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A smart green home takes root in inner city

A Boston couple turns a tech-friendly green-home building project into an educational undertaking for themselves, neighbors, and contractors.

BOSTON--Cynthia Loesch and Ivan Liriano built a green home as much for their community as themselves. The high-tech touches inside, though, were just for them.

The couple earlier this month hosted a ribbon cutting for the first LEED Platinum-level green building in Dorchester, the neighborhood in Boston where they both grew up. It's an example of how modern conveniences, such as home automation, fit nicely with green building gear.

When they took on the project to build in an abandoned lot, Loesch and Loriano were eager to build with energy-efficient appliances, good insulation, and solar panels. But the couple needed to do extensive research on their own and convince others that building green didn't mean it would exceed their budget or compromise their comfort and desire for high-tech toys.

"There were a lot of misconceptions. We wanted to show that this makes sense environmentally and financially and that it can happen in Dorchester," said Loesch. "We wanted the community to understand that it can be done."

Since May, the couple has been hosting various open-house events to show the progress of the house, which has a long list of environmentally oriented features. Neighbors were actually involved in construction of the rainwater harvesting system, which uses an underground tank to feed a lawn full of native plants.

Technology is a big component of the new house, too. In addition to a high-tech entertainment system, the couple wanted a modern security system and some home automation. They settled on a system from Vivint that includes a home alarm system and lets people control a thermostat, lights, or small appliances from a smart phone or other computer device. Over time, that system will introduce more energy-related services, such as detailed energy usage information and recommendations to improve efficiency.

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The cost of construction was in line with what it would cost to build using conventional methods, something that's been shown for individual homes and larger-scale projects. Some of the saving came from prefab construction, where the six major components of the building are made at a factory and then assembled on site. With the state rebates and incentives, the solar electric and hot water panels should pay for themselves in three or four years, said Loesch.

The project would not have happened if it weren't for Loesch and Liriano's willingness to research what was needed. Along the way, they educated city officials, contractors, and bankers about green buildings.

Getting renters for two of the units (the couple lives in one unit) wasn't hard, though. They managed to get tenants within weeks.