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Show of support for green building codes

Tamara Miller

EAGLE COUNTY ” Being friendly to the environment isn’t always friendly to your pocketbook. At least not at first.

Homeowners like the idea of a home that uses less energy and is made out of recycled materials until they see how much it costs to build it, said Michael Suman, a local architect.

“I think the upfront costs sometimes scare people away,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s an education issue. People don’t understand the long-term benefit of having a green building.”

The long-term benefit is lower energy bills that will make up for the higher home price, Suman said. But most homeowners can’t get past the initial sticker shock of building a “green” home.

“It’s not involved in projects as much as I would like,” Suman said.

County officials also would like to see more energy-efficient homes.

They are beginning to work on building codes that will encourage homeowners to build more environmentally friendly homes. Similar programs are already in place in Pitkin County and the town of Basalt.

Eagle County will likely find support for green building codes in the construction community, said Dan Koelliker, vice president of the Avon office of Beaudin-Ganze Consulting Engineers, Inc. Building an energy-efficient home doesn’t have to be significantly more expensive, either, he added.

“I think any builder you would speak to would have a soft spot for energy efficiency,” Koelliker said.

All about the green

It takes a lot of power to heat, cool and light a building, making development the biggest energy suck in the world, Koelliker said.

“The technology exists to make things more efficient now,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making it popular enough so the cost of incorporating those technologies is reasonable.”

Koelliker’s firm has worked on several projects that have been certified through the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, better known as LEED. Projects that are LEED-certified must meet certain criteria for energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality and other factors.

It’s not uncommon for local projects to begin with the intent of becoming LEED-certified or more energy efficient. But the cost of making a home or building meet that criteria often derails the effort, Koelliker said.

Over time, a homeowner will make up for the initial cost with utility bill savings, but it’s still too much to handle for the homeowner whose budget already is stretched too thin, he said. Wealthier clients sometimes aren’t swayed by saving a few hundred dollars on monthly utility bills, either, he added.

“But we do see the occasional homeowner who is very interested and follows through to the end,” Koelliker said.

Adding solar panels and high-efficiency boilers can be pricey. But there are plenty of things ” like building the home in a way that allows plenty of warm sun exposure to get inside, for example ” that don’t cost that much, he said.

“If you approach the design the right way it shouldn’t cost anymore than standard construction,” Koelliker said.

Time to regulate

Diana Scherr, marketing director for R.A. Nelson construction company, said she would like Eagle County to adopt green building codes. But others might not want the government to intervene on this issue, favoring the grassroots efforts that encourage homeowners to build earth-friendly homes, she said.

“My personal thought is we’ve had long enough to kind of get it together ourselves,” she said. “If we have a governmental entity or guidelines in place, I’m behind that 100 percent.”

Ideally, any sort of green building program should be voluntary, Suman said. Scherr agreed. “I’m always of the belief you should just encourage people to begin with,” she said. “I don’t know if it will work.”

The programs in Basalt and Pitkin County essentially are mandatory: Homeowners with homes of a certain size must comply with certain guidelines or pay into a fund. In Pitkin County, all homes must meet at least some energy efficiency guidelines to be approved.

In all cases, homeowners and builders are given some flexibility to choose what features they want to incorporate, whether it’s building a home that naturally receives a lot of heat from the sun or installing a high-efficiency boiler for heat, said Adam Palmer, an Eagle County planner. Eagle County likely will aim for the same sort of flexibility in its building codes, he said.

On the Web

http://www.usgbc.org

http://www.builtgreen.org

http://www.aspencore.org

http://www.aspenpitkin.com

Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Colorado


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