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Ecologically-conscious housing for the working man?

Kelly Coffey

Doug Graybeal lives his company’s philosophy, as well as inside it.

Architect and founder of Carbondale-based Graybeal Architects, LLC, he designs homes with human health and the environment in mind. One great selling point is his own home, which he designed and built near El Jebel.

Green, sustainable, environmentally friendly. Anyway you slice it, Graybeal added green details everywhere he could stuff them. He chose straw insulation over fiberglass, picked window sizes and locations to maximize the sun’s rays for light and passive heating, used reclaimed wood on certain features, even installed photoelectric panels to reduce dependency on electric power plants. It seems that the only greenhouse effect that Graybeal’s home has is the actual greenhouse where he and his wife grow their own vegetables.

Graybeal often gives potential clients a tour of his home to show them how it would feel to live in a house designed with sustainable elements.

“It’s awesome. It’s a very warm, natural feeling. You feel in touch with the earth and are more in tune with the natural environment,” Graybeal said.

Eagle County is proposing new building regulations that would require future buildings to be a little more like Graybeal’s home. Advocates hope that it will push the free market to make green building more affordable.

While Graybeal’s services are available for those who want to custom build their own environmentally friendly house, most people don’t build their own homes. They must choose from what’s already out there, said Matt Scherr, director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.

“All other things being equal, I would prefer the free market to dictate anything,” Scherr said. “But it’s tricky in the building industry, especially in a small market.” He noted that some green developments in Denver and other large-market areas sold out fast because of the sheer number of buyers looking for those types of homes. Green-built homes may stay on the market longer in an area like Eagle County that has a smaller buying pool. As a result, developers are less likely to go that route without incentives.

EcoBuild, the proposed Eagle County Efficient Building Code Regulations, would use a point system to score building plans. The plans would need to reach a minimum score to receive a building permit. Plans that greatly exceed that minimum would get a 25-percent rebate on their building permit, which could result in thousands of dollars of savings.

“They’re doing the carrot and stick approach,” Scherr said. “It provides further incentive to go beyond the minimum requirements.”

With more builders going green, the costs of using sustainable elements in homebuilding are likely to drop, at least locally. That effect will be a likely byproduct of adopting green building codes, but it is not a stated goal for the county, said Adam Palmer, Eagle County Planner and the primary staff member developing the proposed green building codes.

“The more that the builders and the building community become familiar with different techniques and systems, [these techniques] will probably become cheaper,” he said.

Graybeal’s home may not earn all the points that EcoBuild will offer, but it is as close as any builder is likely to get. He is a fan of adopting green building codes in Eagle County.

“Regulations will draw attention to the issues. The builders and suppliers will take notice, start looking for the better materials, driving down the cost,” Graybeal said.

He gave the example of the lumber market: if regulations encourage the use of certified lumber (lumber grown and harvested using sustainable practices), there will be more demand for that certified lumber. Then the lumberyards will seek out more sources for that lumber, increasing the volume bought and driving costs down.

Contrary to opponents’ arguments that building green will raise prices, Graybeal said he kept his construction budget on par with the typical home by using trade-offs: one green detail saved him money so that he could afford to invest in another, more expensive green detail.

“Whole building systems need to be looked at so they are compatible,” he said.

However, Graybeal fears that Eagle County’s proposed point system will encourage builders to haphazardly pick materials based on points without bothering to learn why those materials are valued that way – earning the points, but also raising the costs more than necessary.

“They need to understand the implications for what they’re doing,” he said. VT


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