Monday, November 26, 2012

Leaps of Faith Lead to Oxbow: The Energy Efficiency Path

My father’s mantra while I was growing up in the sixties in rural Northwestern Colorado was, “When not in use, turn off the juice” a phrase espoused by Lyndon B. Johnson, our country’s 36th President. This directive from my father’s vast well of wisdom influenced my consumption habits early on. Unlike Tom Bodett, I rarely leave the light on, even if they are CFLs.

My mother, a great depression era “waste not, want not” child also taught me and my four siblings the value of frugality long before repurposing was trendy. This explains my obsession with reusing containers and an assortment of plastic bags and twisty ties.

Nearly four years ago I experienced an irresistible pull to return to Durango after departing in 1998. My family and I lived in Durango between 1995 and 1998 and then returned back home to Grand County. Eleven years later with our children grown, our parents passed on, no future generations pulling on our pant legs (yet), and our country alive with hope and change and opportunities of the new energy economy, I became restless.

In the spring of 2009, I began reacquainting myself with the Durango area to quell my yearning to return. I don’t recall exactly what led me to the Three Springs website. When I read, “The entire project is being built according to a master sustainability plan, which includes green building practices, neighborhood interaction and education, intelligent land stewardship and more…”  my return journey commenced.

Three Springs Homes
In June of 2009 I moved away from my husband (sorry honey), our home, our successful business and landed at Three Springs in one of the newly sprouted two bedroom affordable housing apartments. Watching the ink dry on my new one year lease I contemplated the conundrums of mid-life crisis! I had no job prospects and had left my friends, family, and everything familiar. Oddly I felt emboldened, optimistic and so happy to be at “home.”

The economy was on the brink of recession when I arrived and building had all but ceased at Three Springs with many homes on the market. I spent many hours walking through the development, touring the homes, and broadly educating myself on energy efficiency building practices. Believe me, I’m no building scientist. The thought of understanding how a building “performed” had never entered my mind. My criteria included comfort and to not pay an arm and a leg for utility bills. My focus was on finishes and furnishings rather than thermal boundaries and air quality standards.

In August I applied for a position with a local nonprofit, 4CORE, the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency. 4CORE was the recipient of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds and had begun implementing a long-standing weatherization program to assist low income residents in need of improving the comfort of their homes and lowering their utility bills. I have dedicated the past 15 years to working in the nonprofit sector and immediately was drawn to 4CORE’s mission “to advance resource efficiency.”

So here I was, in the area I loved so much, roof over my head, meaningful work, and surrounded by building “geeks.” Daily talk of GHG  (greenhouse gas) emissions, building envelopes, stack effect and plenty of plenums swirled around me while I kept my nose down doing my best at managing the multiple funding streams that allows 4CORE to serve the community.

A year passed, my lease was up and I moved again, this time to Rivergate, to be closer to work and find solace on the Animas River Trail where I had found my soul back in 1995. Another year passed and my husband took his own leap of faith and joined me here. My one bedroom loft apartment (highly inefficient I’m sorry to say) worked just great for me and my cat. Adding my husband and his cat became a little cozier than we cared for so we put our home in Granby on the market (what there was of one) and tuned in to the universal channel to watch the story unfold.

The renters in our Granby home decided to buy it and we were thrilled, even though we pretty much just broke even. We consider ourselves lucky and are happy to have given a young family an opportunity to own their first home. We trust that they are creating as many happy memories there as we did.

Last summer we found ourselves experiencing the giddiness of mortgage emancipation while watching rates drop to an all time low. While renting these last three years has brought a certain kind of freedom, we found that we were missing being able to putter around our own home and we began searching for our new dwelling. Initially we searched the inventory of existing homes within a seven to ten mile radius of Durango. Quite a few small homes tugged at our nostalgic heart strings but premonitions of a “Retrofit Reality” show and “Accelerated Aging” infomercials quickly shifted our focus to the new home market.

We are very fortunate to have all of the qualifications for a new loan and be able to partake of the incredibly low mortgage rates although we are reticent to embark on a new 30-year mortgage at this age and stage of life. Keeping our sights in the $350,000 range and unwilling to settle for inefficiency we found ourselves full circle at Three Springs where new ENERGY STAR Version 3  homes are bursting onto the market.

