October 26, 2009
by Steven Castle
One of the main tenets of green building is “Do you really need that?” Less becomes more. Smaller becomes better. And 8,000-square-foot homes are not supposed to be.
A home that size should not be considered green, says green designer and consultant Michael Anschel of Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build in North Minneapolis, Minn. “The resource consumption, water consumption, land-use are all obscenely out of scale with what is appropriate, let alone required, for living.”
Custom homebuilder Margie Hamrick of Ecoexistence in Vail, Colo., would disagree. She’s the builder and owner of an 8,000-square-foot “green home” in Vail, called the Ranch at Cordillera. Built with a mountain of green materials, from recycled roofing tiles to reclaimed flooring and timbers to low-emission paints and stains, the “Rocky Mountain contemporary” structure was conceived with two goals in mind: to be as sustainable as possible, and to house the Hamricks’ five kids and oft-visiting relatives and friends.
“We’ve always had to live in a larger home,” Hamrick says. “In Colorado, larger homes are where people gather. You tend to come together and share your home with your extended family. … Because we did go big, we decided to take the extra steps and make it as efficient as we could.”
That includes a 7-kilowatt array of photovoltaic solar panels, which provides the home with about 50 percent of its electricity when it’s fully occupied. During the months when nobody is there, the system can provide almost 100 percent of the power. The home is effectively divided into several “pods,” which can be completely shut down when they aren’t occupied. One pod is the main living area, plus two bedroom suites on the lower level and a bunkroom that sleeps five.
Also helping to conserve energy is an AMX home control and automation system, a Lutron lighting control system which manages the home’s energy-efficient LED (light emitting diode) lamps, motorized window shades, a water circulation system and even an innovative home theater setup.
“We’re actually using less energy in this home than our previous home, which was 6,000 square feet,” says Hamrick. She says electrical bills range from $65 to $300 a month, but would be $800 to $1,000 without the home’s many green elements.
When Hamrick’s home project started, she was just aiming for some “shades of green.”
“We went to the local building department and heard of a green program in the community [Eagle County’s Eco-Build program], and we quickly learned about what there was out there with Colorado’s Built Green program and the [national] LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.” The LEED Home certification was a higher standard, but Hamrick decided to go for it and meet state and county requirements as well. “It was scary, because there wasn’t a lot of information available for me. I felt like the Lone Ranger out here, with no homes to visit or builders to look into. I went to green building shows and met everyone I could, and I learned a lot.” Then she started talking to local contractors about what she had discovered during her research.
She had decided on efficient lighting fixtures and heating systems, in addition to a solar array, but one green possibility she hadn’t considered was how home electronics could help her home be green—or at least be greener. “I didn’t know much about that at all,” she admits. But in talking with the local custom electronics pros at Conundrum Technologies, of Avon, Colo., she began to see the benefit. “I realized if you’re going to put all these things into the home, and if you don’t have a system to control them, you’re defeating the purpose because then you’re going to overuse your heating and lighting.”
Getting Teched Up
Conundrum and the electrical contractors separated the house’s electrical service into five different electrical panels and lighting control panels, which saved approximately $50,000 alone, by using far less copper wiring. Jason Perez at Conundrum also explains that the setup is more energy-efficient, because it’s natural to lose small amounts of power on longer runs of cabling.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates