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May 8, 2008 — In a literal sense, every home has a groundbreaking moment.
Not every home has two.
From the moment the first shovel literally broke ground, Bob Stephanoff and the crew at the 2339 Chamonix Lane building site have been striving toward the creation of an energy-efficient home. After dismantling an aging home on the site, re-using and recycling nearly all its materials, and building one of the most energy efficient homes in the Valley, Stephanoff and company will break metaphorical ground when the house is named as Vail’s first officially certified “Built Green” home.
“It takes a lot of work, and anybody who says differently hasn’t really worked through it,” Stephanoff said. “It’s an enormous amount of work, but it’s worth it to me – even if it’s cost money.”
There is an in-depth checklist which includes hundreds of possible “points” that a builder or homeowner can earn by giving a home a higher standard of energy efficiency, air quality, water conservation, site preservation, and recycled and recovered materials, among other things.
Builders, architects, and homeowners can attain these higher standards in a myriad of ways. At the 2339 Chamonix house, as one example, Bob Stephanoff installed an HRV heat-recovery ventilator, which ventilates a home’s air, yet recovers much of the heat which would otherwise be expelled with the air.
Many other innovations can help a house meet the rigorous Built Green standard. The building process is overseen by certified inspectors like Megan Gilman, of Active Energies. Gilman met with the people involved in 2339 Chamonix house, and is putting it through a series of inspections which have earned it the right to use the ‘Built Green’ label.
A similar certification is available through the LEED program (Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design). A home in Cordillera has attained full LEED certification, and Vail Resorts' forthcoming EverVail project is likely to be one of the largest LEED certified projects in the nation.
People like Stephanoff, the General Contractor on the building site, are at the crux of the movement toward building less wasteful, more energy-efficient homes. In the long chain of those involved in the design, building, sale and occupancy of a home, it’s the General Contractor who stands to suffer the difficulties of building green – without reaping the benefits.
A home buyer, for example, can see the bottom-line results in their monthly heating bill. A real estate agent can laud the home’s minimal environmental impact. An architect can take pride in wise design.
The builder, however, is the one who must dismantle a house by hand, rather than by wrecking ball. His subcontractors must use new methods, new materials, the use of which may cost more time and money. there’s little, in short, that a GC can expect to gain in building a house like 2339 Chamonix Lane.
So why does Stephanoff do it?
“It’s cost me some money, but it’s worth it,” he said. “It’s just knowing I’ve made an impact. Homes are the single largest source of energy demand. So you can make a huge impact on our energy demands by trying to build an efficient home.”
Life is getting easier for those who want to build green, however. New products are coming onto the market which are more 'green' (for example, paint with lower Volatile Organic Compounds). There are also various resources for builders to use as they aim for a more environmentally friendly house.
The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability (EVAS), for example, hosts a monthy Green Building group meeting October through April, which informs builders as to various techniques they can use to make their projects more efficient. EVAS also operates the RECON depot near the county dump, where contractors can drop off building materials rather than taking them into the dump - and in the meantime they can find great deals on all kinds of reusable materials.
On the 2339 project, Stephanoff started by dismantling an aging house by hand and recycling or re-using much of its material. Fifty percent the foundation was spared, high-rated insulation was used, renewable materials were employed and even much of the former landscaping was spared.
“A lot of builders are afraid of (building green) because it costs money, and what do they get out of it,” said Linda Miner of Sonnenalp Real Estate, a designated Eco Broker and the listing broker on the property. “But if you think outside the box a little bit it’s not as scary as people think.”
The home’s design, by architect Jack Snow, utilizes the ample sunshine in Colorado’s mountains to help naturally heat the house – yet proper shading allows it to stay cool during the hottest parts of the day. This also happens to provide the best views, Stephanoff pointed out, because of the Valley’s east-west alignment toward the rising and setting sun.
The exterior design manages to be green without “looking” green – this is no “Earthship” styled house, like one might see on the outskirts of Taos, New Mexico. The interior design follows the same philosophy –the Japanese tub would be considered “posh” before “green,” yet it manages to be both. Same for the bamboo sink, which matches its style with the fact that bamboo is a highly-renewable resource.
Miner and Stephanoff aren’t counting on hordes of environmental builders to change the industry from the ground up. Not many are willing to make the same sacrifice he has, said Stephanoff.
“It’s going to come one way or the other,” he said. “Towns are going to start mandating a little more how these homes are constructed.”
Indeed, Eagle County and Pitkin County have both adopted building codes which reward green building, and municipalities are slowly beginning to tow the line. As energy efficiency becomes more and more critical to the economy, more and more General Contractors will come to see the light, said Stephanoff.
In the meantime, Vail will have its first “Green Built” certified house. The certification process, monitored by Megan Gilman of Active Energies, is fairly in depth, and its popularity is growing.
"When we started (Active Energies) two years ago we were explaining what this was, why you would build green," Gilman said. "That has completely changed in the past 6-9 months. Now we have people calling us and saying, 'I want a Built Green house.' And sometimes they’re not even interested in getting the certification, they just want you to come look at the house and help make it more energy efficient."
The state-wide Built Green certification process is similar to the well-known, national, LEED certification process. Homes must meet an exacting checklist of efficiencies in multiple categories, including thermal efficiency, electrical efficiency, recycling, reusing, and others.
After navigating this process, Stephanoff is far from exhausted.
“I’d like to take it to the next step, and build another one,” he said. “It’s not just building the average house, that’s for sure, and that’s why I enjoy it.”
For more information about this house, contact Linda Miner at (970) 390-4658, or visit sonnenalprealestate.com
For information on making your home or project more energy efficient, contact Megan Gilman at Active Energies by phone at (970) 227-0272 or at www.activeenergies.com
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