Dream Green Home

Mountain Life
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Mountain Life
Mtn. Property A

Hear the term "solar power" and you immediately think of those garish, rooftop panels that became the buzzword for environmentally correct energy in the Seventies. Remember those days? Arab sheiks were gouging the U.S. on oil prices, politicians were warning about depleting our fossil fuel reserves and scientists were blaming insidious refrigerator gases for punching holes in the ozone. With so many monumental threats, it's amazing that the world survived to the year 2000.

Don't be smug; we may have dodged a few bullets, but we're not out of harm's way yet. Have you checked prices at the gas pumps lately? Seen your electric and heating bills climb faster than a high-speed quad? Heard about global warming and its potential effect on your favorite sport?

Architect Gregory Franta recalls those early, turbulent times, when our consumptive society got an ecological wake-up call. Not long after the first Earth Day became a national passion, he worked as an architectural intern in Aspen, immersing himself in New Age construction. With the late, great architect Fritz Benedict as his mentor, Franta studied "organic" design¿a marriage of solar power, energy efficiency and harmony with surrounding landscapes. Not surprisingly, one of his first clients was singer John Denver, who wanted to incorporate passive solar features into his new home.

During the ensuing years, Franta must have had some enthusiastic referrals. When the Clintons moved to Washington in 1993, he was part of a blue ribbon task force that was chosen to undertake a "greening" of the White House complex, a project that ultimately resulted in savings of $200,000 a year. At the time, he was chairman of the Environmental Committee for the American Institute of Architects. Today, as co-founder and chief architect of the ENSAR Group of Boulder, Colo., Franta is considered a pioneer of environmentally sustainable architecture. So far he has brought his "green" touch to more than 500 energy-efficient projects around the world, including offices, educational buildings, libraries, health facilities and, of course, houses.

Which brings us to SKI's Dream Green Mountain Home. This is a plan that will tweak your imagination and, in the long run, save a bundle of money¿especially in heating and cooling bills. The design uses virtually every state-of-the-art concept in the books, including some new ones that may have escaped your attention. And there's something more. We can state unequivocally that this project was a labor of love, for one simple reason: It is the house that Franta designed for his family, which includes his wife, Jana Simpson, and their three live-in daughters, who range in age from 11 to 17. Clearly, this is a man who practices what he preaches.

Sited at 5,430 feet in the foothills west of Boulder, not far from Eldora Mountain Resort, the structure is built to withstand just about anything that Mother Nature can throw at it. "If it were at Vail or Aspen, I wouldn't change a single feature," he says.

The plan consists of 2,700 square feet, distributed primarily on two floors. But it includes several unique spaces, such as a square, third-floor tower that has a 360-degree view through windows on all sides (see South Elevation rendering above). Think of this as a crow's nest for skiers. It certainly provides a convenient way to check snow conditions on the slopes. And it provides extra sleeping space, with three built-in single beds for overnight guests.

This home is definitely out of the ordinary¿some might even consider it eclectic. When you see the façade, you immediately realize that it fits none of the standard architectural styles, but seems to reflect several of them. Part of the reason is that some components¿including the exterior doors and the pillars that support a balcony above the front porch¿were reclaimed from salvage yards and are at least 70 years old. "The way I describe this house is to say that it haa Colorado sense of place to it," Franta says.

But most of the things that make this house unique are not apparent to the naked eye. Here are the Franta design's salient "green" features:

Passive solar heating through south-facing windows.

High insulation with Enercept structural insulating panels for the walls and roof (R-28 walls and R-50 roof).

Super high-insulated windows (Alpen Glass), which have an R-14 center of glass performance¿seven times more efficient than standard thermal pane glazing.

Active solar heating, through an unobtrusive collector system on a front eave, that provides hot water.

Solar electricity for lights and other small appliances from SunSlates, photovoltaic shingles that cover one roof section.

Recycled content in many building materials, such as outdoor decking, roofing, siding and concrete. The deck is made from recycled plastic and wood fibers, which is not only more durable than wood but also doesn't need finishing and refinishing. And most of the roofing is made from recycled rubber tires.

Radiant thermal heating, using a sub-floor embedded with warm-water tubes.

Rapidly renewable materials, such as bamboo used for floor finishes.

