Home & Design December 8, 2008

Eco-Conscious Architecture

The Wood River Valley has been affected by the population growth and building boom of the past five to ten years in more ways than just the landscape and the local economy. As the roads become increasingly congested and parking less available, water scarcer but the desert greener, and the cost of living more prohibitive even as our cherished “quality of life” deteriorates, our collective conscience is beginning to get the picture. The undesirable elements of popularity are producing (albeit slowly) a fresh review of priorities.

For many years, a few devoted nonprofit organizations have been at the vanguard of this movement, fostering awareness and responsibility regarding environmental issues specific to our area. More recently, however, environmentalism is gaining a foothold in the private sector, where its longevity depends not only on an edifying, ennobling sales pitch but also onemerging technologies that can be cost-effectively introduced into our daily lives.

One local company that has taken on this challenge is Developing Green. A collaboration of Morgan Brown, an electrical engineer and principal of Sun Valley Solar, and Martin Flannes, a land-use attorney and environmental activist, Developing Green was started in 2003 with the goal of profitably creating or consulting on environmentally sustainable and healthy housing developments. Whether a plan comprises homes, commercial buildings or neighborhoods, the underlying philosophy stays the same.

Using established objectives and parameters from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, Brown and Flannes have customized for application in the Wood River Valley a set of building guidelines called the Built Green Rating System.

In addition to following the five essential focal points of the LEED criteria—site planning and land use, energy efficiency, water economy, building materials/resources, and healthy indoor environment—Built Green addresses design innovation and building size (generally, smaller is better). An interested homeowner or landowner can use the rating system to determine how “green” an existing home is—or, better still, use it as a reference for constructing a new house or building. Brown’s residence, for instance—which was designed with these standards in mind by his wife, Rebecca Bundy, and features comprehensive solar energy components—registers between the gold and platinum levels of certification. Yet, according to Brown, there is much that can still be done to further the “green-ness” of the house, and some of these changes are currently underway. As with any learning process, early lessons have led to later efficiencies.

One of the area’s earliest students of green building and an outspoken proponent is architect Dale Bates, who has preached and practiced the lasting benefits of a healthy living environment for over twenty years. His efforts have required great patience, since the green building industry in general has had to overcome substantial disadvantages versus conventional construction in cost, contracting expertise, and architectural community support. The unfair playing field has made potential client education and enlistment a tough business. Today, although not all of the gaps have been filled, technology and far greater public awareness have put green building on nearly equal footing with traditional construction. Consequently, as well as in recognition of his longstanding commitment, Bates and his associates have lately been enjoying unprecedented activity. >>>



While meeting the steadily increasing demand for environmentally conceived single-family residences, Living Architecture (Bates’s company) has promoted the green agenda to larger audiences, advising on all details of the environmental and interior health aspects of the new county courthouse annex in Hailey and developing the 33-unit community housing complex at Pine Ridge in Ketchum. The success of this latter project persuaded the owners of the Clear Creek Meadows parcel just south of St. Luke’s hospital not only to hire Living Architecture to design and oversee the whole project, but also to dedicate among their planned 126 single-family homes and duplexes as many as 35 percent for community housing.

Most likely, the form these projects have taken would not have been considered in the Wood River Valley even a few years ago. Living Architecture, for example, prefers to employ a product called Durisol, which is an amalgam of wood remnants and Portland cement. As advertised, it can be molded to any shape, and is lightweight and porous; also, it neither harbors nor emits any toxins, and resists fungus, rodents, and insects. For use in housing, it is stacked dry in interlocking forms that resemble cinder blocks, and then filled with rebar and concrete to create a solid, structurally secure wall that is also a natural thermal and vapor seal. The product sounds like a wonder, yet it has taken years of persuasion to develop local acceptance. Now, fortunately, the reluctance to use nontraditional materials and techniques has lessened, and the number of contractors and sub-contractors who are willing and able to adopt a green approach has increased correspondingly—leading, in turn, to a fall in construction costs.

Durisol, of course, is just one manufacturer in a burgeoning market of green products. Garth Callaghan, a contractor with fifteen years of local experience in both commercial buildings and custom homes, has for the past two years been promoting and using a reflective foil insulation manufactured by a company called Environmentally Safe Products. The insulation makes use of the foil’s versatile thinness as well as its ability to reflect 97 percent of radiant heat. When the foil is heat laminated to a 1/4-inch layer of closed-cell polyethylene, it easily rolls onto any framing surface to keep the heat in during winter and out during summer. Callaghan is so convinced of the trend toward environmental consciousness in building that he has formed a separate company, Energy Savers of Idaho, to facilitate that part of the business.

The faith and efforts of Callaghan, Bates, Brown, Flannes, and others will continue to be rewarded only if support continues to grow for healthier building environments long-term. This, in turn, will occur only within an enlightened community and as a result of ongoing shifts in traditional thinking. Though patterns of thought and construction may not be evolving as quickly as the underlying “green” technology would allow, it is to be hoped that the seeds of change that are sprouting today will prove to be of lasting benefit and consequence.

Bill Lowe has lived in the Wood River Valley for twenty years and is a frequent contributor to Sun Valley Magazine. He is currently working on the design of a solar/hydro, green-built residence on the Hamakua coast of Hawaii.



This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.