HG: SustainAbility Column February 21, 2009

Mansel Zeck believes energy efficient homes should be available to more than just the very rich. That’s why he jumped at the chance to be the first production home builder on the Western Slope to create Energy Star subdivisions.

Zeck, who grew up in the area, returned to the Grand Valley about 15 years ago to build residential communities. His goal is to build the “best product possible” and still keep the price low enough so 60 percent of buyers can afford the homes.

Last year, Zeck Homes launched two Energy Star-certified communities.

Silver Mountain is just north of F Road, near 31 1/2 Road. Secret Canyon in Spyglass Ridge is just south of B 1/4 Road on 27 Road.

According to Zeck, a “necessary evolution” is taking place toward sustainable building practices.

Over the past few years, “sophisticated science” has made it possible to move forward with standard energy efficient homes.

“It takes 30 percent less lumber to build a home today than it did in the ’70s,” he explained as one example of advances in the science of building.

Refinement of the Energy Star program and adjustments in building codes were also contributing factors.

It didn’t hurt that Uriah Shaffer, purchaser for Zeck Homes, was a big proponent of energy efficient homes. He was in a pivotal position to get the ball rolling since he is responsible for buying materials and working closely with subcontractors.

When Shaffer was working on his construction management degree from Colorado State University, he designed a straw bale building for drafting class.

“Alternative sustainable design has always been an interest,” he said.

Zeck encouraged Shaffer to explore and then embrace the Energy Star program.

In 2007, they built a prototype home in Irish Walk to evaluate methods and costs. They used the prototype as an instructional tool, inviting other builders to learn from the experience.

When all the evaluations were completed, Zeck Homes decided to make each home an Energy Star home in two new communities.

Some groundwork was already laid for the move to Energy Star homes. In the quest for ensuring the comfort and health of its homeowners, Zeck began building conditioned crawl spaces in 2006.

Conditioned crawl spaces were developed as a way to mitigate mold, which is abundant in this area, Zeck said.

The specialized crawl space is maintained at the temperature of the home and contains a high-efficiency furnace and duct work. The space is also humidity controlled.

By spring of 2007, Shaffer said Zeck Homes was using the brown variety of recycled cardboard blown cellulose for insulation. First used in all of the homes in Irish Walk, this form of insulation is now used in all Zeck homes.

Besides having great insulation value, cellulose insulation has the free benefit of natural soundproofing.

Craneboard siding systems are used at Silver Mountain. This Energy Star-certified product has a solid core and is insulated to reduce heat loss from the wooden frame.

The homes in Secret Canyon in Spyglass Ridge are finished with stucco, which also has an extra layer of insulation.

Windows for both communities have very low U-Factors, which measure the rate of heat transfer. The lower the U-Factor, the better the window insulates. Many of the houses also have a radiant barrier underneath the roofing membrane for temperature control.

With the building envelope so tight, it was necessary to bring in fresh air. At Silver Mountain, an air cycle timer, next to the thermostat, runs a small fan sitting in a pipe to the outside. This energy efficient system is inexpensive and wafts fresh air through the registers. Heat recovery ventilation systems are used at Secret Canyon in Spyglass Ridge.

Energy Star also rates lighting and Zeck homes have 100 percent fluorescent bulbs. In addition, 20 percent of the fixtures are pin-based, which means they will not work with incandescent bulbs. Homeowners must use efficient bulbs and can’t revert to older inefficient varieties.

Pin-based fluorescent bulbs are widely available in our area.

Zeck Homes is a member of Green Guides of the Grand Valley and Better Energy Advocates.

The company will continue to incorporate Energy Star into any future projects.

Zeck would like to see his competitors jump on the energy efficiency bandwagon. This would help bring down the cost of materials and make Energy Star homes even more affordable. It would also create sensible, sustainable growth.

As far as solar power for new houses, Zeck thinks it will become standard “sooner rather than later.” Affordability is the main issue.

Ultimately, Shaffer would like to see Zeck Homes building a net zero subdivision, with any required power coming from renewable sources.

Silver Mountain and Secret Canyon in Spyglass Ridge are both in early phases of construction.

You can buy an Energy Star home starting at $254,000. To get a tour of a Zeck Energy Star home call the office at 254-9325 or go to http://www.zeckhomes.com for more information.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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