Sustainable Home of the Year has the whole package

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New community award highlights ‘non-sexy’ measures

When accepting the newly minted award for Sustainable Home of the Year, homeowner Megan Moore-Kemp said, “We weren’t even sure we should go for this award.” That’s because, she said, their family home completed in summer 2018 does not feature as many “sexy” bells and whistles such as a solar PV system that one might expect. But the home is a terrific example of thoughtful planning, energy modeling, increased building envelope performance and waste reduction measures that all add up to one sexy, sustainable package.

The home in the Fairview neighborhood of Steamboat Springs was awarded Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s inaugural Routt County Sustainable Home for 2018. The community recognition was presented during the annual YVSC awards ceremony in January of this year.

Nominations for the competition ranged from homes with smaller footprints to an over-sized mountain home equipped with two forms of renewable energy, but the wholistic sustainable design approach at the Moore-Kemp home won over the selection committee. The home’s modest size of 1,880 square feet was a strong factor. The two-story residence houses a full family, including mom (Megan), dad (builder Scott Kemp), two active elementary-aged sons (Mason and Fergus), part-time resident grandmom (Noreen Moore), two dogs (Gemma and O’Kane) and, not to be forgotten, Tut the turtle.

Committee member Tanya Lillehoff, a LEED-accredited architectural designer with Gerber Berend Design+Build, said the home’s above-code insulation package and attention to air sealing detail “demonstrates that air infiltration and energy loss will be kept to a minimum and will use less energy over time.”

“The design for this home integrated a more wholistic approach that considered mechanical system performance, plumbing and lighting fixtures, materials, recycling of building materials and more,” Lillehoff said. “The Kemp house is of a size that many people could comfortably imagine themselves living in.”

Building a modest, super tight home without initial installation of renewable energy sources “leaves more of the natural environment intact and puts the emphasis on building well including creating a continuous thermal break, utilizing an energy return mechanical system, and sealing and caulking to prevent energy loss,” Lillehoff noted.

The home for the long-time local family was an eight-year process. The family first moved into a 1940s log home on their corner lot along 13th Street in 2010. Next door, they built a 629-square-foot, energy efficient, two-bedroom apartment atop a two-car garage. That initial small home was certified by the Routt County Green Building Program and recorded natural gas heating bills of only $200 per year.

In spring 2017, they began to deconstruct the rental log home to make way for new construction, giving away useable items and savings materials for reuse.

Although they had not hired an architect for past projects, the couple decided to call upon a local architectural designer with like-minded sustainable goals, Erik Lobeck of WorkshopL in Steamboat Springs, who is well respected for energy and resource efficient designs. Lobeck, a Certified Passive House Consultant, pivoted the design of the modern mountain craftsman home slightly on the north-south oriented lot for optimal passive solar gain. The roof line rises to the south to allow more sunlight to stream in during winter. The gabled roof is a nod to the Old Town Steamboat feel.

“Erik is completely in sync with listening to the desires of the client and bringing that to life,” Megan said.

Lobeck said the “big move” in the design process was creating an upside-down living arrangement with the bedrooms downstairs and living space upstairs.

“This allowed the space most occupied and used – the open plan kitchen, dining and living room – to benefit from the best views and daylight, which is not easy in urban infill scenarios,” said Lobeck, who earned a master’s degree in architecture and construction management from University of Washington. “We focused more on program, feel and efficiency before thinking excessively about the desired ‘look.’ The end design and aesthetic progressed naturally from the initial desired spatial relationships as we added successive design layers including view corridors, location of outdoor space, sunlight patterns and integration of the existing garage and accessory dwelling unit.”

The home’s style is an eclectic mix of modern with upcycled and sustainable materials, which is a great fit for the diverse Fairview neighborhood. For example, reclaimed and salvaged wood from an 1880s barn the couple previously deconstructed are used for structural ceiling and porch beams as well as decorative elements such as shelving and table tops. Sleek Ikea cabinets are nestled among butcherblock countertops made from old barn wood. A 30-foot weathered barnwood ceiling beam runs parallel to an exposed metal duct for the ventilation system for the tight home. Upcycled fencing and metal roof materials make up the façade of the natural gas fireplace in the living room.

