For Estes Park architect, Thomas Beck, green living has been a way of life for years. His 5,800-square-foot home, completed in 2002, is totally off-grid. “Green building” has evolved into concepts such as “high performance homes” and “sustainable development,” stimulating the growth of state-of-the-art technologies that transform those concepts into reality.
Energy efficiency, recycling and green building are no longer concepts advocated only by those that were once referred to as “tree huggers.” With a growing awareness of our relationship to the environment and an awakening to the fact that our quality of life and economy are directly impacted by that relationship, “going green” is now the topic of choice from public kindergartens to Oprah shows.
Beck’s home harnesses energy from both sun and wind, which are plentiful atop the remote 155 acre tract that he and his wife, Anne DePrez, chose as the site for their Colorado home. Renewable energy powers the entire home and a detached garage/barn. Energy-efficient lights and appliances are utilized, and a solar-heated, indoor lap pool also serves as water storage in case of wildfire.
A generator shed houses 32 large batteries that store 1500 watts (or 1.5 kw) of solar energy captured by photovoltaic panels on the shed’s roof. Additionally, the batteries store 1000 watts (1.0 kw) from small, integrated PV cell “shingles” which make up one section of the roof of the main house. The generator shed was constructed first, in spring of 2001, to facilitate a solar-powered job site. Two 500-watt wind turbines driven by our Rocky Mountain “breezes,” supplement the solar power. The turbines are affixed to a bridge which leads from the home’s deck, across a ravine, to a rocky ridge. The rock formation serves as a road noise buffer as well as a wind break for the wood-heated hot tub that is nestled amidst its boulders.
The home is thoughtfully integrated into its natural setting and its interior is equally in tune with the environment. Huge triple-pane, Low E, “Pella” windows draw in breathtaking views of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley. Blue-green bathroom tile is made from recycled windshield glass. Century-old train trestles, salvaged from the Great Salt Lake area, were granted new life as timber framing in the spectacular great room.
Floors are of slate, stamped and colored concrete, or wood. Where synthetic carpet might have been used a soft underfoot is provided instead by hand-woven, Tibetan, wool, throw rugs. Fifteen separate zones of in-floor heat are controlled by DC-powered pumps that use only 10 watts each. The DC pumps were developed by NASA and are manufactured by Ivan Labs. The intricately carved front door was designed by Beck to symbolize the “tree of life.” That door, as well as interior doors, a staircase and table are crafted of standing dead hardwood harvested from his and his wife’s families’ farms.
Also, a healthy home, harmful chemicals and materials kept to a minimum. Wheat-straw board is used for countertop substrates instead of formaldehyde saturated particle board. Instead of traditional insulation the exterior wall and roof insulation is sprayed foam that contains no formaldehyde. Interior wall insulation, made from shredded blue jeans, is not only highly efficient for moderating temperature but is a great sound-proofing material as well.
Beck is an avid outdoorsman so his appreciation for the environment comes naturally. But as a University of Colorado freshman he attended his first solar-energy conference which, he says, sparked a realization that oil and gas are not infinite and ignited his interest in solar energy. He has developed extensive expertise in green building — alternative energy systems and sustainable development. It is the premise on which his Estes Park architectural firm is founded.
The cost for Beck’s alternative energy system was about $57,000. But to bring power lines to the site of his home would have cost at least $82,000. In addition, he considered the loss of a multitude of trees in clearing a path for the lines. He estimates that his choice to use alternative rather than conventional materials increased his building costs by five to ten percent. But other than propane for cooking and supplemental heat, he has no utility bills. His home makes a minimal impact on the environment — a true example of sustainable living.
Beck shared that “One of my dreams and passions was always to live in a home in the mountains that is completely self-sufficient.” And he adds, “One of the big misperceptions out there is that you can’t get enough power from sun and wind to live on. I obviously proved that wrong.”