Mountain House & Home: Stringently Green
Editors note: At Mountain House & Home, we believe strongly in sustainable building and feature stories about it in every issue. When we heard about one of the first LEED for Homes projects to be built in Colorado, we asked regular correspondent Jeremy Simon to do a three-part series detailing the home from the planning stage all the way to completion. In this first article, Simon looks at how one Florida couple approached the construction of their Roaring Fork Valley home with the hopes that their efforts will be duplicated by many homeowners in the future.When Floridians Sue and Paul Goldstein talked about building their retirement home in the Roaring Fork Valley, they decided they wanted to build not only green, but stringently green.They wanted to go beyond traditional sustainable-home benchmarks, such as Energy Star (a federal rating system for reduced-energy appliances) and Green Built (a Colorado-specific enviro-incentive program). This meant building to the standards of the nascent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-home-building rating system. But building a home this way entails a total commitment, and a steep learning curve. For one thing, theres little precedent. Fewer than 300 residences nationally (and just one in Colorado) had by October 2007 attained LEED for Homes certification, and residential-construction criteria have existed for less than a year. LEEDs standards draw on a comprehensive array of environmental factors such as landscaping, directional orientation of the house, even where contractors park their vehicles while working on-site. The builders, Carbondale-based Crawford Design Build, had never built a home this way. While the Goldsteins did have relevant experience (Paul as a builder of 1,000-plus single-family homes and Sue as a LEED-accredited architect who has designed a LEED-certified library), building the project represents a new frontier for them. They decided it was worth the effort to make their retirement home a statement that can promote green-building practices not solely for hippies already on the straw-bale bandwagon, but to mainstream affluents whose home-building tastes provide the best opportunity for environmental strides to be made.When we were on the Internet looking for comparables, we couldnt find any, Sue Goldstein says. Theres a (green) market for those who arent in mansions, but arent in townhomes either. Im hoping it attracts people in our social circle.
Green construction is as natural as the sun and the stars: At least, it was in the pre-electric-utilities, pre-imported-bamboo-flooring days. Houses built in the 1800s were all green, because they had to take the environment into consideration, says Shannon Sentman, real-estate attorney and author of the article Building Green in the Black. Then in the 1940s and 50s, developments invoked more control over the environment. As a result, the squandering of materials, insensitivity toward the natural environment, and energy inefficiencies mushroomed. Today, residential and commercial buildings consume more than 35 percent of the United States total energy and more than 65 percent of its electricity. Ive been a residential builder for 25 years, and waste has been increasing at an exponential rate, Paul Goldstein says. How wasteful is this industry? Highly wasteful.Fears about global warming and dwindling fossil-fuel supplies has precipitated a green-building movement, from which LEED sprang in 1998. Widely accepted to be the most comprehensive, stringent green-building rating standard in use, LEED principles pervade modern-day government and commercial construction. Some municipalities now mandate that public projects pursue LEED criteria, and corporations that build LEED reap public goodwill. Economic efficiencies of green utilities, tax breaks and improved interior air quality have also been catalysts for building green. Residential construction did not immediately follow suit. With neighborly goodwill and modest tax breaks not quite overcoming the added time, cost and uncertainty that building green can entail, home-builders have been less compelled to build by sustainable principles, Sentman says. But LEED launched a residential pilot program in 2005 the criteria are still evolving, though the Goldsteins need only meet criteria that existed when they registered, not aim toward a moving target. Once you register to build a LEED-certified home, there is a series of steps you must follow to achieve certification, including the reporting of the projects performance measured against dozens of criteria: Once built, each criteria must be certified, and project certification is awarded at levels ranging from simply Certified (30 points) to Platinum (99 points). Sue Goldstein says she expects her home to attain the Certified level, and is hoping for Silver.
