New generationof homes needsless generationof electricity
At first glance, the two houses being built in Blue Creek Ranch between Carbondale and El Jebel look like every other house being built in new housing developments.The framework looks the same, the roofs are peaked, and the size is comparable to surrounding homes. Look closer, and it’s clear the houses have much more to offer than ordinary houses. In eight weeks, two houses that will be far more energy- efficient than current houses will be complete.The houses are part of a project called NextGen. The Building America Program, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative, the Building Science Corp., the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Fenton Construction, Novy Architects and several other contractors got together to work on NextGen, a project designed to reduce energy use and increase cost efficiency in new houses. “Most homes in America are parasites, living on fossil fuels,” said Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. “If you disconnected them from the electric grid and gas pipeline, they would die. These two homes are going to produce most of their hot water and electricity while using very little energy.”Originally, the group wanted to build a zero energy house. Zero energy houses produce as much energy as they use. Some states, such as California, have zero energy houses, but Colorado’s unpredictable weather and drastic changes in temperature make building a zero energy house difficult.
The team is building two NextGen houses that focus on affordability, durability, comfort, health, aesthetics, responsibility, accessibility and replication. The Energy Efficient Home will be 35 percent more energy efficient than the average house.The second house is the High Performance Home and will produce 75 percent of its hot water using a solar heating system, produce 50 percent of its own electricity, offset 100 percent of its fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions and beat standard energy code requirements by 60 percent.Both houses cost about the same to build as an average two- to three-bedroom house in the valley, said Steve Novy of Novy Architects. They will sell for $215,000-$225,000 and are available for families who qualify for affordable housing, Novy said. Most houses in Garfield County have 3- to 4-foot-deep foundations, which allows the ground to expand when it’s hot and contract when it’s cold, said Scott Young, superintendent for Fenton Construction.NextGen houses have shallow foundations that are less than two feet deep, Novy said.Shallow foundations are effective in NextGen houses because they’re designed with unique ventilation systems that allow for changes in frost patterns that keeps the temperatures inside the crawl space and house at a manageable level. Most homes use fiberglass insulation but NextGen homes are insulated with cellulose insulation. Cellulose insulation is a tighter insulation and homes making use of it take 26.4 percent less energy to heat than homes with fiberglass insulation, according to a University of Colorado study.
NextGen houses are constructed using 25-35 percent less materials than other houses, Young said. Wood is purchased in two-foot increments but most houses are constructed without keeping the two-foot standard in mind, which creates a lot of waste. NextGen homes follow a two-foot framing design, which reduces material waste, Young said.”This is kind of the Volkswagen Beetle of housing,” Novy said. “It’s environmentally friendly, it fits our lifestyles and it’s smart.”It makes sense that reducing material costs by 25-35 percent would drive down the cost of overall construction; however, environmentally friendly materials used to build the house can be pricey.Passive and active solar systems are used to store heat and create electricity. Passive solar systems use breezes and other natural elements to store heat released by the sun.Photovoltaic panels, which are part of an active solar system, collect solar energy and turn it into electricity. Pumps and fans are used to move collected heat throughout the house. Solar shades and overhangs rest over the southern windows to control the amount of heat in the house. In the winter, the sun is lower in the sky and sunlight gets under the shades to heat the house. In the summer, the shades keep the sunlight out of the house. Unlike ugly solar panels of the ’80s, these solar panels are unobtrusive. They don’t give the house a spaceship-like quality by hanging onto the roof. They’re built on the side of the house and are hardly noticeable.Inside the shades are hot water solar panels which heat 75 percent of the hot water.Technology to build a NextGen home has existed for a while but construction companies, architects and engineers can be resistant to change, Young said.
“It takes a while to understand but now there are so many things to offer that other builders are listening,” Novy said. Specifications and plans for the NextGen houses can be replicated and applied to custom houses, Novy said.After the houses are completed, two families who have applied for affordable housing will move into the NextGen houses, Novy said. In the next few months, the team will start construction on five more NextGen houses in the Blue Creek Ranch, Novy said.”Energy independence is a big thing,” Novy said. “Not just for people living in a city but the whole country. It’s important that we don’t rely on other countries for the majority of our energy resources. This is a small step in that direction.”Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.orgLearn more: For more information, contact Steve Novy at 963-6689 or Scott Young at 920-4623.For more information, contact Steve Novy at 963-6689 or Scott Young at 920-4623.
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