Where Everything's Waiting for You (Downtown)

"It was a converted carriage house," says Jane Cameron of the home in Hastings, New York, where she and her husband, Jamie, raised their family. Seven thousand square feet on two acres of land, the open-style house had five bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a loft-turned-rumpus-room that was the ideal rainy-day space for the couple’s three active boys.

But as soon as the youngest had gone off to college, they sold the place.

Their new home is half the size of the old one, and that’s including the basement and the separate garage-turned-studio/workroom. Other than the recent renovation of the master bedroom, few changes have been made to the charming bungalow since it was built in 1863. It was drafty and "horridly inefficient," says Jane, but the couple fell in love with its “quirky Victorian bones,” as well as its proximity to downtown amenities.

Jane and Jamie poured their hearts into improving the place, with energy efficiency foremost among their priorities. Key upgrades included replacing the old oil furnace, which produced steam heat, with a high-efficiency gas furnace and a forced-air system, and insulating all the ducts and hot-water pipes. They put new insulation in the attic and in the walls and ceilings, as well as under the floor of the kitchen wing (which they’d had to rebuild on account of rot), and they installed a concrete floor in the basement and in the space under the kitchen. Double-glass windows went into every room except the master bedroom, where they were already in place, and in the living and dining rooms, where the Camerons put up storm windows in order to preserve the original floor-to-ceiling configuration.

Outside, they’ve made the most of their half-acre yard. "We have tough clay soil, and the ground was so hard that almost nothing could grow," says Jamie. But after six years of work, their flower and vegetable gardens are thriving, as are the trees, bushes, and grass. "We are absolutely ‘organic’," Jane says. Jamie brews organic compost tea, which he spreads over the grounds twice a year, and the couple has shaped the land so that the water mostly stays on the property. Several large underground cisterns and a handful of dry wells capture rainwater running off the roof.

The Camerons' "new" home is a dream house, and the yard is ideal for a summer dinner with friends (Jane’s a mean cook), but one of the big draws remains the location. "It's three minutes from the farmer’s market (held in the library parking lot on a bluff looking across the Hudson to the Palisades), and a five-minute walk to the train station.” It’s also two minutes from the Croton Aqueduct, where the couple walks daily, and “one minute” from the community gardens and neighborhood baseball/soccer fields. “Oh, and there are two independent bookstores!"

"I sound like the Chamber of Commerce, I know" Jane jokes. But she’s unabashed about her excitement over the endless and unexpected efficiencies and community services that have come with the move.

It's an open secret around Hastings that "the smart money is in moving downtown,” she says. Moving into, and improving, a home in the village has meant huge savings for the Camerons. “All our utility bills are down, and our local taxes as well.”

But smart or not, she says, “It just feels good, and right, to live in a more-efficient home, and in a neighborhood that feels like a new nest for us old guys."

For more ways to increase ease and comfort while decreasing your footprint at home, see the Smarter Living 12 Step Energy Smackdown at NRDC.org.