High Country Sustainability

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Celebrating a wonderful home
The Fessenden/Adelman family celebrating their green home.
High efficiency windows in use
A balanced design was necessary to take advantage of northern views without excessive heat loss from too many north-facing windows.
Greenhouse, shop, carport with rooftop solar
A greenhouse integrated into the southern wing collects solar energy passively, while the garage roof provides space that’s ideal for active solar collection.
Greenhouse glass
The greenhouse and its tall wall of windows help capture solar gain and contribute to the home’s heating in winter.
Greenhouse plants and interior
Even year-round vegetable production in the greenhouse doesn’t cause excessive humidity in the living area.
The home surrounds a courtyard
The U-shaped floor plan creates an east-facing courtyard that provides a wind break and heat trap for an extended outdoor living season.
Straw bale wall
Straw-bale walls help improve thermal performance naturally.
Dining area
To reduce heat loss, the dining room bump-out can be isolated from the rest of the house by a door and pass-through barrier.
Natural window and wall treatments
Natural and locally sourced materials reduce the home’s embodied energy, while defining an aesthetic style.
Kitchen area
High-efficiency kitchen appliances reduce the load on energy systems.
Room circulation fans
Circulation fans move stratified hot air from loft ceiling areas.
Custom flooring
Various floorings cover the 3,600 square feet of hydronically heated slab.
The solar hot water collectors
Six 4-by-10-foot flat-plate solar collectors provide domestic hot water and offset a significant percentage of space-heating loads.
The PV array
Fifteen REC Solar 250-watt PV modules provide about 5.88 megawatt-hours of energy per year.
SolarEdge DC optimizer
Each PV module has a SolarEdge DC optimizer to allow module-level maximum power point tracking and monitoring.
SolarEdge inverter
A SolarEdge 5 kW batteryless grid-tied inverter allows for another 1.25 kW of future expansion.
PV system online tracking display
SolarEdge provides Web-based monitoring that’s user-friendly, and displays production and power data at the module level. It shows real-time data for energy production, and you can view charts to see module or inverter voltage, power, and current.
Celebrating a wonderful home
High efficiency windows in use
Greenhouse, shop, carport with rooftop solar
Greenhouse glass
Greenhouse plants and interior
The home surrounds a courtyard
Straw bale wall
Dining area
Natural window and wall treatments
Kitchen area
Room circulation fans
Custom flooring
The solar hot water collectors
The PV array
SolarEdge DC optimizer
SolarEdge inverter
PV system online tracking display

Creating sustainability in a mountain home at 9,000 feet can be a challenge, but Robb Fessenden, a sustainable building contractor, welcomed the chance. After years of building green homes in a harsh climate (more than 11,000 annual heating degree days) for others, he had the opportunity to build one for his family. He wanted to use many tried-and-true green building techniques, and also try out some ideas he had not had a chance to perform in the field. He wanted to use renewable energy as much as possible to heat, cool, and run his home, whether by outright replacement of fossil fuel usage or offsetting usage through feeding renewable energy back into the grid. To reduce heating and cooling loads from the start, a passive solar design had to be a part of that goal.

Creative Design

In 2007, Robb and his wife Karen Adelman bought 1.67 acres, just a short bike ride from Crested Butte, Colorado. They chose the site for its mountain and river views, sun exposure, and proximity to town and schools. While the lack of trees on most of the lot made good solar access and views of the surrounding mountains, it also meant that the cold winter winds whipped across the land when storms rolled through. They figured they could design a home that would be warm, as well as provide some sheltered outdoor space and take advantage of the mountain views.

There were some 20-foot-tall Engelmann spruce and aspens on the northwest side of the property that provided some buffer from the sound of the state highway and the cold winds. Robb and Karen planted more trees—spruce, aspen, and some bristlecone pine—to increase the wind shelter and create more privacy.

The home’s design—a U-shape, with a central courtyard—provides more shelter from the wind while gathering sunshine. There are cold frames for growing vegetables, and tables and chairs for al fresco dining. The southernmost wing (about 1,200 square feet) faces the road with a large covered area for winter parking or for Robb’s crew to work in summer. It’s a shop/garage, greenhouse, mechanical room, and has lots of storage. The cover also provides ample roof space for PV modules. The north wing, also about 1,200 square feet, houses the living room, a master bedroom, and two bedrooms for their two children. To increase the southern exposure on that wing and capture more passive heat, the southern wall was raised enough to provide loft space with 9-foot-tall ceilings where their kids sleep, as well as a small study/music room above the living room.

One of the biggest design challenges was capturing the views, which are mostly to the north, while preserving the home’s efficiency. They found a compromise by placing north-facing windows only where the views were the best and using triple-pane low-e windows (R-5; Eagle brand from Anderson). The triple-pane windows have two low-e (272) coatings and U-values between 0.20 and 0.27. The south-facing windows have 180/i89 glass to maintain decent U-values but allow increased solar gain. The dining room bump-out, in which two of the three exterior walls are primarily glazing, brought concerns of excessive heat loss. A glass door and insulated “plug” for the pass-through opening above the kitchen counter can isolate the space from the rest of the house, helping minimize heat loss.

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Comments (2)

Nelms Graham's picture

To me, systems' simplicity is paramount. I believe that he could have achieved or exceeded his level of efficiency and confort, with far less "Systems", with the construction of an earth sheltered Monolithic Dome.

Robb Fessenden's picture

I fully appreciate your value of simplicity. However, on this project, there were many factors that caused it to move away from simplicity. These included, but were not limited to, design review guidelines for the subdivision and very strict enforcement of local and international building/electrical/plumbing/fire codes.

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