Net-zero energy use now the goal for Habitat Roaring Fork’s housing projects

Nonprofit plans to replicate Basalt Vista model at new project in Rifle

Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork celebrated the success of its Basalt Vista project Thursday for Earth Day but it really provided a glimpse into the future of housing development.

Habitat is on the home stretch of completing a high-efficiency, all-electric and net-zero energy consumption project. So far, 16 of the 27 units at Basalt Vista have been completed, sold and occupied. The third and final phase of 11 units is about half-finished. Half of the units are going to teachers and other employees of the Roaring Fork School District; the other half to workers in Pitkin County.

Chapter president Gail Schwartz said the goal is to replicate what was accomplished at Basalt at Habitat Roaring Fork’s future projects.

‘We’ll have a cookie cutter that we can use,” Schwartz said.

The model is one Habitat wants to repeat because its rallying cry is to provide housing that is not only affordable to buy, but affordable to live in and maintain. A big part of that is reducing utility payments. All 27 units at Basalt Vista have solar panels installed on the roof by Sunsense Solar of Carbondale.

“The homes are designed to generate as much electricity as they use, meaning homeowners will have a minimal electric bill, likely to be at least 85% less than a comparable home,” Habitat’s material on Basalt Vista says.

And residents have no gas bill for heating or cooking. The project was completed without connecting to a natural gas line.

At the Earth Day ceremony on Thursday, Basalt Vista homeowner Jeremy Duncan told an audience of about 40 people that his family has started seeing a big difference in its electric bills this spring. Even though weather conditions haven’t been ideal for photovoltaic energy production, his latest electric bill was only $21.

It won’t take long to determine if the high-efficient, low-consumption model can be replicated in a way that is affordable. Habitat is working on plans for an 18-unit project in Rifle on land donated by Basalt developers Clay Crossland and Paul Adams. If all goes as planned, groundbreaking will be in late summer or fall.

Schwartz said Habitat has to find a way to reduce its subsidy for the housing. The two-, three- and four-bedroom units sold for between $250,000 and $370,000. Habitat Roaring Fork aimed to raise about $4 million to cover the gap between the cost to build Basalt Vista and the revenue from the purchase prices.

It will try to reduce costs in Rifle by relying at least partially on off-site construction of the units, Schwartz said. She is also hopeful that the next project will be able to fully utilize Habitat’s tried-and-true model of using volunteers for home construction, somewhat like a good-old-fashioned barn raising.

Habitat had to suspend enlisting volunteers on Basalt Vista last year because of COVID-19. It had to hire extra staff and have its own crews undertake all of the construction.

“We miss our volunteers,” Schwartz said. “Volunteers are really the name of the game for us.”

On Earth Day, the name of the game was partnerships. At the ceremony at Basalt Vista, speakers credited teamwork with getting the project built.

Roaring Fork School District provided the land, valued at $3.2 million. Pitkin County spent about $3 million on the road and utility installation. The town of Basalt reduced development fees and provided $30,000 toward achieving the goal of getting to net zero.

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency provided more than $100,000 in grants that helped with the purchase of high-efficiency cold climate heat pumps and photovoltaic systems.

Holy Cross Energy provided an estimated $50,000 in energy efficiency rebates and rooftop solar rebates. It is also provided the hardware needed for a “live learning lab” that will help determine how small adjustments in use and on-site energy storage in batteries can help reduce overall power consumption. A Holy Cross representative said projects such as Basalt Vista are a critical final step in its goal to achieve 100% renewable energy sources by 2030.

Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman said the project provided a model of the teamwork necessary to build affordable housing in a sustainable way.

“It’s a source of optimism,” he said.


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