Sun shines on Rifle project of Habitat for Humanity |

Sun shines on Rifle project of Habitat for Humanity

Photo courtesy of Habitat for HumanityHabit for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley recently completed the Rim Rock project that features three of the most energy-efficient homes in Garfield County. The "net zero" house on the far left combines super-efficient construction with a 6.3-kilowatt solar system to contribute more electricity to the grid than it consumes.

Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley believes it has found the perfect formula for making the residences it builds even more affordable for the people it assists.

Habitat’s local chapter has already demonstrated its ability to enlist volunteer labor and attract donations of materials to reduce the cost of construction. It has completed 10 homes since the chapter was formed in 1999.

It took affordability a step further with its latest project by drastically boosting the energy efficiency of the structures. The Rim Rock project in Rifle features three residences that far exceed energy efficiency requirements of building codes, said Scott Gilbert, president of the Roaring Fork Valley chapter.

The homes, built one right after another, were progressively more energy efficient. The first Rim Rock home was 61 percent more efficient than the standard U.S. home using a construction industry measure called Home Energy Rating System or HERS.

The second Rim Rock home was 75 percent more efficient than the typical American house. The final home, completed in October, is known by Habitat and its partners as “the net zero home.” It is 100 percent more efficient than the standard U.S. house. It feeds as much power back to the grid as it consumes, thanks to super efficiency and extensive use of solar panels. The west pitch of the roof is covered in panels while the east pitch is mostly covered to create a 6.3-kilowatt system.

“We probably have three of the four most efficient homes in Garfield County,” Gilbert said.

Habitat couldn’t have afforded to take the extra steps to build the net zero home without a $46,000 grant from Encana, an oil and gas company active in western Garfield County, and Sunsense, a solar system installation company from Carbondale. Sunsense provided free labor to install the solar photovoltaic system. Habit also tapped into other energy efficiency experts to achieve net zero energy use.

“We’re not a nonprofit set up to build green homes. We’re a nonprofit set up to do things the right way,” said Gilbert.

Some of the energy efficiency steps taken included caulking every seam in the plywood. “Nobody does that,” Gilbert said.

Three feet of blown in cellulose insulation was used to create a extraordinarily high insulation ratings of R-49 in the ceiling and R-29 in the walls. There was so much wall insulation that 5⁄8-inch sheetrock was needed to compress it. Various steps were taken to stop air flow, like a draft stop in the framing below the tub. High efficiency appliances were installed, along with an on-demand hot water heater.

“The solar is important but a lot of the things we do beforehand makes the difference,” Gilbert said. “What’s giving us the net zero is all the preparation that went into the house.”

Violet Marquez, a mother of two, is the new owner of the net zero house. Her heating bill alone was $1,000 per month during winters at her former home, a trailer house in Dotsero, according to Gilbert. Her mortgage, insurance and taxes will total $600 per month at the net zero house. Utility bills will be negligible on an annual basis.

The construction costs for the net zero house was about $6,000 more than Habitat would have otherwise spent, mostly on extra solar panels, Gilbert said. The extra insulation and other materials were donated. The on-demand heater was another $4,000. The extra steps, which Gilbert believes are wise investments, could be taken because of the Encana grant.

He hopes Habitat can continue raising the funds and in-kind donations to take extra steps with efficiency. “I would love to strive for net zero,” he said.

Next on Habitat’s plate is two duplexes in Silt, representing an increasingly aggressive development plan. It took 10 years for Habitat to build its first seven homes. The next seven homes – the three at Rim Rock and the four slated for Silt – will take only 21⁄2 years.

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