Turning green with luxury

Affluent homeowners may be the ones to bring green building practices to the mainstream


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.


Zac Brennan 9 years, 6 months ago

How self-serving these rich people tend to be. How much energy do these trophy homes use when 'Biff and Muffy' aren't even here during most of the year?


alight 9 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps these greenies should take the eco-footprint test to see just how many planets we would need if every single family home was 7,000 sq. feet. Try for yourself.....



mara 9 years, 6 months ago

Hardwood is NOT green, and the thicker it is the greener it is NOT. The same people who tear down a perfectly functional 30 year old home to build a new one try to convince us that making something that will last 200 years is "green," despite products used.

THe harm done building a big home is not compensated for by being energy efficient. Instead of wasting time trying to make excuses for your choices your time would be better spent working on the apology to your children and explaining why you made your choices even when you knew better.


connellp 9 years, 2 months ago

mara... some wood flooring is green like bamboo hardwood. it takes a 100 years for an oak tree to be considered "mature." It takes bamboo less than a year. therefore bamboo is much more sustainable than oak floors for example...and it looks cool


Token 9 years, 2 months ago

bamboo isn't hardwood; its a grass. Thats why is grows back so quickly.


connellp 9 years, 2 months ago

you people are incredible. if you made millions are you saying you wouldn't have several beautiful homes? Yeah...well I don't believe you. It is the culture we live in. Rich people are going to buy ridiculous homes. Its the ones that "try" to do the right thing by building green that shouldn't be hassled. And don't argue that the "right thing" is to not build that big in the first place b/c that is simply not practical. I absolutely agree that no one should have a 7000+ sq. ft house but this is America and we shouldn't be allowed to tell people how big they can build. However, in Boulder that is exactly what is going on. There is a restriction on house sizes in Boulder now. and guess what? the leading proponents of the proposal are the homeowners who live in the big houses not the type of environmentalists you would think. Its all about money. Mike Roberts of habitat is in it for the money. he is a smart business man who realized over ten years ago that the green movement would eventually take off. if he was really concerned w the environment he wouldn't live in an 8,000 sq. ft. house that even he wouldn't call green. i think he is providing a great service but for the wrong reasons.


emmalee 9 years, 2 months ago

How true that bamboo is a grass and one of the largest at that. That said it is an extremely renewable resource. Some species at their peak growing times have been recorded as having grown up to 3 ft a day. Bamboo can also be exceedingly strong when pressed and formed like particle board (can be as strong as soft steel) and lastly it is really beautiful to look at, has a pleasing texture to the touch and is very durable. Let the affluent in our area and elsewhere build their enormous "green" homes. Will they not build huge houses anyway? Green or not? Hopefully their need for prestige and the trendy will transcribe into "green" being made more efficient, readily available and affordable to the average consumer. Besides don't most of us enjoy the perks in our community of the wealthy and seldom seen. Someone is always the trend setter and who better than the jet set that demands the very best to make green the best it can be and available to all. A good example would be (although not green by any stretch) automobiles and telephones only the wealthy and most elite had these modern day conveniences when they first arrived.Now they function well and are in every home. Wouldn't it be great if "green " followed the same path as our home computers and cell phones? I remember in the late 80's and early 90's Merle Streepe (sp?) and several other high profile actors taking a lot of heat over pesticides in our fruit. How nice it is now to find in most average grocers organic produce and foods and at increasingly better prices also. Don't always be so hard on those with interest and clout and their ability to fight a fair and expensive fight most of us benefit from and would struggle with doing on our own. Although I agree that really nobody needs a 7000sq ft home LOL.


ColoradoNative 9 years, 2 months ago

Nobody is dumb enough to buy this BS.

An average family only needs 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a garage.

Build that in an energy efficient manner then you can start yapping.


emmalee 9 years, 2 months ago

Actually the average family doesn't even NEED that. As I stated the these homes are over sized (most American homes are). However, a shanty with a creek and outhouse could provide if you really want to be arrogant about it. I was simply implying that most Americans can not touch financially the "green" technology that is out there and with use it will hopefully become main stream. (By the way my home is totally passive solar). It can be done.


emmalee 9 years, 2 months ago

Quick clarification I am set up to be heated on an entirely solar system I do have propane back up which is in use about 25-30% of the time. I wish this was better but sometimes the sun just doesn't shine. I hope that with better technology the recapture rate on alternative sources will be better. C.N.- it is not all B.S. sorry about the rude comment but really do some research. MO. S & T has some award winning homes and cars (check them out, note most of the homes are under 1000sq.ft. and have bobbles no one really needs but hey it's research). Just opening blinds on the south side of your home on sunny days can help :)


elk2 9 years, 2 months ago

Marabou Green!! I've said it before, how can they be such hypocrits. The lights they leave on EVERY night would make someone who didn't know better think they were in Las Vegas. Gimme a break. How much do they spend per month lighting Marabou?? Or are they all Solar Lights? Also you should see the starving Elk Herd they misplaced.


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