Habitat digs into green building in Edwards
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado ” Last Saturday, 4-year-old Dylan Morales steered the pumper truck, which poured concrete for his new home. As he looked everywhere ” except where he was actually dumping the concrete because he was so excited to be “operating” such a big machine by remote control ” he yelled, “Mom, this is cool.”
But he couldn’t grasp how really cool his house is: It’s the first home Habitat for Humanity is building with the aim to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified.
PCL Construction assembled a team and donated more than $22,000 in services to pour the first foundation on Habitat’s eight duplexes at Fox Hollow in Edwards. The duplexes will house 16 local families who need affordable housing.
The project made news with the Professional Builder Program, which brings together 10 building companies to freely give their general contracting services. Now it’s making headlines for its concentrated green effort.
For Habitat, green building is a responsibility it has not only to the environment, but also to the people who live in the homes, said Habitat construction manager Jim Himmes.
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“Affordable housing is only affordable so long as it’s affordable to operate and maintain,” said Megan Gilman, president of Active Energies, which is donating consulting and documenting services to apply for LEED certification. “This is a program that also needs to focus on lowering bills.”
The efforts should cut utility costs by 40 percent to 60 percent, Himmes said.
Pouring the shallow, frost-protected foundation was the first step. Rather than reaching four feet down, such foundations only extend two feet into the ground, requiring less excavation, labor and concrete.
Habitat aims for a “Silver” LEED rating, which is a step above “Certified,” and just below “Gold” and “Platinum.” It is a stringent program, and one of the requirements Habitat found most difficult to plan for was mechanical ventilation, which is rare in even high-end Eagle County homes. Another requirement involves venting kitchen exhaust outdoors, rather than using a less expensive recirculating range hood.
Habitat is offsetting additional costs of pursuing LEED certification by utilizing discounted and/or donated materials and services, such as PCL’s concrete pouring and Active Energies’ consultation. It is also applying for grants through Eagle County’s EcoBuild program, Energy Outreach of Colorado through Habitat of Colorado and more.
Habitat will have an easier time scoring points in the LEED rating system because homes with a low ratio of square footage to number of bedrooms require less points to obtain certification than a 6,000-square-foot home with three bedrooms would.
As Gilman ran through the LEED checklist, she knew she’d find some point items that were givens in the Habitat project. These included building on a previously developed site, bordering other subdivisions, having public transit access to town, being close to water and sewer lines, using low-water landscaping and creating high density.
Gilman and her team considered implementing solar energy, but the hillside behind the homes creates a shadow for too much of the day for solar to be efficient on all of the homes. However, Habitat may consider using a single solar array for such things as parking lot lighting.
Other green aspects Habitat had to plan, and will gain points for, are: ENERGY STAR appliances and exhaust fans; raised head trusses, which allow builders to install more heat-saving insulation; double-pane windows with low E glass, which reduces heat loss; closed combustion furnaces; cement board siding, which holds paint longer, and helps reduce insurance premiums because it is fireproof; high-efficiency water heaters; low-flow toilets and shower heads that run 2 gallons per minute or less; and SIPs, or structural insulated panels.
Homes built with SIPs typically rate very well on air leakage tests. Additionally, homes with SIPs benefit from having a continuous barrier of insulation around the entire house, as opposed to framed walls, where 20 percent to 25 percent of the walls are made of wood (with studs, headers, etc.), which is a poor insulator, Gilman said.
Habitat also will increase its focus on recycling. The nonprofit already reduces waste by closely estimating and monitoring materials ordered so as not to create needless expense. Now participants will recycle all wood waste and cardboard, as well as co-mingled items, such as water bottles and cans, which add up from the many volunteers.
“(The project) is a great model on how to do (green building) on a really affordable and smart scale,” said Gilman.