By the time the couple and their two children moved in two months ago, the house's cost had swelled to about $1.2 million, financed with a $600,000 construction loan and round after round of refinancing to free up cash for the project.


"I feel better knowing that paying for building and installing green products leads to a healthier lifestyle for my family, the greater community and the environment," Eyster said.

Sider began her eco-renovation with the front yard. A landscape architect friend charged her a couple of hundred dollars to draw a plan that included adding more drought-tolerant plants and putting in trees to better shade the yard and the house.

Later, a landscaper added sod and sprinklers for a total cost of about $2,500

"Even that happened in stages, for affordability," she said.

With a relatively small, hilly lot, Eyster designed a house that would bring the outdoors in. Twenty-foot-wide accordion glass doors on the north side roll away to give the living room a treehouse feel; a wall of windows on the west side provides a cross-breeze and helps to fill the house with sunlight.

Shades automatically rise and fall along with the sun's placement in the sky to maximize sunlight and minimize heat, part of a $15,000 automation system.

The house's "brain" -- Eyster's favorite eco-feature -- also controls the electric lighting and the four-zone heat and air-conditioning scheme so that each is used only when needed.

"It can take some really complex things like exhaust fans, air conditioning and solar shades and juggle all of it when you're not home," he said, "so that the energy savings happen automatically."

Sider's version of power-saving lighting and windows consisted of switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and double-pane windows -- two of the cheapest and easiest green changes.

Fluorescent bulbs use up to 75% less energy, last about 12 times longer, stay cooler and, thanks to technical improvements in recent years, offer the same quality of light as incandescent bulbs.

Retail powerhouse Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has thrown its weight behind the push for compact fluorescent light bulbs, says they save an average of $35 in energy over the long term. That means changing 30 bulbs in your house will save more than $1,000.

For Sider, replacing eight louvered windows in 2002 with energy-efficient dual-pane insulated glass cost $2,700, not including rebates from Pasadena Water & Power totaling about $200.

Sider made other changes that were equally at home in Eyster's dream house.

She used the same hot-water technology as Eyster even before he did, adding a tankless heater in 2003 that cost about $500 at Home Depot. The device heats water as needed, rather than making it hot only to store it in a giant tank. No city rebate there, but Sider thought it was worth it anyway.

"Europe has had this for years," she said. "The price got within range, and it was doable."

Eyster's tankless heater has yet to run out of steam, he said, despite frequent heavy use, such as two showers and a washing machine running simultaneously.

Not all of his cool enviro-features worked out quite so well, he acknowledged.

The drip-irrigation system on his hillside, designed to slowly leak water underground to feed the plants rather than spraying it in the air, has blown through the pipe joints more than 10 times, he said, most likely as a result of high water pressure.

"It's been the biggest headache. The point is to save water, and yet when they explode, they spray water everywhere," he said. "I probably just need to get a better regulator."