If you build big, you better build green | VailDaily.com

If you build big, you better build green

Melanie Wong
Vail CO, Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailySusanne Johnson helps her daughter Charlotte, 2, climb up a slide on their playground Wednesday at their home near Wolcott. The Johnson's got their playground from the RECON site which sells leftover and unneeded building items.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Looking out the windows, the Johnson family gets quite the view from their spacious home perched on top of a hill in Horse Mountain Ranch.

But the home wasn’t situated just for the sight of rolling terrain and distant rugged peaks ” the home has a passive solar design, meaning the position of the house maximizes the sun’s energy.

Ted and Susanne Johnson’s ranch home is one of many homes that are more environmentally friendly as a result of Eagle County’s ECOBuild program, a set of green building requirements for all new homes.

Under the ECOBuild regulations, new homes or big expansion projects must meet a certain number of points based on the size of the home. Ways that points can be earned include large-scale energy saving systems such as a geothermal heating and solar energy systems, to smaller efforts, such as having energy-efficient appliances and windows.

Homeowners who exceed the points requirement can receive significant rebates back on permit fees. Homeowners who come short must pay a fee that goes into grants and rebates for other energy-efficient projects.

In the Johnsons’ case, they didn’t stop with the home’s position on the lot. They also installed a geothermal energy system, which takes advantage of constant underground temperatures to heat or cool a home, and a recycling septic system that uses water from the home to irrigate the lawn.

The walls are made of pre-fabricated, special insulated panels, which not only provide superior insulation, but sped up the building process by about two months, Ted Johnson said.

His parents live next door in a similarly constructed home.

The siding of the homes are made of a dark-colored reclaimed wood from Wyoming, and the stones of the living room fireplace are found in Colorado, reducing the cost and fuel used in transport.

The wooden awning that covers the long porch not only serves as a place for the couple’s two daughters, Camille, 4, and Charlotte, 2, to play, but also to shade the windows to block out unwanted heat in the summer.

The homes exceeded the points required by the ECOBuild program, earning the Johnsons a 25-percent rebate on their permit fees for both homes.

“It’s a great incentive, and it’s a great program,” Susanne Johnson said of ECOBuild.

The family had wanted to build “green” anyway, she said, and the program helped them along and gave them new ideas.

“It feels really good. We knew we were doing the right thing, especially with kids and a recent baby,” she said of Teddy, Jr., the week-old addition to the family.

Besides being environmentally friendly, many of the home’s features just made financial sense, Ted Johnson said.

Some features, such as the septic tank, did not cost too much more than a standard system. Others, like the geothermal system, could cost up to twice as much as its traditional counterpart.

“But that’s a five- to 10-year pay back,” he said of the system. “So we’ll start seeing return on that soon. It just made sense economically.”

Palmer said he has seen a definite increase in green measures since the regulations were adopted. He said 250 to 300 homes have been built under the new regulations, and some builders have gotten rebates of as much as $20,000 through the program.

“There’s been a higher consciousness on the part of builders,” Palmer said.

However, not everyone has found the program so helpful.

When Susan Nottingham built a new home on her ranch property near Burns, she didn’t realize just how much the regulations required of a home that size.

She ended up with 55 points where the program called for 70, resulting in a hefty $4,300 fee.

“It was put in place to discourage people from building in Eagle County,” she said. “It’s an intrusion of government into private life. They have no right to be telling me how to build my house and then penalizing me on the way I build it.”

Rich Kedrowski, who built the Nottingham residence, said the requirements are nearly impossible for larger homes to meet.

He said the home already had energy efficient insulation, appliances, boiler and windows. Short of installing a geothermal or solar energy system, there was no way the home could have met the requirements, he said.

“Most people don’t want that stuff,” he said. “To add those things to these houses would cost you an arm and a leg.”

Only three homes so far have not met the requirements and have had to pay the fee, Palmer said.

Nottingham, along with other critics of the program, said the program is illegal because it charges an impact fee without a validating impact study, which is required by law.

The program is based on a similar set of rules and studies done in Pitkin County, but no studies specific to Eagle County have been done on the issue, Palmer said.

But county officials claim that doesn’t make the program illegal.

“We don’t look at it as an impact fee,” said County Attorney Bryan Treu, referring to fees such as road impact fees that new developments must pay. “This is a development fee, just like paying for a building permit or tap fee.”

“I can tell you, these (regulations) were reviewed by the Eagle County attorney’s office,” he said.

Still, Palmer said the regulations will be tweaked this fall, with changes that make the rules more fair for builders. For example, one of the point options is for the home to be within walking distance of a public transportation system, not exactly a fair requirement for someone building on ranch land.

But overall, he said he calls the program a success ” it gives people options while encouraging environmentally friendly building.

“Basically we’re asking, if you want to build big, build green,” he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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