By John Garvey
Revive Fort Collins’ claim to fame includes eco-friendly construction, loads of natural light and a community garden. Even the Department of Energy has lauded the development for its innovations.
When you think of green buildings you might think of enviably low utility bills, but the conversation is shifting more toward occupant health and happiness. It’s not that residents at Revive Fort Collins—the greenest residential development in Northern Colorado—don’t care about sustainability. They just tend to talk about the day-to-day comforts of home first.
Comfort and Joy
“I really like the fact that there’s so much light,” says Revive homeowner Linda Vescio, when asked about her favorite aesthetic feature.
That sentiment is echoed by Revive’s development consultant and broker Sue McFaddin.
“Daylighting is number one,” McFaddin says. “It just makes for a happy place to live.”
Features that make homes greener incidentally make them beautiful and comfortable. McFaddin, who has served on the board of the Institute for the Built Environment (IBE) for about eight years, understands this well. The same goes for lead architect Greg Fisher, another IBE board member. The purposeful design of each home ensures wonderful light quality, privacy and a sense of cleanliness. High ceilings, daylighting and thoughtfully-placed light fixtures markedly reduce the amount of artificial lighting needed to provide comfort.
Even closets, bathrooms and garages are configured for daylighting. Like other features, daylighting is as much of a quality-of-life factor as an efficiency consideration.
“The market seemed to be going crazy and we were seeing townhomes that were just kind of dreary,” says Vescio, who recently moved to Fort Collins from Kansas with her husband, Tony Joern. “So, I mentioned to our realtor that it would be interesting to see this Revive community if it was open. I had read about it. We came up here and it was like night and day.”
In our homes and offices, we often wrestle with the undesirable tradeoff between indoor air quality and thermal comfort. When it gets musty indoors on a cold winter day and you decide to crack a few windows, do you continue to run the furnace? How about keeping allergens out in the spring and fall? Many of the gains and losses in building operations are difficult to control because homes are simply leaky—and utilities bills aside, that impacts our health.
Now we can have it both ways. It’s a matter of applying building methods that ensure airtightness and good ventilation at the same time.
The quiet inside the Revive homes, built by Fort Collins-based Philgreen Construction, is as noticeable as the ambient noise and clickety-clack of HVAC systems in many buildings built to code. Revive homes don’t have gas furnaces or air compressors, so there is no associated mechanical noise (not to mention a smaller carbon footprint). Instead, they’re warmed and cooled by geothermal technology and quiet ventilation systems.
In a nutshell, ground-source heat pumps efficiently heat and cool air by tapping into the constant, 57-degree temperature of the earth not too far beneath us. Little energy is required to adjust from there to a comfortable temperature.
“A good furnace is 90 percent efficient,” says McFaddin. “Geothermal is 300 percent efficient. For every electron you put in the ground you get three units of energy from the ground.”
From a health perspective, indoor air quality is paramount. Energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) pipe stale, indoor air out and fresh, filtered air in while regulating the home’s temperature. They’re like a building’s lungs. ERVs are also quieter than a desktop fan, much less an outdoor A/C unit.
WaterSense faucets deliver hot water far more efficiently than typical plumbing, so no more waiting around looking at your watch before stepping into a hot shower. Water efficiency is one of seven requirements for the Department of Energy’s Net Zero Ready standard.
All seven models of Revive homes feature 100 percent LED lighting, ENERGY STAR appliances, daylighting, WaterSense hot water distribution, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes and electric car charging stations. They’re also built for optimal placement of rooftop solar panels, which most residents will probably opt for. Between rebates and net metering, which allow homeowners to sell surplus energy they generate to the local utility, it’s a sound choice.
“We always have negative energy bills,” says Vescio. “What we’ve been doing is covering our water bill with our electric bill.”
Finally—this is a big deal—Revive was one of two multi-family residential developments in the country to receive the Department of Energy’s Housing Innovation Award. In the words of Sam Rashkin, chief architect at DOE’s Building Technologies Office, “Housing Innovation Award winners represent the top 1 percent of builders across the country who successfully demonstrate they can meet the federal government’s most rigorous specifications for high-performance homes.”
The layout of the community makes it easy for neighbors to connect with one another. For instance, neighbors have a clear line of sight to one another’s front porches. There are few privacy fences, although architectural features including the thoughtful placement of windows ensure both in-home privacy and views of nature.
The community garden is the most obvious feature designed to bring people together.
“We love that we have a community garden,” says Vescio, before embarking on an impressive account of her own allotment.
Vescio and Joern grew bok choy, spinach and radishes last fall and will plant peas, kale, spinach and herbs in early spring. There will still be room to grow peppers and other hot weather vegetables. They’re also planning a cooperative summer plot with their neighbors for large and sprawling things like squash.
Finally, two heirloom apple trees grow by their street-facing patio. The landscaping will add privacy without making them appear closed off.
McFaddin chose to live at Revive, which is as sound a testimonial as anything. You’re a lot less likely to encounter building defects if the developer is living on site.
The conversation about green buildings can be about comfort or the environment. Maybe the gold standard is how people feel returning home in the evenings.
John Garvey is a Fort Collins-based business journalist and freelance writer. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.