In Hillsborough, North Carolina, local firm Tonic completed a modern home at a modest $155 per square foot. Its in-house team of skilled builders constructed the house and crafted the custom touches without subcontracing—a costly and common undertaking. They also reined in expenses by using readily available materials, like oak and steel. Though the home is nearly 800 square feet larger than their previous residence, the residents’ energy bills average 30 percent cheaper thanks to spray foam insulation, tightly sealed ducts to reduce drafts, low-e glazed windows, and Energy Star appliances. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.