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Luxurious LEED homes can drive innovation

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Special to the DailyThe 5,000 square foot home on Sunshine Ridge Lane near Breckenridge is the county's first to earn LEED for Homes Gold certification. It's an example of a luxury home that architect Michael Gallagher says helps drive innovation and manufacturing to make sustainable building more affordable.
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When it comes to “green building,” some say it’s the luxury homes that have made materials available and affordable to mainstream markets.

Summit County’s first home to earn LEED for Homes Gold certification was finished near Breckenridge last September – and it’s roughly 5,000 square feet.

“Some people are critical of large custom homes, simply because of their size and the fact that they may be second homes,” architect Michael Gallagher said. “We need to appreciate the fact that these second-home owners have the financial resources to pioneer the green building systems right now. They are creating the demand and spurring invention and manufacturing the make sustainable building more affordable for everyone.”

He added that many systems pioneered by “green” builders were initially expensive, but costs have come down such that they’re accessible for homes like those built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Sunshine Ridge, which has also won seven awards in the 2010 Parade of Homes and received the “Mountain Living Magazine” Peak award, is owned by an Oklahoma family. It’s located on Sunshine Ridge Lane in Summit Estates, just outside of Breckenridge.

The LEED for Homes certification process is set around a point system that rates design and building strategies to increase performance in energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide reduction, improved indoor air quality and sensitivity to the surrounding environment.

To maximize the home’s efficiency, Gallagher had to juggle product performance with cost. But, he complimented the owners’ dedication to responsibility, ability to make compromises and spend extra money to make the home as sustainable as possible.

“Prices are dropping as products become more common, but sometimes, the price is still too high or the performance not quite what it should be,” Gallagher said. “Homeowners should ask their architect for a flexible design that allows for retrofitting in the future.”

That way, when costs come down and technology has advanced, a desired solar panel can be installed. The Sunshine Ridge home, however, does have 36 photovoltaic panels that provide 95 percent of the home’s electricity.

Beyond the cost limitations, there are also design and construction restrictions that come with building at 9,600 feet. For example, on-demand tap water heaters aren’t as efficient.

But Gallagher was able to tap into recycled materials to help boost the home to LEED level. The builder cleared the site of beetle-killed trees, exchanged them at the mill for processed beetle-kill lumber and used the wood for exterior cladding and decking. Interior doors, base and casing, interior railings, shelving and cabinetry were all beetle-kill pine. Ninety percent of door hardware was recycled, with much coming from post-consumer content.

One of Gallagher’s favorite components of the home is the salvaged and recycled materials.

“I especially love the reclaimed structural timbers that we used throughout the home. They came from a railroad trestle that once crossed the Great Salt Lake,” he said. “You can see salt stains on them today. It gives them an amazing patina.”

The interior design also exceeded LEED requirements by using high-efficiency lighting, natural wools, organic cottons and recycled materials.

“There are many things that we did for this project that can be applied to less luxurious homes,” Gallagher said. “There are numerous financial incentives to reduce the net cost of solar energy systems in homes. But if that is still beyond the budget, the use of beetle-kill, salvaged and less toxic materials is feasible.”

He added that contractors can reduce waste and recycle at the job site for nearly no additional cost.

Gallagher began designing Sunshine Ridge in 2008, and the current “green building” market made possible its energy efficiency. He just hopes the world won’t become complacent about the need for energy savings as it did after the energy crisis of the late 1970s.


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