Some of the hardest-working homes in the Twin Cities will be open for touring next Saturday. They conserve energy and water, and harness the power of sun and rain, saving their owners big money on utility bills, while doing their bit for the planet.

But you don’t have to be a green-tech geek to appreciate these dwellings, which are as beautiful as they are practical and eco-friendly.

As sustainability has evolved from a fringe interest to a mainstream movement, sustainable design and technology also have matured, gotten more sophisticated, and, yes, better looking.

“Our job is to educate people about renewable energy, which might not be the most attractive,” said Laura Burrington, managing director of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, which is sponsoring the tour. “But people want to see beautiful houses. So we get them into the houses — it’s my sneaky way of educating people.”

Even solar panels are more attractive than they used to be, she said. “Solar has had that [ugly duckling] reputation,” she conceded. “But the new panels are beautiful” — multicolored and translucent, allowing natural light to filter through them.

The society has hosted a “solar tour” for more than a decade, but this year’s event has gotten a makeover. Instead of a free tour featuring solar installations all over the state, this year’s EcoMetro tour is a smaller, curated showcase of eight “sustainable living” sites in the greater metro area. There’s a glossy, full-color guidebook, which must be purchased in advance and serves as a ticket to enter the homes, which range from modest remodels to luxury living.

Homeowners, along with installers and design professionals, will be on hand to explain their homes’ sustainable features, many of which include eco-friendly landscaping, organic gardens, chicken coops and beehives, in addition to green design and construction.

The guidebook includes a color-coded legend, so that visitors can choose the locations according to the green features they’re most interested in seeing, from passive-solar design to green-roof installations. And it’s filled with professional photos of the tour sites — so if you’re going for the eye candy, you can plan your tour accordingly. □