Crestone, CO: Live off the grid
Population: 146. Median single-family home price: $250,000.
New solar companies: 5
Take a trial run: Willow Spring B&B. Open Apr–Oct; from $65; willow-spring.com
Perched at the edge of the San Luis Valley, the onetime mining town of Crestone might seem like an unlikely cutting-edge capital of solar. But true believers in solar power, off-the-grid living, and alternative building methods have gravitated here for decades. “There is total open-ended support for solar here,” says Paul Shippee, a solar-architectural designer and proprietor of the Crestone Solar School.
Why Crestone? Start with 330 sunny days a year. Then factor in a lack of strict building codes and an acceptance of alternative viewpoints. Federal tax credits and state-level rebates for solar installations also help in a place that, even with all that Colorado sunshine, rivals Minneapolis in the number of days when heat is needed in homes. “We incorporate active or passive solar power in almost every home we build,” says Paul Koppana, a local contractor who specializes in straw-bale houses. “We’ve built houses that, in the dead of winter, run about 50 bucks a month in utilities.”
Runners-up: Mendocino, CA; Tucson