Poking around a freshly framed home one afternoon we met one of the Three Springs Energy Star Builders, Jaaron Mankins owner of SilverPick Contracting. We immediately appreciated his energetic, confident manner and scheduled our initial meeting to discuss the possibilities of building with his company.

We found some plans online with a layout we liked, selected a lot, and began the design process for the house. Jaaron is a skilled builder and spent numerous hours with us detailing the design of the home. We were reaching for the stars or HERS (Home Energy Rating Score) and it was soon revealed to us that the home as designed had breached our budget. As my husband so eloquently stated, “our dream home turned out to be just that, a dream.” By this time we had moved from Rivergate and rented a townhome on Clear Spring Avenue directly across from the lot we had planned to build our home on. Essentially, we had selected a larger lot and a more complicated roof line which put the home out of our reach. We sheepishly thanked Jaaron for all of his hard work and patience with our process and took some time to regroup.

One beautiful fall morning I once again found myself traipsing through the neighborhood contemplating our housing future. Tierra Custom Homes, the premier builder at Three Springs, was in the process of completing a new home. In fact, the energy auditor, Mike Frisoni owner of Annadel Building Solutions, drove up to the home just as I was peeking through the windows. He was there to complete the final energy audit on the home and produce the HERS score. My husband and I have always strived to own fuel efficient cars so it makes sense for us to have a fuel efficient home. Knowing the HERS score is one method of knowing how efficient a home is.

While chatting with Mike, the Tierra Project Manager Brent Brown arrived and graciously toured me through the home. Casually he mentioned that Tierra was also just starting two additional homes across the way on Oxbow Circle. Oxbow Circle was where our “dream” home had been planned and these two new homes were being built just a couple of blocks away.

Our new home!
At our next opportunity my husband and I checked out the offerings on Oxbow Circle; the foundations were already in and a rendering of the homes were available to view. We settled on the curing concrete pad and took in our surroundings – a pinion studded hillside to the west with one elderly pinion snag standing sentry and to the east a small pocket park with newly planted deciduous trees. This was different than we had envisioned and yet it felt so perfect.

September 28th we were under contract and jumped on board the well-oiled Tierra train. Having built our Granby home we had a bit of experience under our belts as well as some lingering PTSD. Early engagement with the Tierra team assuaged our anxieties. Every crew member of each trade that has been involved with our home has exhibited the highest level of professionalism, courtesy, respect, knowledge, creativity, and receptivity, with a decent dose of good humor to boot. My husband and I put a lot of ourselves into whatever we do by choice and while the process itself is all encompassing, time consuming, and at times exhausting, it has also been quite fun and very exciting. With each daily visit to our in-progress home it feels more solid and quiet. I’m proud to report that I’ve even been in the “cleaner than you can believe” crawl space. (So far during my tenure at 4CORE I have successfully evaded the Tyvek coveralls  fashion experience.)

In three weeks time from the date that I write this we will be the proud new owners of an Energy Star 3 home putting down our new roots. Three and a half short years ago if you would’ve told me this is where the path would lead I would not have believed you.

One definition of Oxbow is “enabling a team to pull together.”  My husband and I would like to thank everyone who pulled together in the building of our new home, those we’ve been lucky enough to meet in person and those passing through.

Additionally, we would like to thank our 4CORE family which has supported and continues to support us all along the way. Nothing beats having a passel of building scientists in your back pocket while building an energy efficient home!

Our soon to be new home will be one of the featured homes in 4CORE’s Holiday Home Spotlight Tour  scheduled for Thursday, December 6th, from 5:00 to 7:30 pm. For information and a map please click the link above. A SilverPick Contracting home will also be featured. Good fun, good friends, holiday cheer – we would be honored if you would join us. I’ll even leave the light on.

About the Author 
Bonnie Rozean is the Finance Manager for 4CORE. She is excited to be living in Durango for the second time around after a 12 year hiatus. She is honored to be part of the dedicated team at 4CORE helping to manage the financial side of the operation. She is a Colorado native growing up on Lake Granby, near Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide. To clear the number crunching cobwebs, Bonnie can be found hiking, snowshoeing, cruiser biking on the river trail, or simply dipping her toes in the Animas where she found her soul in 1995. Bonnie and her husband Jeff live with their two cats in Durango.

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