HomeLink Magazine Summer 2017: Costantini Residence

Big and Sustainable?
The Costantini home is big. Does that mean it’s not Sustainable?
By Scott Conner
Photos: Tim Murphy Photography

Honestly, I have a bias for smaller homes. So it was with trepidation that I agreed to write this article about a 7300 square foot home on Anglers Drive in Steamboat Springs. Smaller homes tend to be more sustainable, using fewer resources to construct, maintain and operate over their lifetime. Plus, they generally can be built on smaller lots which allows the density of the community to increase and counters the pressure to sprawl up and down the valley. But sustainability has three main pillars: environmental, social and economic. And although we often focus only on the environmental pillar, as it is generally accepted to be the most important, the social and economic pillars cannot be ignored if you want to look at the full sustainability picture.

I can’t bury my head in the sand and ignore the obvious; larger homes are in the community and continued demand exists for them. Furthermore, the exceedingly high price of vacant lots in the area requires more square footage be built in order to recover the cost of the site and provide an acceptable return for the developer and owner. So, if economic factors drive a larger home, can they be built in a sustainable manner and also contribute to social and economic sustainability? You decide.

The Costantinis built their home with an eye on giving back to the community. Architect Michael Olsen said, “They use the house as a forum for fundraising, and it is designed with this in mind as opposed to just a ‘big house.’ That’s what he created it for: to further his interest as a philanthropist.” The house was designed to comfortably host social events with over 100 potential donors, multiple times throughout the year. The main gathering space in the center of the house allows every guest to have views of the large stone fireplace and the ski mountain.  Both are spectacular and the hope is they will inspire donors to give. The Costantinis have chosen six main charities as beneficiaries of their home, and you can learn about them at the website www.heartswithmissions.org.

In addition to the main room, smaller gathering spaces throughout the house allow for more intimate conversations between non-profits and their prospective donors. The most dramatic is the three story tower with 360 degree views overlooking the entire valley. Its squarish proportions with windows in every direction reminded me of a historic Forest Service fire watch tower. The tower is largely finished with beetle killed pine from the local area. Windows in the tower can automatically open in the summer and utilize the natural chimney effect to expel hot air while simultaneously pulling cooler air into the lower floors.    

Craig Brundridge of Amaron Folkestad General Contractors, was contracted to build the home and agrees the tower is dramatic and one of the home’s most unique features.  Over the course of the project Craig and Guido developed a special friendship.  “Guido has been my only client that set up a lawn chair at the job site and asked questions all day and researched my answers all night, “said Brundridge.

The tower is connected to the rest of the house with an open stair built from exposed steel, wood and glass. Olsen explained, “It’s my favorite and most complex feature of the house. It is clean, no extra pieces, transparent and it floats. It’s simple but rich.”

Olsen also said the house was designed to be subtle, restrained, and absent of wild, over-the-top, ostentatious details. A design approach and philosophy embraced by the Costantinis and successfully executed. The materials used throughout the house are few: wood, stone, glass and steel, and they are purposefully simple. While the design focus was not primarily on sustainability and every single product used was not analyzed for its environmental impact, there was significant thought put into the envelope of the house. It utilizes wall and roof sections that are highly efficient, quality glazing and a minimum of western exposure keeps solar gains throughout the house low.

Matt Wright of Deeper Green Consulting performed an energy rating on the house and estimated it to have a Home Energy Rating Score (HERS) of 20. That means this house should consume 80 percent less energy than a comparable home of its size in this climate.  Most smaller homes built today do not achieve this rating. The HERS rating reflects the well-designed envelope with insulated walls that have R-28, a roof of R-57 and foundations walls with R-25. The windows are European tilt and turn style, double pane with U values of 0.27 or R-3.7. They were provided by Zola Windows, a company based in Steamboat Springs that provides high performance windows manufactured in Europe. The blower door test, an indication of how tight the house is constructed, yielded 1.33 air changes per hour, a respectable number for a house of any size.

In addition to these building envelope features, the Costantinis purchased 57 photovoltaic panels totaling 17.5kW which should offset most of the house’s electrical load. The panels are located in Craig at the community solar garden and were provided by a collaborative effort between the Clean Energy Collective and Yampa Valley Electric Company.

“The Costantini residence meets the criteria for the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC),” said Wright of Deeper Green Consulting. The current code in effect is the 2009 IECC although Routt County and the City of Steamboat Springs are considering adopting the more stringent 2015 code this summer. The 2015 code is approximately 15 percent more energy efficient than the current code.

Two mechanical rooms each contain a heating and cooling system which is a combination of a 92 percent efficient Viessman boiler supplying in-floor radiant heat under the wide plank oak floors. The boiler also provides domestic hot water through the use of an indirect hot water heater. A supplemental forced air system is capable of additional heating and cooling when required. Two Trane energy recovery ventilators introduce fresh tempered air into the house and are needed because of the tight construction.

Like a central nervous system, the entire house is controlled by a Crestron home automation system. The system controls lights, blinds, some windows, music from a multitude of different sources, space temperature, relative humidity, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, security, and all of the mechanical systems. It is a highly complex system and comes with the convenience, learning curve, and technical challenges that you might imagine.

Over the course of a full year, a thorough review of the energy consumption indicated the house did not perform as efficiently as modeled. When discussing the issue with homeowner Guido Costantini, he admitted they are still working out some of the kinks in the systems, addressing set points and operational issues as they are uncovered. Architect Olsen wasn’t completely surprised and offered, “All buildings require tuning and owner familiarization. The more complex they are, the harder it is to get them to work right the first season.”

While the couple originally wanted a 30 or 40 acre lot in the country, they decided their full time residence should be closer to the city center and the 3.5 acre infill lot in the city limits allows for less driving and less infrastructure development than other locations in the valley.

The exterior of the house is clad primarily in stone from Montana and western red cedar, a wood choice that Guido now recognizes was not the most sustainable. “There are more environmentally friendly products out there, and I now know about them, and I’m using them on other projects. The most important thing is that I’m learning, and I’m trying to be considerate.”

Surrounding the house, over 300 trees were planted to help the site blend back into an existing aspen grove along the street.  A 30 foot flagpole adjacent to the driveway
 has a ceremonial purpose. “I am a veteran and I served this country. I love this country. Every time a man or woman dies in the line of duty, we have a ceremony. My daughter plays “Taps” on her trumpet, and we send a note to the family. I think it’s a simple way to acknowledge their service,” says Guido.

While the 7,300 square foot Costantini house tugs at my environmental sensibilities in good and bad directions, in the end I believe it does more good than harm and our community is better with it than without. As long as our community is willing to permit big homes, design and build big, buy big and own big, the trend will continue. But, this home is evidence that if you go big, you can use it for doing good in the community. All we can hope is that when other large homes are designed and constructed, they build on the sustainable ideas and social principles demonstrated by this home.

Summary of Sustainable features:

R-57 ceilings/roof

R-28 exterior walls

R-25 foundation walls

R-10 underslab

Blower door leakage rate of 1.33 ACH50

Energy Recovery Ventilator

Zola Windows

99% LED lights

17.5kW PV system

Stone from Montana

Local beetle killed pine

Infill site w/ existing infrastructure

Close to town

Planted over 300 trees

Natural ventilating tower