Going Green to Save Green

With retirement around the corner, homeowners Marilou Cook and her husband Al knew they needed to consider downsizing. What they didn't know, however, was just how drastically their next move would change their lives for the better.

Marilou and her husband were living on a sprawling 23-acre property in Colchester, Conn., and loving it. Their four-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot, Colonial-style home was the picture of pastoral bliss.

"It was very country, very relaxed, very pretty, and there was lots of wildlife," Marilou Cook says.

Best of all, the home provided plenty of space for her passion of breeding golden retrievers. But there was also a downside to owning such a wide-open estate.

"We were very happy living in that house," she says. "However, it did require an awful lot emotionally, physically and economically to maintain."

The home was oil-fired, and required a massive amount of fuel to heat. Cook estimates that they burned through 1,300 gallons of oil a year -- a figure that would make most homeowners wince, let alone a couple on a post-retirement fixed-income.

With their savings in mind, Cook and her husband began searching for a new home -- something reminiscent of the country living they'd grown to love, but without the burdensome ownership costs.

Within five months of listing their property, they had found a buyer. All that was left for the couple was to find their future home. And so, to the future they looked.

Intrigued by the prospect of cutting down their energy bills, Cook began researching homes with eco-conscious features, like geothermal heating and solar paneling. That's when she discovered the green-homes community in her area.

"The opportunity to not have to rely on fossil fuel at all" was very appealing to her, and the community they had found relied on geothermal and other eco-friendly energy sources. The couple was sold.

"This house has a lot of the features we were looking for," she says. "It was smaller in size than the house we previously had, the master-bedroom was on the first floor, [and] it was on a much smaller piece of property, but it still had a very country feel to it."

Best of all, the home's energy savings made a real difference in the couple's monthly upkeep. "We now have only one bill -- a power bill. We don't have a bill for gas or oil. And that power bill has averaged ... a little under $200 a month -- so that's a significant savings over the expenses we used to have," she says.

Add to those savings a $5,000 tax rebate that the couple received in 2009 for meeting state energy-saving requirements, and the home already has proven to be a very sensible investment.

Overall, the move has inspired more than a change of address for the retired couple.

"We are now interested in pursuing as many things as we can to see how we can reduce our costs in an eco-friendly way," Cook says. She plans on adding more solar panels to the home in the years to come.

In time, the couple hopes to possibly get off the power grid entirely.

"It's important to the world," she says, "but it's also important to your pocketbook."
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