Philippe and Thao Jeanty decided to use Google to design their solar-power home here.

“The beauty of Google SketchUp is you can move things around until it looks good. Anything Google does is good. And it’s free,” said Philippe Jeanty, a physician who practices radiology in Nashville, Tenn.

Using Google SketchUp, a 3-D modeling program usually used by architects, engineers and other design professionals, the couple drew the plans for their home and all of its high-tech, low-environmental-impact features on a computer screen.

“Woodworkers say measure twice and cut once. We did that with SketchUp . We designed it to a quarter of an inch,” Philippe Jeanty said.

When they ran into problems, they posted their questions on bulletin boards frequented by Google SketchUp user groups. Solutions came quickly.

After living for several years in a dilapidated farmhouse on their 60-acre property, the couple were determined to finally have the house of their dreams.

Their new one-story, 2,700-square-foot home and the adjacent 700-square-foot apartment they designed for Philippe Jeanty’s mother, renowned surgeon Madeleine Lejour, are almost completely self-sufficient.

The main house is situated facing magnetic north and south so a rooftop 5-kilowatt solar array can provide most of the electricity for both structures. They are tied to the grid for power after dark, but Philippe Jeanty says the electric bill is just pennies per day.

When their solar system produces more electricity than they need, they sell it to the local power company. Other features:

— Windows along the south-facing roofline let in warm sunshine during the winter. During the summer, they are shaded.

— Lighting is provided by LED bulbs, which use little electricity.

— The water supply comes from ponds and year-round springs.

— Heating and cooling are provided by a geothermal system although a wood stove, which burns fallen limbs they collect on the property, provides all the heat they need.

— Exterior walls are extra thick and tightly sealed with corn-based foam insulation.

— A drip irrigation system waters the garden.

source: usatoday