Thinking LEED-certification starts at the outset of the home-planning process. The Goldsteins contracted with Front Range green-home consultants Energy Logic, which helped them sift through the environmental options they could pursue (It was like a menu, Paul says), and establish objectives. The firm helped them quarterback the project, so contractors would be on board with the mission. If you dont have all these guys talking to each other, you just wind up with some green pieces, Paul says. They broke ground on the home last March 31 in Aspen Glen, the upscale gated development outside of Carbondale. Excavation (they put a silt fence around the house to minimize adjacent-property impacts) and the homes directional orientation were early considerations. The goal there was to keep heat in during the winter and keep it naturally cool during the summer, Paul Goldstein says, thereby minimizing energy usage. Landscaping impacts this, too. LEED construction mandates placement of trees and other greenery to shield the house from sun exposure, consume minimal water and minimize heat islands, areas of asphalt that trap heat.In framing the home and designing the crawl spaces, care was taken to avoid huge voids and wall gaps, and ensure natural ventilation. Here, a heat exchanger was used in the conditioned, ventless crawl space to keep air as clean as possible, and Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) block was used to improve the insulation.One oft-ignored aspect of building green is ensuring that the building process itself not solely the end product reflects sustainable ideals. For one, this entails ensuring that ductwork is kept clean and that non-living spaces are sealed off to maximize air quality. I cant tell you how many homes Ive gone through where the ductwork is just filled with sawdust. Theyre probably doing top-of-the-line appliances, but theyre going to be breathing that stuff! Sue Goldstein says. Economy of materials is another key element. Dont reach for a full sheet of plywood to cut in a 2-x-2, when a cut-up piece of 2-x-4 lying on the ground will do, Paul Goldstein says. Building this way can be more expensive, but not wildly so. Most of the added expense is concentrated in particular areas (such as HVAC, where going LEED increased the Goldsteins cost from $30,000 to $46,000), while in some realms (such as landscaping) going green can be no more expensive than conventional building. Sue Goldstein says that in municipal construction, the benchmark cost increase or green premium is 10 percent, though for her library project it was less than 5 percent. Looking beyond the end of construction, lower utility bills and tax breaks can lessen the financial bite somewhat, though not nearly enough for frugality to motivate someone to build LEED. A vital construction decision one might make for a low-environmental-impact home would be to simply build smaller. The Goldsteins home is 4,000 square feet, among Aspen Glens smaller standalone homes, but nearly double the national median size of 2,500 square feet. Energy Logic partner Steve Byers says that 4,000 feet is potentially even on the smaller side for current LEED for Homes projects. You get early adopters, and these tend to be people building larger and more expensive projects, Byers says. You walk up to anybody on the street theyre not going to know what LEED is.Paul Goldstein acknowledges the philosophical disconnect. Could we have built a 500-square-foot home that was as green as could be? Sure, he says. Were not saying we are capturing everything we could do. But their aim is not to be green saints but rather to demonstrate that one need not live a hermetic existence and yet maintain sustainable ideals. The Goldsteins home is slated for completion by mid-winter. It was originally supposed to be done a few months earlier. Construction delays are hardly unusual in resort Colorado, where a labor shortage has slowed projects across the region. But a month was lost when the Goldsteins agonized over choices that related the insulation to the HVAC system. We knew we would hold (builder) Tim Lucas up on things, Sue Goldstein says. They know wed be way further along if we werent doing LEED. Its really our fault.Next in the series: More on the green-building process, and the choices made in balancing LEED-certification hopes with financial and practical concerns.
InsulationRocky Mountain Companies403 Kennedy Ave, Suite 4, Grand Junction, CO 81501.(801) 918.9498Plumbing & HeatingSteve Huck Plumbing and Heating, Inc.,PO Box 3573, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602.V Ramsey HVAC, Inc., 3343 C.R. 301, Parachute, CO 81635. Contact: Vernon H. Ramsey #970-379-5418ElectricalGrizzly Electric Inc.PO Box 2291, Basalt, CO 81621.(970) 927.8006Energy AnalysisEnergy Logic525 County Road 8, Berthoud, CO 80513.(800) 315.0459 x710Landscape ArchitectureRCLA Landscape Architect417 Main Street, Suite C, Carbondale, CO 81623.(970) 963.7123AchitectGeorge Winne, Architect, GRW Architecture LLC1609 Defiance Drive, Carbondale, CO 81623-1867(970) 719.2682Solar PanelsBurdick Technologies Unlimited, LLC701 Harlan St., #64, Lakewood, CO 80214(303) 274.4358Barn WoodTrestlewoodColorado