal ecosystem. When discussing the layout and the building materials, the family held strong to their environmental ideals and their goal of creating a nontoxic, eco-friendly home. They declared independence from nonrenewable energy and banned PVC, a planet-polluting plastic, from their house. They also insisted on sustainably forested, formaldehyde-free wood for both framing and finishes.

8. Deep Roots, Strong Branches: Roald Gundersen Whole Tree Architecture

Homeowners Marcia Halligan and Steven Adams walked their 81-acre property in Wisconsin to find weak and diseased trees to build their home. Leaving the whole trees in their natural form added both beauty and structural integrity to the house. With the assistance of architect Roald Gundersen, the family created a home that was greatly influenced by nature and their earth-friendly values. The home was naturally built with local materials by local workers. The sun, a woodstove and in-floor heating supplied by an on-demand water heater warm the home. Relying primarily on solar-electric power, the homeowners plan to be completely off the grid in the future.

9. Raising the Barn

Inspired by a country barn, this vacation home on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay stays warm during Wisconsin winters thanks to deep walls that allow for extra cellulose insulation made of recycled newspaper. The ceiling uses Insoylation, a foam insulation partially made from soy oil. At the heart of this Energy Star-qualified Wisconsin vacation house, however, are design concepts as old as the horse-drawn plow–and it’s those ancient ideas that make this red house green. The kitchen is finished with energy-saving appliances, recycled-glass terrazzo concrete countertops and bamboo and slate floors.

10. From Ugly Ducking to Sustainable Swan

Three friends embarked on a “fixer upper” project when they bought a 1940s Bay Area cottage in 1996. Ecology-minded architect Kelly Lerner and friends Jennifer Helmuth and Deborah McCandless focused their attention on the yard first and then remodeled the bungalow one room at a time. Located on a great street, it was the worst home in the neighborhood. Earth plasters, reclaimed wood, wheatboard, bamboo, handcrafted décor and a small addition turn the eyesore into an eco-friendly home. 

11. Bayou Beauty

Near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, Madeleine Cenac and her partner, Mark de Basile, found the house of their dreams, a small cottage built during the 1800s that needed extensive renovations. The couple retained the home’s authenticity as they gathered salvaged or locally harvested materials inspired by the French-American style. The house’s structure is a heavy timber frame called colombage, with strong, simple mortise-and-tenon joints. Bousillage, a form of wattle-and-daub made up of local mud and cured Spanish moss, completes the walls. Deep open porches surround the home and offer the perfect seat during hot Louisiana summers.

12. Hobbit House

Without any carpentry experience, Gary Zuker grabbed the necessary tools and started on his weekend getaway and eventual retirement home. Gary and his wife, Delores, wanted a low-maintenance house that was rustic, timeless and even primal. With just $10,000 and a will to work hard, they held fast to their environmental values and built the house themselves. Clay, straw, boulders and local wood were just a few of the local materials. Delores’ artistic dining room windows added a natural finish to the home.

13. Shaker it Up

This home combines 21st-century architecture, old-fashioned flair and new green technology to create a unique space on 15 acres of woodland and fields in Columbia County, New York. The home reflects the passions and interests of homeowners Cathy Grier and Michele Steckler. The home has many eco-friendly features: the wood is sourced locally, the attic has blown-in cellulose insulation and the walls are covered in zero-VOC primer and paint.

14. Sweet Home Alabama

For homeowners Guy and Kay Baker, building their weekend cabin was more than just a side project–it was an important part in raising their three sons. As a contractor, Guy collected old wood, tin and other materials from as many as 75 sites. The windowpanes came from a local church that was built in the 1850s. Guy estimates that 85 percent of the house is made from reclaimed materials; the other 15 percent is wiring, plumbing, lights and the store-bought rocks that make up the 30-foot indoor fireplace. The cabin took five years to build and what was intended to be a weekend getaway turned into their permanent residence. 

15. Southern Comfort

In this 800-square-foot cohousing unit, Ginger and Giles Blunden receive their power entirely from the sun. The home was the winning entry in the 2000 Natural Home of the Year contest. Located in a cohousing community that the Blundens helped found, the townhouse plays with traditional North Carolina home design, including a tin roof and vertical eaves. Thoughtful design, including tall ceilings, cross ventilation and ceiling fans, eliminates the need for air conditioning.