Fire rebuilders keep eye on green goals


Doug Parker, building sustainability examiner for Boulder County, is working with many of those who are determined to build anew after last year’s Fourmile Canyon fire.

“What I do is talk to people about the kind of things I wish I had known when I built my own house in 1975,” says Parker, who spent 30 years in the building industry before taking on the county job created about two and a half years ago.

He also helps people navigate the county’s BuildSmart energy code and pool resources with others, as is done in the Fourmile Fire Rebuilders Club, a building materials co-op. Many survivors plan to go green beyond county standards, as close to “net-zero” — when energy production matches consumption — as possible. These folks range from the awesomely adept to the learning-as-we-go types, and we hope to feature their progress in future columns.

For instance, there’s Alice Starek, an architect who built her mountain home in the mid-1980s out of Cempo — an environmentally friendly composite of recycled polystyrene (best known as Styrofoam) and cement. Fortunately, she also had a small farm property in Boulder into which she was planning to move.

She intends to replace the existing farmhouse using local materials and with simplicity — allowing her to build with unskilled labor.

“Straw-bale construction with a post-and-beam structure from surplus logs cut down for fire mitigation,” she says of the materials to be used. “It will be a passive solar design also using active solar thermal for 100 percent of the domestic hot water, photo-voltaics for 100 percent of the electric (both DC direct and AC grid tie) and a wood-fired cook stove for 100 percent of the home’s heat.”

No less enthusiastic is Bruce Honeyman, who is working with an architect to maximize the advantages of his Sunshine Canyon site. He still has almost too many choices.

“Before the fire, we just had a well-built home with a tight thermal envelope,” he says. “Now we’re looking at additional options, such as radiant heat systems. Everything has a trade-off that has to be considered.”

Not everyone who suffered the fire’s devastation is rebuilding from scratch. For Sam and Cheryl Sussman, owners of Eight Days a Week Imaging & Copying Center in Boulder, replicating their vintage, eco-conscious home was too daunting.

Sam Sussman and a group of friends, inspired by the late inventor Buckminster Fuller, built his original geodesic dome home back in the 1970s. Sussman went on to found a company that built panels for geodesic homes. But what the Sussmans had would never be the same.

“It was always a really windy spot,” says Sam Sussman. “Then the fire took out all the trees that acted as a windbreak.”

After weighing costs and hassles, they bought a house just outside Boulder, installed a new Septic Smart system, and plan on adding more insulation.

But the new inventions of a greener lifestyle still hold their attraction for an older idealist.

“[We] saw a solar-powered attic fan at a home products show in Denver,” said Sussman. “We’re getting it.”


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