Low-emitting materials, such as formaldehyde-free paints, coatings and sealants are used to minimize indoor air pollutants.You might be inclined to surmise that these components are more expensive than their standard counterparts, and in some cases they are. But in other instances, they are actually cheaper. "The recycled siding is less costly than cedar or redwood and is extremely durable," says Franta. "The roofing material, which is 100 percent recycled content, is about the same price as a shake roof and is cheaper than a metal roof. And it comes with a 50-year warranty."The home's active solar heating for water is achieved not through those ugly, flat glass collector panels of the Seventies but from a series of transparent, evacuated tubes that resemble big fluorescent light bulbs. Six of these tubes rest on the front eave of the first floor, blending in so well with the roofing that they are inconspicuous to a casual observer. On the second floor, above the dormer for the master bedroom, the roof consists of SunSlates, a relatively new product that comes with imbedded photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. Franta gets about one kilowatt of power from these solar shingles, enough to meet about half of the home's electricity needs.Because the walls and roof are so well insulated, heating demands¿even during snowy days in the dead of winter¿are much less than a traditionally built home. Primary heating comes from the floors and consists of a Wirsbo hydronic water system that circulates in tubes. This creates a pleasant warmth that radiates upward, lingering slightly above the floor, but allows most of a room's ambient air temperature to remain cool. Thus, the house never gets uncomfortably stuffy.These power-saving features not only provide a comfortable living environment, but also save on monthly electric and gas bills. One example of what can be accomplished is the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colo., which doubles as the office and residence of Amory Lovins, the noted author and lecturer on sustainable building."We generate 90 percent of our own electricity, and our household electric bill in January for 4,000 square feet of space is about $10 a month," Lovins says.The overall interior layout of Franta's house reflects some traditional elements, but enhances the theme of energy savings and recycling. For example, there's an entry foyer, with doors on both sides, that creates "an airlock effect" and minimizes outside air infiltration. Upstairs are three bedrooms and two bathrooms, including a large master bath, and two walk-in closets that front a spacious dressing area. The third level has the loft tower as well as a small loft room with an eyebrow window. Both can be used as sleeping quarters, though Franta and his wife envision the second space as a family work-study area.What's the price tag for this home? It works out to about $150 per square foot, or $405,000, though you could bump up the price another $100,000 if you went for some high-end upgrades to the interior.Franta's design is a shining example of how form and function can interact without sacrificing aesthetics¿and how "green" homes don't have to look like a Rube Goldberg contraption. "Personally, I'm biased," Jana says, "but I think it's one of the coolest-looking houses around."Going Green?
The following sources provide information and services related to environmental housing construction:

ENSAR Group, Inc., 2305 Broadway, Boulder, Colo., 80304; 303-449-5226 or ensar@ensargroup.com; www.ensargroup.com. The ENSAR Group offers a full range of custom design options and consulting on environmentally sustainable homes.

Rocky Mountain Institute, 1739 Snowmass Creek Road, Snowmass, Colo. 81654-9199; 970-927-3128; www.rmi.org. This nonprofit resource policy center in Old Snowmass offers a variety of articles, books and consulting, mostly to architects and commercial builders. One great information source for anyone who contemplates a "green" home is the Institute's book, A Primer on Sustainable Building. It can be ordered directly from the Institute. sleeping quarters, though Franta and his wife envision the second space as a family work-study area.What's the price tag for this home? It works out to about $150 per square foot, or $405,000, though you could bump up the price another $100,000 if you went for some high-end upgrades to the interior.Franta's design is a shining example of how form and function can interact without sacrificing aesthetics¿and how "green" homes don't have to look like a Rube Goldberg contraption. "Personally, I'm biased," Jana says, "but I think it's one of the coolest-looking houses around."Going Green?
The following sources provide information and services related to environmental housing construction:

ENSAR Group, Inc., 2305 Broadway, Boulder, Colo., 80304; 303-449-5226 or ensar@ensargroup.com; www.ensargroup.com. The ENSAR Group offers a full range of custom design options and consulting on environmentally sustainable homes.

Rocky Mountain Institute, 1739 Snowmass Creek Road, Snowmass, Colo. 81654-9199; 970-927-3128; www.rmi.org. This nonprofit resource policy center in Old Snowmass offers a variety of articles, books and consulting, mostly to architects and commercial builders. One great information source for anyone who contemplates a "green" home is the Institute's book, A Primer on Sustainable Building. It can be ordered directly from the Institute.