So what does a sponsored house look like?
For the answer head to Venice, where Tom Schey has built his dream home on a quiet street between Lincoln and Abbot Kinney boulevards. The house has three bedrooms, 4 1/2 bathrooms and 3,500 square feet of living space squeezed onto a 5,500-square-foot lot. The media room is underground; a garden and sun deck on the roof.
"I've worked hard my entire life," said Schey, who runs several businesses, including a green consulting firm. "And this is exactly the house I want to live in right now."
The open-plan living, dining and kitchen area is defined by a slate floor, handsome (and responsibly harvested) wood paneling and a 23-foot ceiling. An 1,800-pound table made from a single piece of Indonesian suar wood sits at the center of the dining room. Beyond that, a two-story wall of glass floods the space with natural light during the day and opens up to a 25-meter lap pool outside. When the glass doors are open, as they usually are, the home has a serene, coastal feel, with fresh breezes blowing in from nearby Venice Beach and patterns of light reflecting off the pool and onto the ceiling inside.
The pool is a focal point. The second floor has a U-shape so that the glass-lined bedrooms can extend out toward the water, and the media room in the basement, which doubles as a wine cellar, has windows just below the pool's surface.
"People say this is my grotto," Schey said, referring to Hugh Hefner's notorious fantasy pool. "But it creates a great effect when the light comes through the water."
The house is equipped with water- and energy-saving devices, but it has plenty of other bells and whistles.
"People get a little uncomfortable when you mix green with bling," Schey said. "But when you look at the bottom line, the numbers are there."
So along with Schey's bling -- the vibrating bathtubs, the color-shifting light in the master bath -- the house has efficient Energy Star kitchen appliances and a tankless water heater. All of that, plus three motor scooters, were given to him by manufacturers, Schey said.
Sponsors said they are happy with the arrangement. Mark Mahoney, spokesman for Kohler, said his company chooses projects based on educational value and quality. Schey has said he will use the home as a showcase for environmental education, so consumers will see new technology and design in context of a real, lived-in house.
"Few people want to go through a 10-page green checklist," he said. "But they can come into a home like this and they can see what they like or dislike, and hopefully turn around and apply it to their own home."
There are parts of the house that green design purists will take issue with -- namely the swimming pool, even though it uses variable speed pumps, solar heating and a cover to reduce evaporation.
"What can I say, I'm an athletic guy," Schey said. "So I built the greenest pool possible, with the least amount of impact that I could."
Overall, solar panels provide power; recycled materials provide insulation; underground springs irrigate landscaping; and smart technology keeps the house at an even temperature throughout the year.
"The house has air conditioning," he said. "But the idea is to never use it. So we have a system of natural ventilation, automatic shades and ceiling fans, which are controlled by a basic $100 thermostat. Together all that stuff keeps the air at an even temperature. We rarely see the heating or cooling systems turn on."
A green house with air conditioning? Schey makes no apologies. "Of course we need greener homes," he said. "But I work with a lot of architects, and they're always doing a balancing act between that and creating something significant when it comes to design. But you can do both and still be effective."