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Building homes the green way

Developer Jason Segal is embarking on a midvalley project that he hopes makes competitors green – not so much with envy but from increased environmental standards.Segal is the project manager and co-owner of a nine-lot housing development in the El Jebel area that he claims will be significantly more environmentally friendly than most other developments. Many of the differences he touts are construction materials, such as greater levels of insulation. But he’s also experimenting with a novel idea: The purchase a shared car that homeowners can use for everything from errands around El Jebel and Basalt to commuting to Aspen.Segal is charging an extra $1,000 per lot to come up with a down payment for a Toyota Prius, a gas-electric battery hybrid car that gets in excess of 50 miles per gallon.He views it as a way that homeowners can possibly do without a second or third car. Although details haven’t been worked out yet, he sees the Prius as a community vehicle that the homeowners use on a revolving basis. A small per mile fee would be charged to pay off the car.At the worst, Segal said, the idea will flop and he will have to buy the high-efficiency Prius from the homeowners’ association. But he’s banking on it being a popular amenity that homeowners will embrace.

Segal, a project manager for Steeplechase Construction, also convinced company owner Steve Walback to take a different approach to landscaping. Instead of having a bluegrass lawn on each of the quarter-acre lots, the subdivision plan calls for a handful of bluegrass islands that would cover parts of two or three lots. Driveways would be situated in a way that would allow strips of blue grass lawn up to 150 feet long and 50 feet wide.The remaining parts of the yards would be landscaped to individual owners’ tastes with drought-resistant, native vegetation as well as trees and bushes that provide privacy. Fences would be banned.”All lots are without fences,” Segal said. “Fences don’t maintain themselves. Trees just need water.”His inspiration for the shared yard theory, he said, comes from the North Forty housing project at the Aspen Airport Business Center. Individual lots there are tiny but there is a central playing field that invites tremendous use.While the community car and common ground ideas are interesting, they hardly qualify Valley View subdivision as a groundbreaker on the environmental front. Segal is willing to back his environmentally friendly claims with the home construction.He is using SIP or Structural Insulated Panel walls that have 5.5 inches of insulation and an R-value of 24. The building code for Eagle County requires only a R-11 value. Although the homes are constructed on site, the walls are custom-built in Arizona and trucked up.

Ceilings in the homes will be insulated to R-50 and will be free of formaldehyde. Ceilings built to code must only be R-27.Segal said his homes will far exceed the guidelines of Built Green Colorado, a statewide program designed to increase environmental standards. “It’s going to be off the scale compared to U.S. Homes and a lot of Denver developers,” he said.In the model home that Segal is finishing, the first in the subdivision, he used a 94 percent efficient forced-air-heating unit. A two-panel solar unit will help operate the domestic hot-water heater. Hot- and cold-water lines will be insulated.He is using solvent-free polyurethane and no-VOC paint, or paint that’s free of volatile off-gasing chemicals.Segal plans to build homes smaller than 2,000 square feet, including his own, although they can be larger if a buyer prefers. “A smaller home is a green home,” he said.The cost of going green is slightly more expensive, in upfront costs anyway. The 2,000-square-foot model house, which he said has “all the bells and whistles,” is listed for $529,000. Most of the homes will be offered in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

Segal claimed that homebuyers will recoup the extra expense through energy savings over the years. And he said he isn’t pocketing extra profits by going green.”If you’re just going for the bottom line, you wouldn’t go this way,” he said.But he figured it was time to carry his personal environmental ethic into his business. His business partner supported the direction.Segal also credited his wife, Rebecca, for turning him on to green-building techniques. She came to the valley as an educator with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and now teaches at the Wildwood school.”When you have a wife like that, make no mistake, that’s where you get a lot of your ideas,” Segal said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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