Posted April 19 2011, 8:27 AM PDT by Windermere Guest Author

Can Mid-Century Modern Design Successfully Meet Today's Energy Standards?

Posted in Buying and Architecture by Windermere Guest Author

It was an open house.  The buyers came in, fell in love, and wanted the home.  The only problem was, it had just sold.   You've heard this scenario before, except these buyers loved the home so much, they built the same home on their own lot. What they loved was the fabulous, fresh contemporary style and the open feel of the home.  It had high ceilings and big windows that captured views of the mountains, flooding the home with light.  The design was elegant in its simplicity. Clean lines and sleek finishes captured today's modern aesthetic.   Given its modern flair, one would assume this was a new, cutting-edge design.  But it was not.  The home had been designed in 1955!

[caption id="attachment_852" align="alignleft" width="440" caption="Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern Meets Today's Energy Standards"]Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern Meets Today's Energy Standards[/caption]

It was the home's mid-century vibe, the classic mid-century modern sleek lines with open spaces, high ceilings and big windows that attracted Windermere Realtor Linda Rease and her partner, Carolyn Lumber, to the Palm Springs home.  They knew they had the best of both worlds: a newly built home in the mid-century style with today's energy standards. The plan was created by William Krisel, one of the most highly respected mid-century modern architects.  William Krisel's designs cover the California landscape with over 40,000 homes!  Builders and home buyers loved his plans, often for the same reasons.  Krisel championed good design for all by making his plans affordable to build.  The home buyers loved his plans, not only because they were affordable, but also because the designs respected the landscape, captured views and light, and had a simple, easy aesthetic.  These same design principles work as well today as they did almost 60 years ago. The design principles work well today, but the energy standards do not.  In fact, back in the '50s, when home building boomed to accommodate post-war families, Krisel said energy companies offered builders incentives to use more energy rather than conserve.  The thinking at the time was energy costs would decline with increased usage.  No one thought of saving energy, and certainly no one thought about reducing one's carbon footprint.

Could mid-century modern successfully meet today's energy standards? Nate Otto, the home's project manager, was Principal Officer for Solterrra Development, Inc. and is now president of Hot Purple Energy.  The builders incorporated many energy-saving systems in the home including:

  • white roofing

  • solar panels



Solar Panels Provide Energy to the Home

  • tankless water heater

  • variable-speed pool pump

  • drought-tolerant plantings

Sinick3Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

  • a drip system where there's grass

  • an integrated system for insulation, vapor barriers, thermal breaks, and venting

  • rigid  foam insulation,  incorporating an air barrier between it and the roof sheathing

  • tongue  and groove ceiling

[caption id="attachment_856" align="alignleft" width="440" caption="Tongue and Groove Ceiling"]Sinick4[/caption]


The 15 solar panels, for example, cut the owner's energy bills from $4,000 to $2,000 a year.   The variable-speed pool pump installed by HPE was another winner because, according to HPE, 25% more was knocked off the heating bill. You don't have to live in Southern California, love mid-century modern or have a pool to save energy costs. Great design can work well with energy-efficient systems, whether you live in Southern California, Portland, Seattle or Boise.  Consider energy usage when buying or building a new home or remodeling an existing one.   Look at the "price tag" for energy-efficient systems. Find out more about how much it will actually cost to live in the home and use the existing systems, versus replacing or building with newer efficient systems. The initial cost should be balanced against the savings generated over time.  Many systems pay for themselves in just a few years and continue to save money each year after that.   More than likely, you'll be surprised by the money saved overall.  To increase the value of your home, buy with both great design and energy efficiency in mind.  It's the smarter way to buy a home.

Debra Sinick is a broker with Windermere Real Estate/East and has worked in real estate for the past twenty-four years, twenty-one of which have been with Windermere. She works at the Yarrow Bay office in Kirkland, Washington.  Her blog focuses primarily on eastside real estate trends.  She also writes about her passions: green living and modern, prefab and eco-friendly architecture and design. You can find her blog on local market news at



  • It looks amazing, what they did to the house, plus it is energy efficient. I just wish that solar panels and some of this stuff was a little cheaper so there was less upfront cost for it.

    Posted September 21 2012, 8:37 PM by Jordan

  • Thanks for covering this. We're big fans of Midcentury Modern down here in Pierce County, and it's great to see someone writing and demystifying the process of making these amazing homes more energy efficient!

    Posted May 05 2011, 6:19 AM by Windermere Professional Partners

  • [...] The article was first posted on Windermere’s blog where you can read it in its entirety.  Hey, if you love midcentury modern.  Check out Palm Springs, California sometime and try to make it to Modernism Week.  By the way, William Krisel also designed the House of Tomorrow, which became the honeymoon hideaway of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. [...]

    Posted April 21 2011, 2:21 AM by Midcentury Modern Meets Eco-Friendly Home Design « Eastside Real Estate Buzz