Mid-valley homes featured on annual Green Building Tour
Steamboat Springs — Standing next to a $6,000 bank of solar batteries in the mechanical room of a remote Routt County home, Tim McCarthy points out the connected monitoring system, explaining how the technology serves as the brains of his entirely off-grid home.
“This system has been working great,” said McCarthy, founder and co-owner of Brightside Solar, to a dozen or so local residents there to see the sustainable efforts of the homeowner.
The home was one of three residences toured by about 30 locals Sunday as part of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s Clean Energy Collective Green Building Tour.
Using newer technology, McCarthy and Matthew Piva, co-owner at Brightside Solar, are able to monitor how the solar panel system is working remotely, checking usage and efficiency without making the trip to the rural home, up a steep and windy dirt road off of Routt County Road 14.
“I’m interested to see what other people are doing,” said Steamboat resident Gates Gooding, who attended the tour. “I’m looking for ideas for my own house that I’m planning on building next year.”
Gates said while the upfront cost for building green is high, he feels the price tag is worth knowing that you’re building something you can be proud of.
“With a lot of these fancy, green homes you pay a big premium up front,” Gooding said. “But considering the housing situation, I’m lucky to be in a position where I can be thinking about building. I don’t want to squander it.”
The 3,325-square-foot Ridder family home atop Coal Train Hill wasn’t originally planned as an off-grid home, but the cost to bring power to the isolated home was so great that solar quickly became the most economical option. The passive solar design has proven so successful at the home that a backup generator run by propane only has been used for about 48 hours in the last year.
“You can run a lot of lights and not really have to worry about it,” said Tim Stone, an architect with Kelly and Stone Architects.
A few miles away is the Saddlemire home, owned by former General Electric Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Tom Saddlemire, who turned to experimental methods to make his home sustainable and comfortable.
Utilizing a geo-exchange system, energy stored in the ground near Saddlemire’s house is harnessed and carried to a heat pump inside the home, which then expels the heat into the floor, leaving toasty warm tiles and wood flooring and a home heated without a forced-air heating system.
“There’s no hot air blowing at you — and the cat loves the floor,” Saddlemire said.
The geo-exchange system works in harmony with the well-insulated 6,800-square-foot home, which includes a west-facing double wall enforced with straw bale construction.
While the upfront costs of a retrofitted system could range from $50,000 to $100,000, payback from saved energy costs will eventually be realized, and the coziness that the heating system provides is unmatched, according to Jeffrey Campbell, owner of Simply Radiant Heating.
“Geo is very efficient when it’s done correctly,” Campbell said. “And it’s comfort. That’s priceless.”
Other features of the home include its north-south orientation to prevent excessive solar gain in the summer and beetle-killed pine fencing outside.
While the Saddlemire home was built from the ground up utilizing green design practices, another home on Sunday’s tour represented a sustainable remodel.
The 3,800-square-foot Walz family home on Deerwood Ranch Road was built in 1997 and began its green remodel in 2011.
Homeowners Butch and Barb Walz opted for a redesigned concrete foundation using 20 percent fly ash, reducing the need for all new material.
New energy-efficient windows supply better light to the home than before while also reducing energy needs.
JMR Construction owner Mike Ramsey said new blown-in fiberglass insulation and the reusing of plumbing fixtures and other items were highlights of the green remodel.
“We tried to reuse everything that we could,” Ramsey said. “Everything we did, we tried to do as green as possible.”
While last year’s tour represented modest green construction that the everyday homeowner could aspire to, this year’s homes were meant to inspire tour takers, according to YVSC Executive Director Sarah Jones.
“Not everyone will live in homes like this,” Jones said. “These are beautiful and inspiring homes.”
After touring the three homes, participants were given a tour of Yampatika’s Environmental Learning Center at the historically designated Legacy Ranch east of Steamboat. Staff shared the difficulties of achieving energy efficiency while maintaining historical aspects of the ranch, first homesteaded in 1899.
The ranch does use solar power, has a greenhouse and has been updated with CFL lighting and with blinds to increase the insulation value in the 1917 ranch house on site.
For more information about this year’s tour homes, see YVSC’s tour handout.
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