This energy-efficient house isn’t a luxury residence; it’s for Marshall fire victims.

The project’s designer, Andrew Michler, said the work necessitates a significant change in his sector. Only 20 homes in Colorado, according to him, have been built to the strict international Passive House requirements. Designers should start developing for the broad market rather than concentrating on custom homes for ardent environmentalists, he said.

It’s novel to us. According to Michler, designers are still getting used to creating the conventional American home.
For the project, Michler collaborated with Joubert Homes, a regional building company, and architect Rob Harrison from Seattle.

Passive home designer Andrew Michler sits on a window bench at his home above Loveland in September 2022. The hideaway became the first Colorado house to meet international passive home standards in 2016.

Cost-saving measures in the final design rely on simplicity. The facade is designed to resemble two Monopoly homes arranged in a L form around a separate two-car garage, preventing space for storage and vehicles from being included in the house’s highly insulated shell. A pair of gabled roofs pay homage to Boulder County’s mining-era architecture.

Costs will decrease much more thanks to a variety of government incentives. Buyers are eligible for an extra $10,000 state incentive for purchasing all-electric appliances. The biggest power company in Colorado, Xcel Energy, is giving fire victims who rebuild to Passive House standards a $37,500 discount. Homes constructed in accordance with less severe green building requirements are eligible for smaller subsidies.

Michler’s team believes it can construct one of the homes for $211 per square foot after taking those discounts into account. According to an estimate made by the Colorado Association of Home Builders in February of last year, the cost to rebuild typical homes in the Marshall fire burn area would be in the $260–300 per square foot range.

The RESTORE project is just one of the green building initiatives luring Boulder County families, according to Christine Berg, a senior policy advisor for the Colorado Energy Office with an emphasis on local government. 95 households have applied for permits to reconstruct homes in the fire area, according to data from her office. 39 of those owners appear to be eligible for green construction subsidies or have registered with Xcel Energy for them. Three families, according to her, have already signed up to enjoy the biggest discount offered for Passive House-built homes.

Out of this tragedy comes this fantastic chance to genuinely reconsider how we construct, Berg added.

Homes are starting to be rebuilt in Superior’s Sagamore neighborhood after the Marshall Fire. A few homeowners have committed to building homes built to Passive House standards, including Peter Ruprecht, pictured here on Sept. 26, 2022, near where he and his wife Michelle’s old home once stood and where the new one will rise.

NEW BUILDING SPECIFICATION FOR NEW CLIMATE If all goes as planned, the RESTORE Passive House should provide Michler’s own home’s advantages in the mountains above Loveland.

The contemporary cottage is hidden beneath a metal peaked roof. It was the first residence in Colorado to receive certification under global passive house criteria in 2016.

A quick look inside reveals a plywood-floored open-concept design. The walls are as thick as a vehicle tire, as evidenced by the deep benches in front of each window with three panes. The additional benefit in fire-prone locations, according to Michler, is that the necessary heaviness eliminates the possibility of any intricate construction that can catch wildfire embers.

According to Michler, indoor comfort is another perk. In the winter, body heat and sunlight are frequently sufficient to heat the house. The RESTORE Passive House’s low energy requirements should enable much smaller heating and cooling systems, allowing builders to recoup some of the higher expenses associated with the additional insulation.

Out of all of these benefits, Peter and Michelle Ruprecht were most persuaded to take on the project by the potential for higher indoor air quality.

Peter and Michelle Ruprecht, in their car, drive through the Sagamore neighborhood in Superior on Sept. 26, 2022. Before the Marshall Fire, the Flatirons in the distance could not be seen so clearly from this street. The Ruprechts have committed to rebuilding their home as a passive solar structure and are trying to persuade others in the neighborhood to do the same.

Because an airtight seal is required for Passive House certification, builders must install devices to purify outdoor air before bringing it inside. According to Ruprecht, the characteristic appears crucial as the Front Range is exposed to greater ozone pollution and wildfire smoke as a result of climate change.

People will be drawn to it because they might live in an atmosphere with constant access to fresh air, she predicted.

She has found it frustrating that other Marshall fire victims have been sluggish to adopt the RESTORE Passive House, but interest is growing. A letter of intent has been signed by two more families, according to Michler. Regarding a dozen serious enquiries have been made about him.

Before families choose to work with other builders, Ruprecht hopes the team ramps up its marketing efforts. She can’t wait to move into her own climate- and fire-ready home, but she would rather see more homes in her area that look like this one.

Editor’s note: The references to Passive House design guidelines have been clarified in this article.

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