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Green living: Sustainable design is Big Thunder's big payoff

Green living: A $40,000 investment in sustainable design pays off in seven years at Big Thunder

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This was the year the dream finally came completely true at "Big Thunder," the house that John Sagebiel and Mary Cablk built.

Seven years after moving in, they figure the $40,000 they invested in sustainable architecture and solar energy has finally been recouped in the savings they've had in heating, cooling, and powering their two-story, 3,200-square-foot home outside Reno, Nev.

"People see this," Mr. Sagebiel says of the desert-hued exposed-timber-frame "Big Thunder," "and say that must have cost you a fortune."

"Are you kidding me?" he laughs. "This is making me a fortune! It's expensive only if you look at the day you install it. It's just a matter of how you do the math."

Sagebiel is an environmental chemist who studies air pollution, and his wife, Ms. Cablk, is a wildlife ecologist specializing in desert tortoises. Both work at the University of Nevada's Desert Research Institute in Reno. So when they set out to build their house on a stretch of beautiful high desert, there was no question it would rely on clean power and sustainable architecture.

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