The collaboration between Lobeck at WorkshopL and Kemp at his construction company New Mountain Builders evolved so positively that the two launched their own design-build partnership. The team already is at work on a new home in the Brooklyn neighborhood in Steamboat Springs and have two other projects waiting in the wings, Kemp said.

When planning their now Sustainable Home of the Year, the family hired local professional engineer and LEED green associate Scott Conner to conduct energy modeling. The software modeling advises window locations and sizing, tightness of the building envelope, and insulation types and locations. The high-performance envelope has no thermal breaks from footings to roof.

A mid-construction blower-door air sealing test was conducted before sheetrock installation to locate any areas still in need of caulking and sealing. The important test indicated areas needing additional attention such as the interface of materials around some windows, plumbing penetrations through the concrete foundation, sealing around bath fans, and the juncture of concrete floors with the exterior walls. A post-construction blower-door test showed an impressive result of only 1.49 air changes per hour at 50 pascals of air pressure, which means the air leakage results are 50 percent better than the required three air changes per hour for the 2015 building codes.

Subcontractors on the project were almost all from Routt County, and the family sourced as many products as possible from local businesses. The couple also incorporated healthy indoor air quality measures such as an energy recovery ventilation system for balanced ventilation, no carpeting, an electric induction cooktop to reduce combustion gases, and low or no VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes from paints to cork flooring.
The design incorporated noise controls to help block exterior sound from busy 13th Street by using triple-pane windows and continuous exterior insulation. Significant sound proofing was added between the floors, and low-decibel appliances were installed since the living areas are above the bedrooms.

Now that they are moved in their new home, the couple is happy their two-bedroom apartment adds to the city housing stock and is rented by a long-term local family. In future years, the couple plans to duplicate construction on the other half of their double lot to build another new efficient home and an adjacent garage with second-floor apartment.

When asked the crucial steps to achieve an energy efficient and sustainable home, the couple advises to design with the site in mind, employ energy modeling and blower-door testing, and “get ready to pay attention to the details.”

The couple jokes that their repeated advice to other local families taking on new construction is that communication coaching might be needed first. Building a modest family home for a busy family in Routt County pushes the limits of time, funds and decision-making abilities. Yet the couple has successfully built or remodeled seven homes together in the past 15 years.
During the community awards ceremony, Scott save Megan a big squeeze telling the audience that the construction “brought us closer together.”

Additional Sustainable Features:
Energy efficiency:
– High-efficiency heating using 95 percent efficient condensing combination boiler for radiant heat and on-demand domestic hot water
– All Energy Star rate appliances
– 90 percent LED and exterior dark sky compliant lighting

Thermal envelope details:
– Roof: R-54, loose fill blown-in fiberglass installed with smart vapor retarding membrane acting as an air barrier
– Wall: R-34, 2×6 stick frame with fiberglass blown-in blanket system and 2” polyisocyanurate continuous insulation on exterior
– Windows: Triple-paned windows with superior U value from 0.19 to 0.21
– Under floor: R-20 with 4” rigid foam insulation under radiant concrete slab

Sustainable materials:
– Slab-on-grade foundation as thermal sink downstairs
– Beetle-kill pine for tongue and groove interior siding
– High recycled content metal siding
– Aggressive recycling of all materials for low landfill contribution per square foot (a dumpster was not used until the sheetrock stage)
– Material choices based on longevity and sustainability such as cork flooring, concrete floor downstairs, soapstone counters, all-in-one sink units
– Reused materials ranging from a family antique for a laundry cabinet to Facebook finds for dining room chairs

Water efficiency:
– Low-flow plumbing fixtures and dual-flush toilets
– Rain water harvesting for use with drought-tolerant landscaping
– Salvaged, protected and reused all topsoil

workshopL – Home Design
New Mountain Builders – General Contractor
Mountain Window and Door – Windows and Exterior Doors
Downhill Plumbing and Heating – Plumbing and Heating
Complete Home Inspections – blower-door testing)
Steamboat Electric – Electric Work
Pour Boys Concrete – Concrete Work
Huyser Drywall – Drywall
Accurate Insulation – Insulation
Interior Surroundings – Interior design

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