"The importance of conservation and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels can't be overstated," Carnahan said. "We're only going to see a declining demand for fossil fuels if we organize our sites more densely and use green-building techniques."
Carnahan became aware of Synergy's work after seeing a home the company built in the cooperative-housing community of Arcadia in Carrboro. Carnahan said the construction utilized passive-solar heating and reduced the impervious surface of the area by limiting automobile infrastructure.
Alicia Ravetto, a Carrboro architect and Energy Star partner, pointed to the recent figures pertaining to air quality in the United States as proof that more contractors and homeowners should take notice of the environmental impact of building.
"The government could do more about it, but I think people should realize the benefits of being more safe without having to add incentives," Ravetto said. "I think it will be critical in the future to be more independent of fossil fuels, to conserve water, and to make more efficient use of our resources."
Synergy recently won the 10th annual Star Award from the remodeler's council of Raleigh and the Wake County Home Builder's Association for Best Room Addition under $200,000 for a project they completed in Chapel Hill.
In the home, Allen and Howlett created a larger master bedroom suite along with a hallway and laundry room, while extending the adjacent dining room. They also helped build a walkout basement under the bedroom that was converted into a workspace.
Ann Henley and her husband, Winston Heng, live in the Chapel Hill home in Cobble Ridge where Synergy completed the award-winning design.
"We love it even more than we thought we would," said Henley. "It has exceeded our expectations, and we love living in the space they created."
Henley said Allen and Howlett were responsive to every concern she had along the way, and kept a constant dialogue going.
"Rick and Tom are very flexible, and they don't have preconceived ideas about what you should and shouldn't build," Henley said. "The care and responsiveness they exhibited during construction made them very pleasant to work with."
While Synergy is involved in the construction process from drawing up plans to the final cleanup, it also assists homeowners in finding alternate means of financing, choosing potential architects, and setting up schedules and budgets.
"We are a management company, so we come in and take care of every aspect of the construction project," said Allen.
Synergy has taken on a host of projects throughout the years, ranging from historic renovation of 19th-century buildings to cutting-edge green-building techniques of sealed crawl spaces and insulated concrete forms. Yet Allen and Howlett agree that their most challenging encounters have been with difficult personalities.
"The biggest challenge is being able to set up a situation where you both clearly know what you're getting into," Allen said. "People have a lot of pre-conceived notions and the largest frustrations are maintaining a professional way of approach in light of people not being reasonable."
Howlett said the proliferation of "do-it-yourself" shows, along with the wealth of information available on the Internet, can sometimes cripple homeowners with an overabundance of options to choose from.
"These shows give people 'part knowledge,' so they have expectations of the process, and are often more critical," Howlett said. "TV will tell them, 'There's a better way to do it,' but we have to say, 'Yes, but it will cost twice as much.'"
Allen and Howlett believe the Triangle is ripe for leading the revolution in progressive home-building trends. The state also offers the best tax credits in the country to homeowners who go with solar energy and green building techniques, according to Ravetto.
"People can receive up to $4,500 for using passive-solar energy, 35 percent of the cost of the system for active solar for domestic hogwater, and 35 percent after $10,500 for using wind energy," Ravetto said. "The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association has been critical in the passage of these measures."
"With the local universities and Research Triangle Park, the Triangle is an open environment," Allen said. "It's an intelligent area that wants quality."