You Build What?

Often, when we are talking to people about what we do, there’s a pause and then, “You build what?” It’s easy to reply, “an energy efficient home” but it doesn’t really get at the heart of what building passive or super efficient means and we want everyone to know because we believe that building in this way is just one way to make an impact on our environment for the better!

Here are some details of home building we consider/ implement for a passive or super efficient home:

Conditioned Spaces: the size and density and where a home is geographically located is investigated to determine how much energy the heating/cooling/ventilation system would have to use per year. To determine this, we look at Peak Heating and Cooling loads. Peak heating is how much heat your system needs to put out on the coldest day of the year in the location of the home. Peak cooling then is the opposite. We build with dense packed cellulose insulation and do a rigorous amount of air sealing to keep the peak loads at a minimum. We want our homes to basically maintain a comfortable temperature of approx. 74F throughout the year which for the customer, results in lower energy bills.

Energy Sources: We want our homes to be significantly less consumptive than a standard home. To do this, we consider, how many people will live in the home and how the home will be used; what appliances will be in the home, what type of bulbs for lighting, the hot water heater and the Energy Recovery Ventilator Unit. We design the windows to provide solar gain in the winter when it’s needed and avoid window placement in areas where summer heat gain would be greatest. We evaluate the quality of everything making up the home because it’s these materials and fixtures that play a significant role in the energy performance of the home.

Air Tightness: By using the right materials and well developed building practices that prevent air and vapor from penetrating or leaking through the envelope (your homes shell) you can have a comfortable and healthy home. To do this, homes are blower door tested, which is an interesting and informative part of the build. The house, once the windows, doors, siding, roofing, and insulation are installed, is closed up and pressurized using a fan placed in a doorway. As the fan runs, the amount of air that escapes the home is measured, through software, and the output is generated in cubic feet per minute at 50 pascals of pressure per square foot. FUN FACT: Pascal: a pressure of one newton per square meter or in S.I.: one kilogram per meter per second squared.


Lets just break that down a little: the number generated from the blower door is the number of times the air volume changes in a house over an hour at 50 pascals of pressure. PHIUS (The U.S. Chapter) requires homes to meet 0.06cfm50 per ft2 to be considered passive. The lower the number, the tighter the home! Some City and County Building departments will also have their own standard for air tightness as well. For example, in the City of Fort Collins a homes air tightness “shall not exceed 3.0 ACH50 (air changes/hour at 50Pascals of pressure) for either gas or electric heated homes” This is an important and incredibly useful tool in determining the energy efficiency of a home!

Whew! you’ve made it through that lengthy interpretation of what makes a passive home, passive. By building thoughtfully, we create homes that make an impact in human health, building health and environmental health.

Energy With A View

When we think of solar installations, we generally think of those big black panels that dot the roofs of homes, buildings and sometimes the roadside. But what about windows?

When Robert Clarke from Alpen HPP LLC (our window supplier), called us up and asked if we would be interested in meeting the VP Sales Rep from Solaria about a new BIPV  (Building-Integrative Photovoltaic) technology they were working on for residential homes, we said yes! Solaria has been talking with Alpen to produce highly efficient windows with a solar grid in them. Not only would you/potential customers be getting a high performance window, but also one that is going to generate energy for your home. The windows have already been installed in larger commercial buildings, one specifically in Japan, you can find the link to the article below. Currently their BIPV glass panels, used in conjunction with standard glass windows are taking the idea of being “green” and “sustainable” to a new level. The panels not only collect solar energy, they provide glare control, thermal performance and effective daylighting (Solaria).

The idea of combining solar windows on a home, while also getting the benefit of daylighting, thermal control and glare reduction desired in a window is exciting. The fact that these cells are unobtrusive to the view is a huge positive. We are looking forward to seeing  how Solaria and Alpen continue to work out the details of making these panels for residential installations.

Here’s Jason, holding up the sample pane Scott Hoover brought over (the image has been edited to show the outline of the cells better. Had this image not been manipulated, you the reader would have thought Jason was just standing there with his arm up for fun-not something he is particularly known for)




Link to Alpen Windows:


Gaga over Granite!

