It’s not easy being green. What you envisioned as a meticulously nonchalant drought-resistant front yard, your neighbors perceive as “vacant lot.” They left notes in the night. You weren’t invited to this year’s block party.

Those wishing to be virtuous can still give the block’s well-informed (and highly opinionated) residents something pretty to look at. Designers and manufacturers are employing new technologies and higher aesthetics to combat the green fatigue that ugly yet ecologically sound products can impart.

Reinier Bosch, creative director and founder of Studio Solarix, which makes innovative and colorful solar panels, said the company’s new collection “provides a glimpse into the future, in which aesthetics and sustainability go hand in hand.” Once you’ve made one of these upgrades, you can quote that on your block’s Nextdoor page!

More than just a pretty facade

Solar panels tend to be shiny black boxes that hover awkwardly above your existing roof like aliens. But what if the exterior of your house itself were the collector — and it came in swell colors and patterns?

Amsterdam-based Studio Solarix’s innovative solar facade panels can generate energy and reduce CO2 emissions. They were inspired by textiles, where different shades, yarns and colors combine for depth perception and a tactile appearance. The palette was designed to coordinate with building materials such as concrete, wood and aluminum. Available through architects, and prices on request.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby

Decking made from recycled materials is great, but you’re always aware of what it isn’t: real wood. Simulated wood grain is just not as satisfying as the genuine article. Developed in Norway, Kebony modified wood decking is created with an environmentally friendly, patented process in which pine, a softwood, is infused with furfuryl alcohol and then heat cured, which prevents it from disintegrating. The resulting cell walls are 50% thicker, providing greater stability and hardness. Kebony doesn’t splinter either.


It has several advantages over popular ipé decking: No special tools are needed to cut it, it is very resistant to warping, and it is sustainably harvested from areas certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. (Ipé is sometimes from questionable sources.) It also comes with a 30-year warranty. From $6.69 per linear foot.

Trickle-down theory

Concrete and asphalt driveways are, by and large, not environmentally friendly. Among other drawbacks, they do not absorb water, so it all flows into storm drains. Gravel is a nice alternative, but it spreads (too much upkeep!) and the crunching sound tells the neighbors how late you got home.

Belgard permeable pavers, by contrast, are an eye-catching and greener alternative. Despite the name, the surface material is not in itself permeable. Rather, crushed stone between and under the pavers takes in rainwater, which slowly seeps back into the ground. This alleviates pressure on storm drains and reduces the amount of pollution that flows into streams and oceans. It also prevents standing groundwater, so there is less chance for mosquitoes to breed. From about $15 to $30 per square foot.

Green-lighting your project

Somewhere along the way, solar path lighting got stuck, always having the appearance of lanterns on a stick or maybe some sort of futuristic disc … on a stick. For something that doesn’t scream “home improvement center,” look no further than Lyx Luminaires pathway lights, made from steel with pebble-shaped openings through which a warm light (3,000 kelvin, to be exact) diffuses. They come in a rust or gray with an epoxy paint finish, and even have a built-in motion sensor so they won’t waste energy by staying on all the time. About $480 each.

SPF for your roof

If you can’t stand the heat, there’s a solution. GAF’s Timberline CS and HDZ RS shingles are highly reflective, bouncing incoming solar heat away from your attic and saving money on air conditioning by keeping things cooler up top. The shingles come in unusually rich (for roofs, that is) color blends with evocative names like Sandalwood, Coastal Slate and Birchwood, all meant to invoke a genuine wood-shake look. Prices upon request.

Cistern act

Rainwater-collecting barrels are often tumescent plastic affairs — and considerable eyesores. By contrast, Elho’s Raindrop is adorable: a curvy and colorful container. It probably doesn’t collect enough to shower with or live on (you can get an underwater system for that) but it gathers plenty of water for gardening and maybe even washing the car — a little over 18 gallons. Made from rotational molded polyethylene, the barrel is about 45 inches high, lightweight (about 15 pounds) and frost- and UV-resistant. It also comes with an attached watering can. From about $350.

Lightening rods

Back in the day, outdoor lighting fixtures made with incandescent bulbs — or even energy-saving compact fluorescent lights — were bulky and needed a way to disperse the energy they released as heat. LEDs, on the other hand, are brighter and emit very little heat. (They also last up to 50,000 hours.) Their small size and efficiency mean they can be transformed into nearly any shape or configuration — such as the poetic Artemide Reeds by Klaus Begasse, made from seven flexible tubes of LED light attached to an aluminum base and resembling the slender plants that inspired them. Priced at $945 for a single version, $2,540 for a triple version.