Living in Harmony

The Kindigs built in a way that was low-impact on the environment—and low-impact on themselves.

A portion of the kitchen can be transformed easily
from a breakfast nook to a makeshift dining room.
Photograph by Bob Narod


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Greg Kindig had lots of big ideas for a home he would design and build, but he knew he didn’t want a big house.

Instead, he and his wife Lillian were intent on creating a home that would claim a small footprint, an environmentally friendly abode where they could park their Prius hybrid in the garage and live in harmony with nature—and each other.

Greg first came upon the place he would eventually call home in a small newspaper ad for a rural plot in Milford. “There had just been an ice storm, and we had to climb over downed trees to see it,” he says.

The trek was worth the effort. The waterfront parcel encompassed seven acres, five of them wetlands, which guaranteed the Kindigs perpetual privacy.

In deciding where to place the house, Greg chose a site that would harmonize best with the setting. His criteria included retaining as many mature trees as possible, as well as keeping the footprint small in order to minimize disturbance to the surroundings.

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“This house grew out of the land,” he says.

The result is a timeless, shingle-style house, which incorporates open living spaces, three bedrooms and 2½ baths into a scant 2,300 square feet.

Built-in bookcases under the windows
reflect the style of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Photograph by Bob Narod

“Yet it’s never felt small,” Lillian says. “We’ve never felt cramped.”

The broadest expanses of windows were concentrated on the southern side of the structure to capture warmth from the sun in winter, when the trees have shed their leaves. The Kindigs specified energy-efficient windows with argon-filled, low-e glazing, which keeps warm air inside the house in winter and outside the house in summer.

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A broad porch on the back of the house maximizes views of Brown’s Branch, a tributary of the Murderkill River.

“We wanted it to face west so we could watch sunsets over the water,” Lillian says.

An architect, Greg was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the iconoclast who translated the broad lines of the prairie into beautifully functional buildings, and Sarah Susanka, author of “The Not-So-Big House.”

He took a page from Wright in designing an entry with a low ceiling, a prelude to the drama of a great room, which has a soaring ceiling, architectural beams and a large fireplace trimmed in rustic tiles. Greg also embraced Wright’s emphasis on practical built-ins, integrating bookcases on either side of the room. The Arts and Crafts-style furniture might have been transported from a Wright house.

Susanka is an advocate of compact, livable designs, the antithesis of the McMansion. The Kindigs’ compact den—the “away room,” in Susanka speak—is a prime example of that philosophy, a small room ideal for reading or watching TV, tucked out of the main flow of the home.

“It’s my favorite place in the house because it’s so cozy,” Lillian says.

A large porch on the back of the house is the perfect
spot to enjoy tranquil Brown’s Branch.
Photograph by Bob Narod

In the Kindig home, you won’t find redundant spaces. Instead of a formal dining room, an area in the kitchen can be transformed from breakfast nook to banquet buffet simply by adding leaves to the table.

The spirit of the house is environmentally friendly and its guts are energy efficient. The flooring system is supported by engineered joists, which require less material than conventional wood joists. The framing includes high-performance insulated structural panels, fabricated at a factory to minimize cutting—thus waste—onsite. Yellow pine timber was harvested from a managed forest.

Originally, the Kindigs had planned to install a geothermal heating system, which harnesses the earth’s heat to provide power, but nixed the idea because the technology is still expensive. The alternative was a pair of small heat pumps that are so efficient, the couple’s utility bills seldom exceed $200 a month.

It addition to preserving natural resources, the couple was intent on retaining their financial assets for such priorities as sending their two kids, Matt and Katie, to college and planning for retirement.

Greg significantly reduced costs by acting as his own general contractor, bringing in tradesmen for plumbing and electricity. He and a good friend, builder Mike McCabe, did much of the other work themselves, obtaining standard materials such as ceramic tiles from home improvement centers.

Greg built the simple, Shaker-style cupboards in the kitchen himself, then painted them a soft chambray blue.

“The painted finish allowed me to hide my mistakes, the putty and such,” he says.

Built-in pantry-style cupboards are tall and shallow, an efficient use of space that also prevents canned goods and other staples from getting lost in the back.

The Kindigs retained as many mature trees as possible
to minimize disturbance to natural surroundings.
Photograph by Bob Narod

In designing the house, the focus was on going gray, as well as going green. When they started work, the Kindigs—college sweethearts at University of Delaware—were soon-to-be empty nesters who planned on staying put for many years.

To that end, Greg incorporated universal design principles for aging in place, such as a first-floor master suite with a walk-in shower, lever door handles, and doors and hallways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. He designed the house so he and Lillian can live entirely on the first floor, if need be. Upstairs are bedrooms where the couples’ grown children stay when they visit.

