The Greenest House In America

Last night I toured a little piece of Boulder real estate that has been labeled the ‘greenest home in America’. It’s Bruce Oreck’s project called The Next West Home.

It seems that there are so many people pushing green oriented building and renovating that it can make your head swim. But in this case, it’s the real deal all the way.

If you want to look at buying a home like this, call or email me today for a private tour at your convenience.

This house was truly amazing on many levels, and there’s so much that Bruce Oreck put into the design and development that it’s hard to convey everything. What you might want to know that really qualifies this home is that it’s the nation’s first LEED Platinum residence, and it’s a Net Zero Carbon Residence. It’s one of only 7 or 8 in the entire US that is rated as Net Zero Carbon.

An interesting side-note to the construction site is that it sits on the location of the first stage coach stop in Boulder. They didn’t tear down any historic buildings though. In fact, Oreck did use lots of reclaimed or reuse products. All of the brick on the exterior was from a 100 plus year old home that used to be in Denver.

The home is in a historic district, so there were some guidelines and hurdles during the design phase, but when you see this home, you’d swear it could have been built long ago. It’s certainly not a modern-looking architectural style. A perfect fit for this west-Boulder neighborhood.

Simple Solar put in a 10kw photo voltaic solar system, and with the drastically low energy needs of this house, it’s constantly selling power back to the grid. Oreck said he intentionally designed this ~ 3000 square foot home to showcase all the things that can be done, with ‘off the shelf’ systems to accomplish the most environmentally friendly home possible. He admits that you can build a home that could achieve almost 60% of the efficiency of this project by simply sealing and insulating properly.

One of the early points Oreck made was that the home was engineered to utilize natural lighting opportunities so that electricity was more of an option rather than a necessity in most situations, even on a winter evening when the sun had fallen well beyond the foothills.

The overall concept was to drive down energy use. One of the first tactics was utilizing amazingly high R-Values in walls (R56) and the ceiling/roof (R75-R90).

All of the stone, tile, and wood is from local resources. The lighting is almost entirely LED, which is the latest and greatest solution for low-energy use / high-lumen output. Another great feature of these LED lamps is that the color spectrum is much more pleasing than the comparative use of compact florescent bulbs. If that’s not enough, they operate at roughly skin temperature, so this means we’re not creating unwanted heat and wasted energy.

In the kitchen, one of the features I really liked were the Cambria counters. This is the only quartz-based counter solutions made in the U.S. It’s more durable than granite, it won’t burn, stain, chip or crack.

The kitchen also includes a Thermadour brand induction range/stovetop. What’s unique about an induction system is that it doesn’t get hot. Using a magnetic driven system, the range has the ability to react with any ferrous based cooking pans to heat the pan and its contents, but not the stove top itself, according to Oreck. He said that it takes about half the time and energy to cook food, of course the safety factor of this seems beneficial, and the surprising thing is that the technology has been around for about 40 years. It’s also about the same price as many other high-end kitchen range solutions.

At one point in the tour some questions were asked about using photo voltaic on existing homes. Oreck made another salient point. Without first insulating and sealing a home, putting PV on a crappy house was akin to putting chocolate sauce on a horse dropping.

The insulation used in The Next West house is a foam looking type of blown insulation made from a combo of soy and oil. It apparently works well as not only an insulation, but as a rodent and pest barrier.

The lower level exterior envelope utilized ICF’s (Insulated Concrete Forms), the main/middle level SIP’s (Structurally Integrated Panels), and the upper level is typical stick-built construction.

Gray water recovery systems add to other solutions that help this home use only half of the water of a normal home. (a ‘normal’ home uses about 5400 gallons of water per year.

Oreck’s final comment to me as we were outside finishing up the tour, and trying to locate some of the elusive PV panels on the house: “Solar isn’t ugly, body bags are ugly”. This was in response to some comments that homeowners have resisted putting PV on their home due to aesthetic reasons. I think he’s got a straight-ahead approach to putting things like this into perspective, and the beauty of his work on The Next West House proves it out.

It was an entertaining and highly informative evening. I hope some of what I’ve shared with you inspires you to explore more about your options for green building and energy saving in your current of future home.

Thinking about moving soon? Call or email me, and let’s discuss what your current needs are regarding your move. I’d consider it a privilege to help you get some straight answers about real estate.

-Zachary Epps, full-time professional Realtor® and EcoBroker®


One Response to “The Greenest House In America”

  1. jack reacher on February 26th, 2009 3:32 pm

    What an awesome green home! I hope we get to see more of this kind of thing.

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