Sustainable Perfection: A Michigan Couple's Model Green Home


This house generates more energy than it uses, but even more noteworthy is its location: in a leafy, walkable neighborhood


Matt and Kelly Grocoff have renovated their 110-year-old home in Ann Arbor, Michigan to state-of-the-art energy standards. Their energy bills demonstrate the results: They actually generate more energy from on-site renewable sources than they consume. The Grocoffs believe they now have the oldest "net zero" home in America.

There's a lot to like about this, but what I like best is that the home is green not only with respect to building energy but also with respect to transportation energy, because it is in a walkable city neighborhood of older homes on compact lots on gridded streets, with services and amenities close by. They sit within a block's walk of three schools by my count, and there is a transit line also a block away. There's a neighborhood pocket park just down their own block. There's a market, a bank branch, and several restaurants within a 10- to 12-minute walk. Yet theirs is a leafy neighborhood of mostly single-family homes.


I ran the address through the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Abogo calculator for transportation costs and emissions: an average household in the Grocoffs' neighborhood emits only half as much carbon from transportation as does an average household for the metropolitan region as a whole. This is because the Grocoffs' more central, more walkable location shortens driving distances and tends to reduce automobile trips, compared to more outlying subdivisions.

So finally we have a well-publicized green home that is also in a green location. I hope the Grocoffs begin to stress that in their materials as they move forward. And so much the better that the home fully retains its historic character. Here's the neighborhood (the large building complex in the lower left corner is two schools):

Screen shot 2011-07-29 at 12.11.47 PM.png

Regular readers of my work know that few things bug me more than boasts about "green" homes and other buildings placed in locations with high driving rates that wipe out whatever energy savings they achieve from superior building technology. (See my posts about a bogus "net zero" claim, and green awards for sprawl from the American Institute of Architects and even the US Green Building Council.)

You can read about the Grocoffs' energy-efficient home on their own site, on Treehugger, on, or on GreenovationTV, which Matt Grocoff founded. Or you can just take the three-minute video tour, courtesy of a local TV station. The home looks not just green, but also a very nice place to live:

This post also appears on NRDC's Switchboard.
Images: Via Kelly & Matt's Net Zero House, Abogo, Google Earth

Jump to comments
Presented by

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

Social Security is the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in National

From This Author

Just In