The second story incorporates a wide-central hall with a balcony overlooking the first-floor great room. A ship’s ladder leads to a cupola, which is as functional as it is decorative. “It lights the center of the house, and when you open it in the summer, it lets all the hot air out,” Greg says.

Outside, indigenous plantings of mountain laurel and other low-growing shrubs line a rustic walkway on the bluff above the water. In landscaping the property, the Kindigs focused on hardy native plants that wouldn’t require an irrigation system. The jot of a lawn can be mowed in five minutes.

The exterior is painted in earthy tones of green and beige and is sheathed in cement board that has the look and feel of wood clapboards and shingles, without the maintenance. “It’s fireproof and termite proof,” Greg says.

The ceilings on the porch and breezeway are sheathed in corrugated steel, a technique frequently used in Texas, where Lillian lived as a girl.

After a few years of living in their home, the Kindigs have discovered that environmentally friendly housing offers bountiful dividends with little sacrifice.

“Green is good architecture. Green is common sense and planning,” Greg says. “And green is easy to live with.” 


Emphasize open gathering spaces, such as a great room or a combined kitchen and dining area. Minimize space in seldom-used rooms.

Think ahead. The Kindigs integrated such aging-in-place features as wide passageways, a first-floor master suite and a walk-in shower.

Maximize the setting. Mature trees enhance the view and help to keep a house cool in summer. Banks of windows on the south side of the home usher in natural light and, in winter, the sun’s warming rays.

Rethink materials. Consider such alternatives as corrugated metal ceilings, cement-board siding, and woods that are harvested from sustainable forests.


Julie and Tony Panaro

Taking the LEED


You don’t need Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification to build green. Anyone can do it.



Looking to build a house or remodel your home in a sustainable way? Talk to Tony and Julie Panaro of Panaro Construction. The couple are building what they hope will be the first LEED-certified house in the New Castle County area, in Chesapeake City, Maryland.


Not that one has to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification to be green. Anyone can build or add in ways that have a low impact on the environment. The benefits include reduction of waste, protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, improved air and water, and conservation of natural resources. A well-built green home means lower energy bills, higher durability, less maintenance and enhanced value.


LEED certification costs $2,500 to $3,000. Julie Panaro hopes that the costs will ultimately result in a higher resale value for their home. “Access to resources matters,” says Julie. “If the market demands environmentally conscious materials, the industry will respond.”


The use of formaldehyde-free foam ensures a drier,
better-insulated basement floor.


As a sign of progress, she cites recent lending decisions based on anticipated energy savings. “Now some jurisdictions are enacting legislation for green building requirements for commercial or governmental structures, requiring builders to become more environmentally conscious,” she adds.


The Panaros are professionally well situated to build green and seek LEED certification. Tony already does green construction as part of his standard building process because he believes it results in a better, healthier home. He has established relationships with vendors who provide green materials.  Julie is a real estate attorney in Wilmington.


The average homeowner might find the price of such green amenities as geothermal heating and cooling systems, about twice that of a conventional system, to be prohibitive. But the Panaros prefer to focus on the payoff. Tony says the costs to build such a system are offset by “major energy savings.”


Concrete made with fly ash recycles coal waste.


“Any budget has room in it to make environmentally conscious choices,” says Julie. “Anything you can do is good,” including remodeling your home to be more sustainable. “After all, the pinnacle of sustainability is recycling what you have.”


Tony suggests using Forest Steward Council-certified lumber, formaldehyde-free adhesives, paints that are low in volatile organic chemicals, recycled cellulose insulation, and Energy Star windows and appliances. Because LEED certification and other residential green programs are voluntary, no additional building permits are necessary. “Certification is regulated by the agency issuing it and is not tied to any governmental regulations, zoning, planning or otherwise,” says Julie.


That’s not to say builders and remodelers won’t encounter issues. “These programs are in their infancy and still have a lot of maturing to do before they become streamlined and user friendly,” Julie says, “but they have made great progress in the past, and we look forward to continuing with green building in the future.”


Visit the Panaros’ website,, to learn more.


If you prefer new construction, make sure your builder is LEED certified, says Michael Christopher, project manager at Bancroft Homes in Wilmington. Bancroft goes green by using roofing materials made from old tires and spray foam insulation made from soybeans instead of petroleum.

—Katie Ginder-Vogel



UD professor Doug Tallamy says landscaping with
native plants will help increase biodiversity.


Going Native


Plant an oak in your yard. The bugs will love you.


As chair of the University of Delaware department of entomology and wildlife ecology, Doug Tallamy has studied the relationship between plants and wildlife since 2000.


His frightening findings: at least 40 percent of Delaware’s plant species are rare or extinct, and wildlife is following fast, thanks to development and, believe it or not, non-native plants.


