How your home can share energy
EAGLE – Imagine this: Instead of sending the utilities company a check next winter when the temperatures plummet, it sends you one. Better still, imagine a new heating system that keeps paying you for years to come.It’s happening right now in the Eagle Valley. A handful of individuals are making money through energy efficiency.A perfect example is a single-family home under construction at 390 Bluffs Drive in Eagle’s Bluffs subdivision. The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home is a model of “green” building.The house has a 4-kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system. On a sunny day, the stored energy sends the home’s electric meter running backwards.”The second the owner flipped the switch, he’s saving money,” says contractor Eric Wardell of Ute Creek Custom Homes.The Bluffs house also contains a solar hot-water heating system. Separate hydro-solar panels atop the house connect to a small pump in the basement. The system creates so much heat that on a sunny day that the water, stored in a special tank, must be cooled before it reaches the faucet
Forget the dirty-battery-in-the-basement concept that characterized solar energy in the 1970s. These days, solar powered systems are more compact and efficient. Architect Jim Jose, owner of Holy Cross Building & Design, recently installed a solar system for some second-home owners in the valley. Their small solar energy system saves them as much as $200-$300 annually, he said. They can draw on the energy collected and stored during the day when they need it at night or on cloudy days, explains Jose.Local power provider Holy Cross Energy Company offers a $2 per watt rebate encouraging customers to use solar power, wind and other renewable energy sources. Energy company representative Craig Tate notes that one customer recently received a $6,000 one-time rebate for installing a 3.24-kilowat photovoltaic system. Tate estimates the system cost $30,000 to install. The powerful system generates more energy than the customer can use at any one time. Every time that meter spins backward, the customer earns a credit with Holy Cross, he said. The company’s photovoltaic clientele has quadrupled in recent years. “There are dozens and dozens of these systems out there,” says Tate.
Solar energy is just one of many choices that can make a home “green.” Wardell says green building starts with design. The Bluffs home was downsized to 2,200 square feet to make it more energy efficient, yet, the home looks and feels spacious, Wardell says. “The trend will be people building smarter,” he says. “You can build 8,000 square feet and build green … but if you don’t need that 8,000 square feet, you can save more energy.” Where the house stands on the lot is crucial. Heat can be maximized by placing large windows on the south side, and small windows on the north. But homeowners sometimes have limited choices – if a stunning view of Castle Peak lies to the north, the windows are going to be on that side, Jose says.”It’s a very delicate balance,” Jose says. “It takes a lot more thought than just throwing it up and framing it.”In the Bluffs home, the exterior and some of its beams, posts and trim are made from dead trees, some killed by pine beetles. The attractive plank floor that covers much of the common areas is reclaimed from a forest fire in New Mexico.Wardell often uses dead lodgepole pine from Colorado in the homes he builds. He asks engineers to design it into the structure, as well as use it for decorative trim. OOnce run through a sawmill, it looks no different than other wood and, he says, he can get an 8-by-8-inch post of dead wood for the price of a 7-by-7-inch of regular wood.”Why not do something in Colorado to help locally?” he asks.
The “greening” of a home is about thinking about everything we use, and how it might not only harm the environment, but us, explains Jose. Take house paint. Paints are now sold lead-free, but finding one with without toxins still takes some searching. Jose says the average house paint is not only toxic while it is applied, but for the entire time it’s on your walls. Many paint companies are now selling “low volatile” paints, which are more expensive, but less toxic, he says. The finish on the Bluffs home floors and wood ceilings is also a low volatile stain. It hardens as it imbues color, and costs less, too.The Bluffs home has a metal roof, which should last 100 years; and a recycled plastic decking material. Inside the walls, the insulation is recyclable and, Wardell says, regardless of how energy efficient a heating system is, insulation in the house is critical”If a house is insulated poorly, you just shot yourself in the foot,” Wardell says.Green building typically costs 2 percent to 5 percent more than traditional building, Jose says. . “But the return value can happen on multiple levels,” he says.
Eagle County’s ECObuild program is not only the law, it’s a chance to earn rebates.The ECObuild code, approved last spring, requires new buildings to meet certain environmental standards. The code is already in place for residential buildings, but is still in the works for businesses.The code assigns a number of points that must be met, depending on the size of a home. For instance, a building of 2,000 square feet or less needs only 40 ECO points, while a building of 8,000 square feet will need 100. Projects that come up short on points are subject to extra fees.The good news is that if a builder exceeds the regulations, the county offers a building permit rebate.”It does have some carrots,” said Adam Palmer, community development planner for Eagle County and ECObuild specialist. He says the commissioners approved the idea because of their concern for both the local environment and global warming, and because Eagle County homes, on average, consume more energy than their national counterparts.”I’ve been impressed at some of the designs that have been coming in. They’re quite innovative and energy efficient,” says Palmer.Eagle County is in the process of creating an ECObuild Advisory Committee, which will help formalize the commercial portion of the code; and will manage the ECO Build Fund. Other local governments are taking note. Both the Eagle and Vail are looking at the county’s model; and Summit County is in the process of creating a similar code. Palmer is also talking with Steamboat Springs and officials in Routt County. “It’s a hot topic. It’s a hard thing to argue against,” Palmer said. “Let’s construct our buildings a little tighter, more energy efficient … it doesn’t impact the bottom line.”