Green building practices are germinating at some of Steamboat's most exclusive addresses.
It may feel like a stretch to equate 7,000-square-foot homes with the green ethic when they have as many bathrooms as bedrooms.
However, it just might turn out that affluent resort homeowners will be the ones to bring green building into the mainstream.
"The patronage of high-end clients has been critical," homebuilder Mike Roberts said. "The benefit is that they have more money to spend in order to do the right thing. Over the last 30 years, the green movement could not have gained as much momentum without that patronage."
Roberts' Habitat Construction has been using green building practices in Steamboat Springs since the early 1990s. In 1995, Habitat, with a variety of collaborators, undertook a subdivision of small single-family homes in Steamboat called Tamarack Pointe. They were built to be exceptionally energy efficient for the benefit of homeowners with modest budgets. Local banks offered attractive financing, and Tamarack became desirable entry-level housing for local families.
"Virtually all of the purchasers were first-time homebuyers," Roberts said.
Roberts puts green building practices to work in expensive resort homes and on projects intended to provide community housing. One of the challenges has always been that the premium homeowners must pay to go green. The resulting calculations on how many years will be required to break even on a photovoltaic solar system for example can cause homeowners to reconsider changing colors.
It's unfortunate, Roberts said, that it often costs more to use recycled wood products, for example, than it does to use newly milled wood. Affluent resort buyers don't have the same price resistance as lower-income buyers, he said, and thus help the industry to achieve the critical mass needed to bring green building practices into the mainstream.
"The benefit of high-end clients is that they are willing to spend more money to do the right thing," Roberts said.
Just west of Steamboat Springs, at Marabou ranch preservation subdivision, Due West Land is offering cash incentives for purchasers of multi-million-dollar home sites to incorporate green building practices into their future homes. Due West Land will cut checks for $10,000 to residents who score enough green building points in the materials and practices employed in the construction of their new homes. Builders of the homes will score points if they use beetle killed timber from the Routt National Forest, for example. The significance is more than just saving living trees. By using lumber sawn from trees that grew in Northwest Colorado, the effects of trucking the lumber from distant forests is also reduced.
Based on the cost of building sites on the 1,800-acre ranch, many of those homes will set new standards for architectural values and luxury in the Yampa Valley at the same time they set examples for the green movement.
Jeff Temple is a principal in Due West with Mark Hall and Jeff Jepson.
Temple said his company spent nearly $1 million in improvements beyond the building code to construct the community barn, recreational buildings, children's adventure center, an outing center and several guest cabins to green standards.
Unlike homeowners, Temple adds, subdivision developers don't have an opportunity to recoup their investment in green building through reduced utility bills. Those benefits will accrue to the homeowners association.
So why bother? Aside from the fact that Temple and his partners share a commitment to green building standards, they think it's good business.
"We expect the home sites to sell more quickly and for a higher price," Temple said.
Green building standards are consistent with Due West's overall approach to the subdivision where more than 1,325 acres will remain as open space. The developers have spent many thousands of dollars improving trout habitat in the Elk River to support a trophy fishery that is among the subdivision's most prized amenities. But they've also taken pains to route subdivision roads around grouse mating leks and elk calving grounds. They've even gone as far as transplanting clusters of native shrubs into the midst of productive pasture land and hay meadows to create islands of wildlife habitat.
Joe Jones, project manager for general contractor TCD, said Marabou's developers urged him from the beginning to score as many green points as he possibly could in the construction of the community buildings.
"What we're most proud of," Jones said, "is that from the foundations up through the finished roof, we've used a lot of recycled and manmade material. There are 8 lineal miles of interior trim in the buildings, and 90 percent of it is reclaimed or rescued wood."
Reducing the carbon footprint of a home and using recycled materials aren't the only motivations for building a green home.
Mark Steur's motivation for building his spectacular home south of Steamboat was to create a healthier environment in which to raise his son, who has Asperger's Syndrome. Like many adults who are close to a child who has Asperger's or is autistic, Steur is convinced the growing incidence of the condition is attributable in part to harmful compounds used in building a home. When he built a spectacular new home on 11 acres straddling a ridgetop in Sundance Ridge Preserve, he went to extremes to avoid everything from the formaldehyde used in manufacturing carpets to harmful chemicals contained in traditional adhesives. In fact, there is none of the familiar pile carpeting in the home. Steur instead relied on hardwood floors and extensive use of Asian wool carpets.
Steur said the American homebuilding industry has been using materials that contain toxic chemicals such as benzenes and dioxin.
The decision to build green can be based on several sets of criteria - energy efficiency, health issues and sustainability.
"A lot of green building has to do with the materials you use," Steur said. "The floors in this home are made of white oak produced by a Danish company. It's seven-eighths of an inch thick, compared to the typical hardwood flooring that is seven-sixteenths. These floors can be sanded and refinished up to 10 times compared to the normal three times. That means it will last 200 years."
In his kitchen cabinets, Steur avoided the familiar fiberboard boxes that contain formaldehyde and instead used wheat chaff. The cabinet faces themselves are handsome hardwood.
The roofing tiles appear to be soft green slate with a little patina on them. Don't be fooled.
"It looks like slate, but it's polyurethane shingles that are completely recyclable," Steur said.
The spectacular home begs the question: "Will it take a green buyer to appreciate the hundreds of thoughtful details that went into its construction?"
Realtor Randall Hannaway, a broker owner at Colorado Group Realty, says not necessarily.
"The market is trying to decide if green building is ever going to pay for itself," Hannaway said. "You pay a premium to build green. The market hasn't decided yet if you'll get the premium you pay out of the home, but people who have wealth can afford to do it. This is, without question, a luxury home with spectacular views and unrivaled privacy 20 minutes from downtown Steamboat."
Roberts' family home on a forested lot bordering Fish Creek in The Sanctuary has been listed for sale by Realtors Darlinda Baldinger and Arlene Zopf of Steamboat Village Brokers.
Zopf and Roberts agree that builders who have already adopted green building practices are putting themselves ahead of a building demand curve.
Zopf thinks Al Gore's documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," has focused the attention of the home buying public on green building practices.
"Everywhere you turn, it's green, green, green," she said.
Roberts goes as far as to say that he thinks existing high-end homes that aren't green may be at a competitive disadvantage in the future real estate market.
Is Robert's own 8,300-square-foot home "green"?
"I have a hard time saying this is a green house," he acknowledges. "It would be greener if it was half the size it is."
However, that doesn't mean that the stunning timber frame home with its New England barn style vaulted ceiling and inventive floor plan isn't both energy efficient and comfortable.
Roberts takes obvious pride in its closed loop "destratification system" that uses the concrete foundation of the entertainment room, which is partially below grade, to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the house.
The entire home functions as a heat exchanger. A thermostat in an unobtrusive grille near the top of the vaulted ceiling guides the system, which pulls warm air down to the entertainment room, where it is recirculated throughout the house.
"Comfort, in the scientific sense, stems from finding an equilibrium between perspiration and shivering," Roberts said.
It's a balance of temperature and humidity.
"If you can't maintain an even temperature throughout the house, it's not a successful design, Roberts said.
Among the many beautifully designed features of the Roberts home that also incorporate green standards is a clever lighting system used in the bathrooms.
When a family member wakes to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, a motion detector triggers soft, recessed lighting on a rheostat.
There's no need to leave a light bulb burning all night in this luxurious green home.