Raising the bar

Raising the bar

Raising the bar

High-end sustainable building across Boulder County continues to accelerate post-recession, driven by an educated public, the improving economy and city regulations. Advances in sustainable technology offer homeowners and builders an increasing raft of choices for going “green” while improving a home’s health, durability and comfort – all without sacrificing aesthetic appeal.“The clients that fit best […]

High-end sustainable building across Boulder County continues to accelerate post-recession, driven by an educated public, the improving economy and city regulations. Advances in sustainable technology offer homeowners and builders an increasing raft of choices for going “green” while improving a home’s health, durability and comfort – all without sacrificing aesthetic appeal.
“The clients that fit best with us are the ones really committed to their health, to the environment and to doing the right thing,” said Brian Fuentes of Boulder-based architecture firm Fuentes Design LLC. In Boulder County, that means a lot of people fit the bill.

“It’s not a niche thing anymore,” Fuentes said. “It’s mainstream.”

An increasing awareness of green building, both nationally and locally, generated a greater number of material suppliers, said Sandra Weeks, founder and president of Blue Spruce Design and Construction LLC.

“The technology has come so far so fast,” she said, “and a lot of this has to do with demand.”

Consumers have more choices now for everything from insulation and windows to building techniques and lighting. In some cases, the industry growth has made supplies more affordable, Weeks said.

At the same time, some suppliers keep less stock warehoused as a result of the recession.

“A lot of times you have to order it and just plan ahead,” Weeks said, adding that she considers her first job with a client to be educating them on options.

Additionally, as the building industry begins to hit full throttle, finding skilled labor and subcontractors to complete necessary work can take advance planning, too, because many in the industry left during the recession.

“There is a little bit of a gap in skilled labor,” said Elton Randall, of Elton R Construction LLC. The Boulder-based company does high-end remodels and new construction. He’s seen a definite uptick in high-end remodels and sustainable construction recently, with jobs he priced out months ago for clients who now are asking for work to begin.

As sustainability has taken off in recent years, the public, architects and builders all have needed to adjust to a new standard of best practices.

“The last five years have been a real learning curve,” he said. The interests of his high-end Boulder clients – often well-educated with backgrounds in science or working as professors – require a thorough understanding of the available options, Randall said. When one client asked for foam insulation, which delivers almost twice the R-value of traditional insulation, Randall couldn’t find an installer that fit his needs. He created a foam rig himself and used it to install the insulation.

In 2010, his wife, Christine, founded ERC Insulation, the only Boulder-based insulation company offering spray foam and traditional insulation. The companion business has taken off since then, said Christine Randall, with 2010 revenue at $80,000 and last year’s revenue jumping to $1 million.

They haven’t stopped responding to customer needs there.

“We’ve had several clients with chemical sensitivities,” said Christine Randall said. She plans to offer sheep’s wool as a chemical-free alternative in coming months. “It will be nice to start filling these beautiful homes with something that isn’t toxic,” she said. Clients who pay a bit more attention to the chemicals associated with everything from insulation to flooring will get a healthier home in the end.

Indoor air quality is of increasing importance in sustainably built homes where creating a tightly sealed building envelope serves as a foundation for future energy efficiency since a house with fewer gaps loses less heat. The payback is a healthier, more durable and energy efficient home, but the benefits don’t stop there.

“It not only saves energy but is more comfortable,” Fuentes said, since a tightly built home maintains a more consistent temperature from room to room. Comfort and performance are two things people should expect in a luxury home – as they would with a luxury car, Fuentes said. He likens a proper green build to a Tesla: high-performance, comfortable and easier on the environment. Such properly built and insulated homes retain a pleasing aesthetic and can still fit the character of a Boulder neighborhood.

“My kind of passion is to recreate the suburbs in a sustainable way,” he said – sometimes transforming a 1960s-style ranch by doubling the square footage but dropping the heat load by 75 percent.

It’s a busy time for builders in Boulder, Randall said. A design-and-build team well versed in the how-tos of sustainable building and able to plan ahead for the stumbling blocks of availability is key to a smooth build or remodel in today’s market, he said – but there is a payoff.

“It’s a healthier home, and we’re making a better product that – in theory – should last longer.”