ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) - In Austin, they would be just another environmentally-conscious husband and wife. They don't live in Austin, though; they live just north of the Capital City, in Round Rock.
"Living in Round Rock is a different vibe than you have in Austin," said Karen Cripe, a retired title company closing agent. "In Austin, green is more mainstream. In Round Rock we are definitely still an oddity."
What sets Cripe and her computer software programming husband, Dan Cripe , apart in the town is their house.
"I have a lot of friends who are totally onboard with it," Karen Cripe said, "and I have some other friends who have walked through this house and say, 'The walls are green, does that make it a green house?' "Even within my family, my mother gets it. My sisters, I think they try to, but I don't think they get it the way we do."
What there is to get is a whole new approach to the construction of a house.
"You know, we started with the metal roof so we don't have to replace it," Karen Cripe said.
On top of the metal roof came 24 solar panels to produce electricity.
"Our electric bills went down to almost nothing; it was just a few dollars, "said Dan Cripe. "But then as the summer has started to creep in and the sun has gotten a little brighter and a little more sunshine, our electric bills have actually dipped into the negative range."
Basically, the Cripes are producing more energy than they are using.
"And someday, we'll probably be using some of that electricity for electric cars," Dan said. "Plug them in and charge them up."
Beyond the solar panels, the Cripe house features LED lighting and compact fluorescent bulbs. Solar tubes draw outside light inside the house, reducing the need for artificial light in the first place. A two-foot overhang shades the outside walls and spray foam insulation keeps what air conditioning the couple does use inside the building.
Then there's the geothermal well. A pipe descends 270 feet into the ground and then back to the surface. Inside the resulting loop is a liquid, kind of like antifreeze. Exposed underground to year-round temperatures of 72 degrees, when the liquid returns to the house, it helps cool the interior during the summer and helps heat it during the winter.
The Cripes save on water bills, as well. A rainwater collection system provides water for plants and the plants themselves create a xeriscape yard that requires very little water.
"Some of the things that we've done in this house are so simple that I don't understand why everybody doesn't do it," said Karen Cripe.
Some of it though, is complicated and all of it together is expensive. But the couple believes savings on the energy and water bills will pay for everything within seven years.
Meanwhile, the Cripe's home has earned a five-star rating from the Austin Energy Green Building rating program. A score of 125 points is required for the rating. The Cripe's house collected 180 points.
A confessed hippie in her youth, Karen Cripe recalls believing she and her generation could change the world. Real life intervened, but an older, wiser Cripe has not abandoned hope.
"I feel like I can change my little corner of the world," she said. "I just feel like if I get one person to make one change that causes them to use less energy or is kinder to the environment, why not? I can't control what anybody else does; I can only control what I do and I wanted to do it this way."
Beyond the savings and the principals involved, there is one more benefit.
"It's very calm when you come in the house," said Dan Cripe. "Because of the way the house is insulated and the way it was constructed, it's very quiet in here; you don't get a lot of outside noise. It's just a quiet, calm, peaceful place to be and that's really wonderful after having come through a commute and after a hard day's work, just to come in and sit down and relax.
A good place to relax and open the day's mail, including the latest water and electricity bills.
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