Fear not. Anyone with a yard can help. The key, Tallamy says, is to landscape with native species instead of the popular invaders that resist native insects. The loss of local bugs can affect the food chain, which throws our biodiversity out of kilter.


“Most people don’t realize how much trouble our biodiversity is really in,” Tallamy says. He recommends oaks, cherries and plums, willows, birches and poplars as some of the best natives to plant. Beneficial perennials include blackberries and raspberries, goldenrod, asters, sunflowers, joe pye weed and boneset.


For more advice, visit Where to find native plants: Delaware Native Plant Society sale, November 1; Delaware Nature Society plant sale, Coverdale Farm, 543 Way Road, Greenville, May 3-4; Redbud Native Plant Nursery, 1214 N. Middletown Road, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (610) 358-4300; London Grove Nurseries, 529 Garden Station Road, Avondale, Pennsylvania, (610) 268-2091; Natural Landscapes, 354 N. Jennersville Road, West Grove, Pennsylvania, (610) 869-3788. At the beach, see what plants will work for you at the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce native plant demonstration garden.


Says Tallamy, “If somebody is thinking something native rather than something from China, I’m happy.”         

—Drew Ostroski



Energy Services Group uses infrared
scanners and other equipment to test
homes for heating and cooling efficiency.


Help for the Home


Consultants take the guesswork out of going green.


Want to go green but don’t know how? Home is a natural place to begin. Consumers could spend years learning what products work best, how their homes should be situated on a site and which appliances are most energy efficient, but a growing cadre of local consultants have such information at their fingertips. And they’re ready to help.


Ed Minch, co-owner of Wilmington-based Energy Services Group (, was one of the first in the area to recognize that helping people seal their homes would be good for the earth and good for business. The company uses negative-pressure equipment to test new homes for Energy Star certification and tests older homes to determine areas that need to be sealed. The company is accredited through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program to consult on homes in the design stage.


David Stevenson has begun a design consultancy that will adhere to green standards set by the National Association of Homebuilders. Environsense Homes, a division of his Lewes-based One Call Services (, has already built its first home in Milford, applying green building practices to an affordable home that fits into a small-town setting.


Blyth Lynn McManus is owner of Aerie Design in Lewes ( Originally from Berkeley, California, she blends interior and green design in contemporary ways.


“People should not walk in and say, ‘Oh, I bet you eat granola,’” she says. “They should be functional designs that are also healthy.”                                        —Scott Pruden



Companies such as KW Solar Solutions in Bear
can help you harness the sun’s power.


Charge It

Install a solar power system. Sell surplus power to the electric company. And let the state pay you to do it.


Delaware has become a hotbed of solar development, thanks to a progressive energy policy that supports solar power in homes and businesses. That policy provides homeowners with a rebate of 50 percent of the cost of installing a photovoltaic system for collecting household electricity.


Considering that a new photovoltaic system can cost $50,000, the rebate significantly reduces initial outlay and cuts the time that such a system would pay for itself. The rebate also applies to solar hot water systems, as well as wind, fuel cell and geothermal systems. Not only will the new system allow you to collect energy from the sun, it will also feed your surplus power back into the grid, allowing you to cancel out that surcharge.


Several companies have emerged to provide equipment and expertise to consumers: KW Solar Solutions (932 Howell School Road, Bear, 838-8400), SunEnergy Technologies Inc. (P.O. Box 4022, Newark, 355-0618), Wise Power Systems Inc. (500 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 351-4613) and Delaware Renewable Energy Co. (55 Cascade Lane, Rehoboth Beach, 227-1337).                         —Scott Pruden



Michael Riska


Recycle a House

The current surplus of housing stock is good news for the environment—which is good news for buyers.


Last year, prices of existing homes fell for the first time since the 1930s. So not only is it a good time to buy an existing home, the purchase is good for the environment. “You’re not using land that was once a forest or farmland,” says Michael Riska, executive director of the Delaware Nature Society. “You are recycling that land and reusing it.”


The current market allows buyers to get more for their money. “An existing house is probably smaller and cheaper, but all the resources have already been put into building it,” says John Harrod, of the Delaware Nature Society. Large homes are also less thermally efficient. Their large roofs absorb more heat from the sun, so they require more energy to cool inside.


“Although new homes can be built with a smaller environmental footprint than existing homes, often what we see built contributes to stormwater runoff through increased impervious surface,” says Pamela Sapko, of the Delaware Center for Horticulture. Most environmentalists agree that buying existing is more environmentally friendly than buying new. “You don’t need new lumber, so you leave the trees alone,” says Riska. “Cut them down, you lose their benefits.”     —Maria Hess


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