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Building Green

If there’s one thing Park City or Summit County newcomers crave besides a day off after a foot of Wasatch powder falls, it’s a home of their own in this mountain environment. And anyone who’s spent, oh, about 10 seconds in the greater Park City area, knows builders are throwing up homes as fast as you can shake a two-by-six.

But are they being built as well as they can be for their eventual owners and the environment? That is at the heart of a budding movement born to raise the level of awareness about “green building” in our corner of paradise.

“There is definitely a growing number of people who are looking for an alternative—homes that are smaller than 6,000 square feet, built with ecological principles in mind,” says Utah architect Joe Pruden. “In Utah we’re a little behind the curve in the green building trend, but it’s going to become more and more of a necessity with energy costs continuing to rise.”

Building a green home, or government or commercial building, requires careful attention to four main areas, and lots of research and education along the way. The four categories include energy efficiency, materials selection, health and safety, and resource conservation.

“There’s a huge local interest with this,” reports Kasey Ring, the executive officer of the Park City Area Homebuilders Association. “It’s becoming a very important trend. Our guys are saying clients are really requesting that we integrate green building techniques.”

Without knowing it, perhaps, builders are putting a lot of “green” elements into new homes already. Local building codes are routinely tightened as builders and government regulators get smarter. Two-by-four wall construction and single-pane windows may have been acceptable a generation ago, but two-by-six walls and double-or triple-pane windows have long been the Park City standard. Energy efficient appliances are also becoming standard. Smaller turf areas are dictated by the availability of water and its rising cost. Hundreds of other efficiencies have become standard practice, but true green building requires a leap from the thinking of today into the future—a future a number of environmentally committed Parkites are embracing today.

“Both my husband Hutch Foster and I thought it was the right thing to do,” says local ski executive Diane Murphy, who, with Hutch, is in the middle of building their “green” house on a wooded lot outside Park City. “We’re a health-conscious community that cares about the environment. Green building and remodeling products and practices can have a positive impact on the homes’ inhabitants and on our surrounding community.”

For this “green” couple, that means constructing a house oriented to take advantage of the sun in winter, but built with large overhangs to protect it from too much sun in summer. And on the roof, photovoltaic cells will use sun all year for about half the home’s power needs. Interior finishes include use of low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and stains and natural wool carpeting to reduce indoor air pollution. Floors that the sun will hit are tile, soaking up heat during the day and releasing it all night. An on-demand hot water system will heat water only when the hot water faucet is turned on.

Parkite Amy Sharples is taking a different approach with the home she and her partner are finishing. It looks conventional enough from the outside, but it’s built with SIP’s (Structural Insulated Panels) instead of wood framing and insulation. The SIP’s sandwich each side of a large block of Styrofoam. “It makes for really tight homes that hold heat in the winter and cool air in summer,” she reports. “We expect the heat bill will be about half what it would otherwise have been. Utilities are a huge part of using up our resources—and these savings will be ongoing.”

The Sharples home also uses the hot water on demand system and minimizes materials use by leaving the concrete floor as the finished surface. The floor also encases an efficient hot water heating system.

Green building is not just for private homeowners who will live and raise their families inside the houses. The upscale Empire Pass project at Deer Valley is seeking certification as a “green build” project by earning enough “green” points on an industry checklist. “It was a fairly easy decision for us,” reports Erik de Bruijn, the owner liaison for developer East-West Partners. “Eighty percent of what we do to build green is behind the scenes.”

When the heating system installers nail down duct work, they then fill any gaps to the floor with sealers. When several two-by-six-inch studs are nailed together to support a beam, foam is sprayed between those studs to eliminate any air pockets. All appliances have high efficiency Energy Star ratings; high efficiency windows are standard; and most landscaping is natural. Where grass is planted, sensors shut off irrigation systems when rain is falling.

East-West even makes sure its wood purchases are from certified wood farms that practice sustainable forestry. “Our company dictates this because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s a marketing tool. You would imagine we’d use it as a selling point, but we don’t. I bring it to the owner’s attention when we do the final walk through,” de Bruijn says.

You don’t need to be building from scratch to think green. “Remodeling an existing home is probably one of the most green things you can do—the house is already there, the resources are already invested,” says architect Joe Pruden, who abandoned his practice of designing trophy homes for second homeowners in favor of what he calls “real homes for real people.” “The simplest things to do are to address issues such as insulating windows, attics and walls, and upgrading to more efficient appliances and lighting.” Pruden also likes the use of fast-growing, and thus sustainable materials, such as bamboo and cork flooring, and he advocates the use of low VOC paints and stains.

“We need to educate and show people there are alternatives,” says Pruden, whose new firm is called Ark-ology (Architecture and Ecology). “As our resources diminish, other, greener ways to build things are going to become mainstream.”

Last year, Recycle Utah, Park City government and the Park City Area Homebuilders Association sponsored a first-ever green building seminar. They expected perhaps two dozen people would show up, but 150 did, and more had to be turned away!

Park City is ready to catch the green wave.

Park City writer Larry Warren was a member of Park City Leadership Class XI, whose community project was to raise the awareness of green building through its “Build Green-Be Resource Efficient” campaign.

For more information on green building in the area, please consult www.buildinggreen.com.

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