Home, sweet efficient home

The Ludemans moved into a smaller place, but are reaping big benefits from their green home.

Natural light streams in from both ends of the Ludemans' Kensington home. Meanwhile, the top monthly utility charges are $80 for gas, electricity, heat, hot water, and cooking. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)

In July, Chad and Courtney Ludeman left a three-bedroom, two-bath home in a more upscale neighborhood behind and moved to Kensington, a few blocks from Frankford Avenue, where abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and tiny stores sit beneath the Market-Frankford El.

Turn east, toward the Ludemans' environmentally friendly 1,000-square-foot home on East Susquehanna Avenue, and a new world of small, well-maintained houses opens up.

The Ludemans, in their early 30s, are part of a wave of young professionals and artists moving to Kensington, which offers inexpensive building sites and proximity to Center City.

Their home is part of a cluster of four townhouses - compact, sand-colored buildings that look a little like cabins.

Each is just 36 feet long, 22 feet wide, and set on an eighth of an acre. A large yellow number set at an angle adorns each door.

Courtney, a former stock trader, and Chad, an industrial engineer by training who now is a developer, met at Grove City College, near Pittsburgh. They put a high priority on being environmentally conscious and see where they live as embodying that.

More evidence: the motorcycle (his) and scooter (hers) parked outside.

Their house, developed by PostGreen Corp., cost $275,000, including the site - about half the price of a typical "green" house. Conventional construction methods were used in combination with some prefabricated materials, which are expensive because of high transportation costs.

On a rare 90-degree spring day, the Ludemans and their 8-month-old son, Teague, sit comfortably in their living room despite the high temperature outdoors. There is no air-conditioning in the house, just overhead fans, but it is pleasantly cool inside.

When colder weather prevails, radiant heating kicks in.

"All my life I have been constantly cold, but I have been warm all winter," Courtney said. "When we moved in, I was pregnant, and I was still comfortable in July with no air-conditioning."

The energy efficiency pays off. The Ludemans said their top monthly utility charges were $20 for gas and $60 for electricity for heat, hot water, and cooking.

The house is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, which means it meets government efficiency standards.

Living, dining, and kitchen areas are on the first floor; two bedrooms and a bathroom are on the second.

Upstairs, the spaces are just 10 by 16 feet each, but they seem roomier - maybe because of the Ludemans' clean-lined Scandinavian-design furniture, birch floors, and a lack of clutter.

On one wall of little Teague's room, Courtney has stenciled a shadowy tree that contrasts with off-white walls and a colorful mobile. Small fluorescent lights spread across the ceiling.

In the Ludemans' bedroom, there are a king-size bed and a clothes rack, but no closets. Walls are a grayish blue, which blends well with the brown trim of the furniture and woodwork.

Downstairs, the kitchen, dining area, and living room blend for a sunny space. Natural light streams in from a wall-size kitchen window at one end and the living room windows at the other.

Green touches abound. The Ludemans' appliances include an energy-efficient electric stovetop. Wood for their dining room table - a large, polished plank that can accommodate at least 10 people - was rescued from a lumber project.

"It costs the same price as buying a new table, but this saves wood that would have gone to waste," Courtney said.

In addition, the couple have rainwater collectors and solar hot-water heaters. Eventually, they hope to increase the energy efficiency of the house by planting grass on the roof.

Though the house is smaller than what the Ludemans were used to, and the neighborhood is quite a bit different, the adjustment has been pretty smooth thus far.

"At first, I was hesitant to live in such a small home, but now I love it," Courtney said. "It is roomy and has everything I need, and we have new friends in the neighborhood and I even have a 'young mom's club.' "

When their family expands with another child, Chad said, he and his wife will probably move to another part of the development - to a house with a half third floor that can accommodate another bedroom.

Architect Brian Phillips of Interface Studios, who designed the Ludemans' house, said they were representative of a movement.

"People are becoming aware of the need to conserve energy and can't afford large homes," he said, "so they are willing to trade interior space for energy savings."

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