Follow one of the first LEED home projects to be built in Colorado
September 26, 2008
There’s nothing particularly easy about the process of building your own home, so Paul and Sue Goldstein are happy to have finally come to the end of the cul-de-sac, so to speak, when it comes to the home they’ve been laboring on during the past months.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., residents managed the construction of the home in Carbondale that they eventually hope to retire in. And while building a home halfway across the country comes with its own set of challenges, the pair of professional builders decided to make this future home the most energy efficient and environmentally sound house they could, further complicating every part of the home-building process.
Specifically, the Goldsteins set out to get their home certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, otherwise known as becoming a LEED-certified building. While a number of new commercial buildings in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond have been built with LEED in mind, it is rare for a residential property to seek LEED certification, according to Steve Byers, principal of EnergyLogic, based in Berthoud.
“There aren’t that many LEED homes out there yet,” says Byers, who acted as an energy consultant with the Goldsteins. “We’re trying to bring a deeper level of experience and understanding to people in the valley to support this kind of project in the future.”
Every element of the Goldstein’s home will be evaluated with LEED certification in mind ” becoming certified involves a checklist of 18 mandatory measures and 129 additional potential points that will put their house in one of four LEED categories, from Certified to Platinum. As of now, Sue Goldstein is putting together all the material to present to Green Building Council members, which will include information about their appliances, framing techniques and all other parts that make up the house and may gain them points on the checklist. Council members are representatives from every sector of the building industry, all interested in the practice of “green building.”
“They don’t just pass through the list lightly ” they are very loyal to the program and want to make sure you have reached your mark on whatever you’re getting points for,” she says. “It’ll take several months. No one skates by on things.”
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Durability from the inside out
From the street, the Goldstein’s property appears to be similar to any other home in the Aspen Glen subdivision ” it sits along a golf course and enjoys wide views of Mount Sopris and the often-clear Colorado sky. Looking closer, you might note that the exterior of the home makes use of some of the most sustainable and durable materials available.
The home’s reclaimed 100-year-old barn wood in various shades of brown from a barn in Wyoming won’t require any additional maintenance over the years, since the weathering process has long since taken its toll on the wood. “It’s already aged and colored, so you don’t have to do anything with it,” Paul Goldstein says. In fact, those qualities run through many of the home’s materials.
The Goldsteins choose stucco and locally quarried stone for the home’s exterior because of the durability. Paul Goldstein notes that the color of the stucco was already inserted into the material, therefore no paint chemicals had to be used in the process. Stucco will also help keep the structure cool in the summertime, he said.
Internally, many of the walls are covered with a pre-colored plaster, again in order to avoid paint fumes. Where paint was used, the couple chose Benjamin Moore’s Eco Spec, a product that is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and therefore low in odor. There are two types of carpet in the house, and both are surprisingly soft, considering they are made from recycled plastic bottles and corn.
Natural stone makes up surfaces, such as bathroom tile and vanity tops. “Sometimes when people are choosing products, they are driven just by the cost factor,” Sue Goldstein says. “Five years later, they’ll decide to replace something because it’s not holding up, or they never liked it anyway, and then you get all those materials that end up in a landfill. We tried to pick things that made sense, that will last for the lifetime of this house. We have to stop going through this cycle (of building a home) with a disposable mentality.”
On the other hand, not everything in the house is the model of a “green” lifestyle. While products for countertops made of recycled glass or plastic are available, the Goldsteins chose granite for their own kitchen countertops because they like its look. Sue Goldstein says choosing products even for the most environmentally sustainable home is still a balancing act.
“The granite was a splurge, and we didn’t want to go ‘green’ in that area,” she says. “We may have saved money, but this is also a place you have to live and love.”
Efficient and high quality
The points awarded in the process of becoming a LEED-certified structure touch on a number of elements that are part of “green building,” from sustainability of the products chosen within a building, to how energy efficient the building is. In the Goldstein’s home, the energy-efficient qualities are often things guests wouldn’t notice when they walked in the front door.
“It’s often what’s behind the drywall that we’re the most involved with,” Byers says of building an efficient structure. “It’s not what consumers are thinking about, but it’s often what comes back to haunt them.”
All windows in the home have a high energy rating, which cuts down on heat leaving the home in the wintertime. The ductwork in the walls was sealed with special materials meant to ensure that there are no gaps where heated or cooled air can escape. Paul Goldstein says they paid their heating, ventilating and air conditioning contractor an additional $8,000 to seal that work tightly ” a job that was confirmed as working perfectly when a consultant recently performed a test on the home, pumping air in, monitoring leaks and reporting back to the couple that the house is “the tightest thing ever,” as Paul puts it.
The Goldsteins have two high-efficiency water heaters for their 4,000-square-foot home, but to maximize efficiency, only one is used until increased use demands that the other be switched on. The primary water heater can be kept on its thermostat in “vacation mode” when no one is around, heating water for just an hour every day. Bathrooms are equipped with toilets that only use 1.3 gallons when they flush, and showerheads feature restrictors that can keep water flow low.
All of the appliances are Energy Star, many light bulbs are compact fluorescents that save energy, and other bulbs are on dimmers so that the Goldsteins can easily lower the wattage.
LEED also awards points for air quality within a structure, which is why the couple made sure that heating registers and other small spaces were tightly covered during construction. Dust and debris that typically collects in the ductwork in other buildings won’t affect the Goldstein residence; they also installed an indoor air quality system that circulates the air continually to make sure any polluted air leaves the home, bringing in clean air from outside.
Last summer landscapers completed vegetation around the home, conforming to LEED standards by including terrain that slopes gently away from the house so rainwater doesn’t collect near the foundation, and grouping shrubs and trees together that require the same amount of water. In some places, the plants don’t require much water in the first place, and some trees are planted to maximize shade in the summer.
“LEED is often a common-sense approach,” Sue Goldstein says. “We learned a lot during the process. You can watch someone ride a bike all day long, but until you get on a bike and do it for yourself, you don’t really understand everything.”
Looking back at the process
The Goldsteins may have proved that an environmentally friendly, sustainable home can be an attractive, comfortable one, but Sue says she doesn’t expect people to follow precisely in their footsteps.
“Every person needs to find their comfort zone in what they can or can’t do ” we’re not saying this house is 100 percent ‘green’ in every way, because we still have to live here, and we have to enjoy the aesthetic,” she says. “I think that people minimize that when they talk about being ‘green.’ If you don’t do that, you’re going to get tired of what you end up with. With everything we went through, all of the picking and choosing, we just love what we ended up with. Ten or 15 years from now, we’re still going to love it.”
For his part, Byers said he is satisfied with the Goldstein’s home, having helped them achieve a number of efficiency standards.
“You never come out of a project like this feeling it was perfect, but we got where we expected to get with that house. It won’t be LEED Platinum, but that was never their objective,” he says. “It’s a far better house than it would have been if they weren’t trying to be efficient.”
The Goldsteins realize that not many people may want to put themselves through the rigorous process of trying to achieve LEED certification. At the end of the day, they say it’s important that people know every choice they make to become more efficient ” from installing compact fluorescent light bulbs to Energy Star appliances ” is a step in the right direction.
“I think that’s where people get turned off ” they think you either have to do this 100 percent, or not at all,” Sue Goldstein says. “But truly, if people take small steps to upgrade their homes or themselves, that’s where it all starts. When you have grandchildren, you begin to think, ‘Gee, are they going to have the same things that we enjoy in life, or are we going to suck (all the resources) up and leave them with nothing?'”