When Phoenix’s $1.4 billion light rail opened at the end of 2008, the homes along its line instantly became more environmentally friendly because of their new car-free access to jobs, shopping, sporting events, and nightlife.

The electric-powered rail system has far exceeded expectations with 11.3 million riders in the first year, but in communities along the 20-mile route, foreclosed homes impede the urban revitalization that typically accompanies access to public transportation. In Phoenix and throughout Arizona, homes sit empty in nearly every neighborhood, signs of the region’s devastated real estate market.

But where others saw distressed dwellings, Phoenix developer Philip Beere saw opportunity not only for urban renewal, but for high-performance green renewal. By buying older homes near Metro stations below market value, Beere found he could rehabilitate them to ultra-efficient standards, sell them for less than the appraised value, and still make a profit. He flipped four of them last year and plans to rehab 10 more in the near future.

"We pick up the homes at discounted enough prices where we can still afford to make green renovations," says Beere, founder of Phoenix-based Green Street.

For a renovation to a home on Elm Street in the Pierson Place Historic District completed in November, Beere achieved the highest level of certification—Emerald—under the ANSI National Green Building Standard, the first remodel to do so and one of only 13 Emerald projects in the country.

The 70-year-old dwelling was structurally sound but leaky, outdated, and in need of repairs, says Beere, who was adamant that exterior walls be preserved in order to conserve resources, reduce construction waste, and keep costs down. “The greenest home is the existing home,” he says.

Although he didn’t change the layout, the house underwent a complete high-performance overhaul. In addition, the formerly graffiti-covered unattached garage was turned into a guest house, adding a third bedroom and increasing livable square footage of the two structures from 1,180 to 1,580.

To achieve the 50% reduction of water and energy consumption required for Emerald certification of a pre-1980 remodel, the project team focused on deep energy retrofits and extreme water efficiency, says verifier Mick Dalrymple. This included adding low-E windows, high-performance insulation, a York 15-SEER heat pump, WaterSense-certified plumbing fixtures, and Energy Star–rated appliances.

GreenFiber cellulose was blown into the main house’s attic to achieve an R-value of 19, and ductwork was tightly sealed, including several large holes in the roof where the HVAC system drew in hot air. “The remodeled home’s energy savings is significant compared to how inefficient the house was when we started,” Beere explains.