Downsizing for Retirement with Safety, Sustainability in Mind



Couple maintains 1970s roots adding low-maintenance, solar home

Photos by: Matt Eidt

In the 1970s, Linda and Donald Cantway purchased a beautiful 12-acre property in a hay meadow south of Steamboat Springs to plant their roots. The couple, who met through a ski club in Chicago and started skiing together at Steamboat in 1970, built a two-story house that became their home for 45 years.

The Cantways lived a busy, healthy lifestyle with horses and gardens and raising four daughters who participated in barrel racing, ski racing, gymnastics and theater events. Donald maintained a 35-year career as an emergency room doctor, traveling alternative weeks to the hospital in Laramie.

More than a decade ago, Donald was diagnosed with the progressive nervous system disorder Parkinson’s disease. In recent years, the couple’s home with multiple sets of stairs, safety obstacles and terraced outdoor landscaping gradually became too much to navigate. The couple began planning toward a smaller, low-maintenance, sustainable home to be built next door. When they lost a friend with Parkinson’s disease who died from a fall, the motivation for a safer home accelerated.

The choice of home designer was obvious as the Cantways and Steamboat Springs architect Joe Patrick Robbins have been friends since the 1970s.

“I told Joe our retirement home should be maintenance-free with walkout everywhere on a single level, except for granny’s fort where the grandchildren sleep when they come to visit,” said Linda, grandmother to six grandchildren ages 10 and younger.

Donald and Linda moved into their new functional, comfortable, 1,900-square-foot home in the Country Green neighborhood in March, and their oldest daughter moved with her family into the original 4,000-square-foot home to help take care of the property.

“It’s awesome. It’s a godsend with no maintenance and the ability to live safely,” Linda said. “Donald can walk on flat surfaces all around the house.”           

Architect Robbins said the home is a passive solar design “with practicality in mind in every aspect.”

“Budget, livability, low maintenance and low upkeep were all important,” Robbins said.

“The home is well insulated, tightly constructed and oriented to best take advantage of views, sun and our mountain climate. The primary glass openings are southeast facing to best take advantage of winter sun, while limited glass and long overhangs shade the home on summer afternoons.”

Energy efficiency features include in-floor radiant heating using a Warmboard system and a heat recovery ventilation system, noted home builder Brian Beck, owner of Beck Construction, who has 23 years of construction experience in Routt County.

Both the new and the original family homes are powered by two grid-tied, ground-mounted solar electric systems. Other sustainable features include using beetle-kill pine wood for soffits and glued laminated support timbers (glulam) since the engineered wood decreases logging of bigger trees.

The builder said some of the home’s low-maintenance features include factory-painted metal facia, COREtek commercial grade vinyl plank flooring and a hard-coat stucco exterior with elastic color coating completed by S & R Stucco & Plaster from Steamboat Springs.

The Cantways’ well-thought-out home is equipped with numerous grab bars, a wheelchair accessible shower, wider doors and hallways and limited doors on closets and side rooms. The oversized garage functions as an exercise, physical therapy and music room.

The exterior doorways provided a special construction challenge to limit the floor transition to only one-fourth of an inch.

“We dropped the door through the subfloor down to the joist to eliminate the threshold bump that is usually 1.5 inches,” Beck said.

With Linda’s professional background as a respiratory therapist, the home’s healthy indoor air is an important element with no wood-burning fireplace, a downdraft ventilation unit that lowers into the cabinet behind the cooktop, and the use of low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, stains, caulks and adhesives. The couple finished the home with creative design touches such as “granny’s fort”, soothing earth tones, family furniture antiques and framed artwork by their daughters and grandchildren.

Both the Cantways and Beck encourage homebuyers to think about reasonable home sizes, aging-in-place, long-term maintenance needs and environmental sustainability when planning for a new house.

Beck said 90% of the time clients ask for more space in a home than they will actually use. Many buyers end up asking for 10 to 15% of their wish list to be removed to meet the construction budget.

The builder shared some simple ways to save on new home construction: design with straight lines and a simple roof; avoid round elements and reduce the number of corners; and utilize design dimensions matching the 2-foot increments of lumber and supplies. Beck emphasized choosing modest, durable fixtures in plumbing, lighting and finishes which are available in a wide spectrum of costs.

Beck said homebuilding magazines and websites feature design inspirations “because they look cool,” but he warns clients “if it looks really cool, it’s really expensive.”

“Everything you do that incorporates more trades people will increase the costs. I think a lot of people miss that,” Beck noted.

Linda said although the family does have storage in the existing horse barn, downsizing was easy. The new home on the property full of family roots is more functional and a sensible size that meets their needs.

“I wish people would think about that more often. We all get older and have ailments, and we cannot work at the level we did as youngsters,” Linda said. “The reason we built this house is so that Donald could live his life in the safe environment and that I could take care of him, and the home, for the rest of our lives.”

Home Features Solar Triad: Passive Design, PV, Thermal

When building their energy efficient retirement home, the Cantways included a 7-kilowatt, ground-mounted solar electric system and they added a 12-kilowatt, ground-mounted system to help the original family home be more environmentally sustainable.

The new home incorporates a three-pronged solar approach: passive solar architectural design, solar electric calculated to power all the home’s electrical needs and a two-panel solar thermal systemfor domestic water heating.

Steamboat Springs vendors Brightside Solar and Simply Radiant Heating installed the solar PV and hot water systems, respectively.

“Many people in Routt County are aware that renewable tax credits are de-escalating and scheduled to phase out soon, consequently we have seen an uptick in business,” Piva said.

“Solar is certainly viable because of the abundance of sunshine here as well as the ability to design systems that work with snow loads in northwest Colorado.”

Solar electric installations in 2020 earned a federal investment tax credit of 26%, which is scheduled to roll down to 22% for 2021. That means owners of new residential and commercial solar can deduct 22% of the system costs from their taxes through the end of this year.

Simply Radiant Heating owner Jeffrey Campbell said the most efficient use of solar thermal energy is for domestic hot water that is used daily and would be otherwise fueled by more expensive propane gas. Campbell installed an integrated hot-water system for the home including a 95 percent efficient Viessman boiler and the hot water in-floor heating fueled by propane.

With tax incentives rolling down, experienced local solar vendors and the Yampa Valley Solar Co-op in 2019, solar permits across Routt County have increased in recent years. Solar permits reached 31 across the county in 2019 and 17 by the end of the third quarter in 2020, according to Routt County Regional Building Department figures.

Another sign of the importance of solar locally, City of Steamboat Springs and Routt County leaders are reviewing solar-friendly policies as both entities work to earn the U.S. Department of Energy’s SolSmart designation.

Suzie Romig, a Routt County resident, is a degreed and award-winning journalist who has lived in Colorado for 30 years. In addition to reporting for many media outlets, she has worked for numerous nonprofits across the state in educational and environmental efforts.


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