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Granite is one of those counter top choices that continues to stand the test of time, as far as popularity and affordability are concerned. It’s a durable and affordable choice that comes with a plethora of choices in color and look. Having options ranging from color to the types of crystals found, naturally occurring, in the stone provides a person with adequate choices to fit whatever room they see granite being in.

Another benefit, especially for an efficient and sustainable home is that: granite has a high thermal mass, meaning it stores heat and then slowly releases it as temperatures decrease, stabilizing indoor air temperature adding to the energy efficiency of a space and home.

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Just look at all this mass, waiting to get thermal…

We picked up the granite our homeowners in Berthoud selected last week, and got to work doing the cuts, and installation. Granite is a dusty business, but in the end it is always worth it!

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More Photos From Nederland

Here are some more pictures of our project in Nederland, CO.

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Putting up the wall sheathing.

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Adding an air seal tape around the windows and doors as well as the gaps between sheathing panels. After the air seal, we add a weather flashing. A few of the brands we like to use are Tescon Vana for air and Grace Vycor for weather flashing.

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Stair tread template in the background. The stairs will be cut from rough sawn beetle kill pine mentioned in previous posts. Also that blue hose is for our ERV system (Energy Recovery Ventilation)

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A look at the upper loft deck and into the kitchen (and master bedroom behind).

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And a look up, because we can’t get enough of those exposed trusses and the great beetle kill pine!!

Partnership with Energy Star


You have probably seen the above logo in a lot of different settings (appliances, fixtures, windows…), so what exactly does it represent? It is a voluntary program (yes voluntary) initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Their goal is to help businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through energy efficient standards on products, and practices that involve building/renovating homes and spaces.

A few of their primary focuses include:

  • Reducing Greenhouse Gases among businesses and institutions
  • Increasing efficiency in homes, buildings, and products.

Homes that were certified with the Energy Star label in 2012, were assessed and found to be at least 15% more efficient than those built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code ( To get a certified home, four checklists must be completed. The major checklist themes are:

  • Thermal Enclosure Rating Checklist
  • HVAC System Quality Install Checklist
  • HVAC System Quality Install Contractor Checklist
  • Water Management System Builder Checklist

The partnership with EnergyStar and DOE Challenge Home is voluntary, and our commitment to build to these standards, is something we take pride in, because there is nothing better than knowing that the homes we create are not only comfortable and well built, but also efficient and renewable. These homes are a footprint in the revolution that is just beginning and is going to change the way we consider buildings and homes for future generations.

Here is a link to the EnergyStar website, for further reading and information:

DOE Challenge Home

Is your home a…

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One of the groups we are registered partners with is the Department of Energy. We participate in the “Zero Energy Ready Home” Challenge. This partnership is about recognizing builders who focus their workmanship on  “increasing energy efficiency, improving indoor air quality, and making homes zero energy ready.” (DOE)

Zero energy homes are estimated to be nearly 50% more energy efficient than a typical new home.

Some of the requirements to be recognized as a Zero Energy Home are:

  • Comply with Energy Star for Homes Checklist (more on that in a follow up post)
  • Thermal Enclosure
  • HVAC Quality Install (with a HERS Rating of mid to low 50-depending on home size)
  • Have Energy Efficient appliances and fixtures (Refrigerator toilet, faucets, etc.)
  • Have high performance windows and doors
  • Be certified in the EPA’s Indoor airPlus program
  • Install an efficient hot water distribution system with rapid hot water controls
  • Check out the DOE’s website for complete list!

The goal, that can’t be stated enough, is that we are about building high performance homes, where the efficiency is so great that renewable energy systems (like those listed above) offset most of the annual energy consumption. Think about what this means to you, the home owner for your energy bills. As stated in previous posts, the more efficient your home, the less you spend paying for electric and heating/cooling.

Here’s a link to the DOE Challenge Home site, filled with lots of great information: