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THINKtank: Design Trends in New Construction

Expert Panel and Q&A

By Jeff Cornelius - March 20, 2020

On Tuesday, March 10th, Invalesco hosted a panel presentation and discussion focused on design trends in new construction projects. We were honored to have John Guilliams from KGA Studio Architects and Carrie Firmine from TRIO update us on some of the things their clients are asking for and some trends they saw at this year’s International Builders Show. Below are highlights from their presentation and Q&A that followed.  

JOHN: There are three different factors that affect the price of a home. First is the price of land. Most land now has some issue with it – be it size, challenging topography, or location. Second are the soft costs like entitlements, tap fees, etc. Those used to be 20-25% of a project – now they’re 35%. And third are the hard costs – labor and materials. The first two you can’t do much about, so developers are focusing on the last – construction costs. That’s driving the conversation around density. How can we maximize the usefulness of this particular parcel and, in turn, maximize the return? 

So, what are some of the challenges to increased density? What do you compromise? Do we use 1-car garages instead of two? Do we build some or all of the units as attached units? To get support from the surrounding neighborhood for a project you need to ask “what does this community need that my project could provide?” Bike paths? A community pool that’s also open to existing residents?

CARRIE: Community IS the new amenity. We’re seeing smaller clubhouses, grilling stations, urban gardens, smaller pools, bocce courts. Developers are using their limited space to build specific amenities into a project to instill a sense of community. 

JOHN: Another thing we’re seeing is that while families are getting smaller, houses are getting bigger. In 2000, the average house was 2,000 sf - now, the average sized new home is 2,500 sf. One of the reasons we’re seeing that could be an increase in multi-generational homes. There are now 68M multi-generational homes in the US.
Another trend is that first time millennial buyers are now used to high-end amenities from the newer apartments they’ve been living in. We need to think about this for single family home design – they want, and demand, good design and higher end finishes.

CARRIE: John’s 100% right. We call it the “Apartment Effect.” Millennials, and the population at large, are now surrounded by thoughtful, higher end design. We are also learning from the “experience economy” and incorporating what others are doing to activate their spaces into residential design. We are taking cues from places like Starbucks Reserve Roastery in New York. There are all kinds of unique, New York-specific design touches, like a custom split-flap display showing featured roasts. That’s a real nod to New York’s rail history and makes for a great design element.

JOHN: Developers and builders are also looking at new construction methods and technology to decrease cost, waste and construction time. Pre-fab and pre-cut panels are gaining popularity. There’s even a startup in Austin that’s using a huge 3D printer to manufacture small 400sf homes for the homeless. 

CARRIE: We talked earlier about placemaking and developers looking to integrate higher end finishes that appeal to today’s buyers. They still need to do this affordably and one way they are doing it is by offering design packages vs. having buyers pick separate tiles, cabinets, countertop finishes, etc. for multiple rooms. These packages have names like “Classical,” “Traditional,” or “Transitional” and they allow the builders to realize economies of scale and also cut down on change orders from buyers. Buyers like it, builders like it – it’s a win-win.

JOHN: Developers are also paying closer attention to the kinds of materials they are using. Projects that use eco-friendly and healthier products in their construction can command a premium, or at least offer a better brand proposition to their customers by showing that they are “walking the walk.” It’s all about the carbon footprint and wellness of your home. “LEED,” “Zero Energy Ready Home,” and “Energy Star Certified” are some of the labels and metrics that resonate with consumers.

CARRIE: In addition to those eco-friendly labels, consumers are really focused on wellness, and that is extending to their living space. We spend 90% of our time indoors, so people are concerned now about things they never really talked about before – off-gassing, air circulation rates, even the amount of natural light in a home as it relates to your overall sense of well-being. 

JOHN: Carrie’s right - natural light is critical, so window placement is key. Floor to ceiling windows are always a great option. Corner meet windows maximize natural light and can make a small room feel bigger. Another thing we’re doing to promote wellness is including dedicated closet or cabinet space in the garage where you can off-gas dry cleaning before bringing it inside, or store harsh household cleaners when not in use.

CARRIE: We’re even seeing clients ask for outdoor showers and Zen gardens. Things that don’t take up a lot of space, but contribute to their overall sense of well-being. 

That concluded the presentation portion. Below are excerpts from the Q&A. Answers have been condensed for brevity.

Q: A lot of early LEED homes have mold issues due to vapor barriers and trying to keep the building envelope super-tight. What has changed?
JOHN: Air circulation and VAV boxes. They change 100% of air 3 times per hour. Indoor air quality is probably the most important wellness component within your walls.

Q – What are some design recommendations you’d suggest for developers of smaller projects – like 10-20 units? What amenities can we add or what can we do to foster that sense of community?
JOHN: You could add a bike repair spot. A community garden. Front porches also encourage people to get outside. Think about things that will resonate with the buyer you are going for and what the surrounding community might also benefit from. 

Q: What are you hearing about detached For-Rent homes?
JOHN: That product started in Texas as a response to housing needs in more transient communities: universities, military bases, places like that, of which, Texas has a lot of. We’re seeing more and more of that nationwide, and also here in Colorado. For developers, it’s also a good way to get equity in your community. You keep the value of the land, which you can leverage for your next community.

Q: What have you heard about the Tesla solar roof?
JOHN: The technology isn’t quite there yet, but they are working on it.

That concluded the Q&A portion of our THINKtank on New Construction Design Trends.

Invalesco hosts THINKtank events throughout the year to keep our Advisors, Investors and Development partners informed and connected to the Colorado real estate market. To be notified of future THINKtank events, please join our mailing list HERE.

THINKtank: Marketing Multi-Family

5 Keys to Success

By Jeff Cornelius - October 18, 2019

On Tuesday, October 15th, Invalesco led a panel presentation and discussion on the 5 Keys to Success in Marketing Multi-Family projects. I was joined by Cara Moyle of Paper Laundry and Jon Aron of Aron Digital Consulting. Cara is a branding guru and Jon is an SEO and PPC wizard. Together, we discussed some often overlooked, but vitally important, elements to successfully marketing a for-sale or for-rent multi-family project. Below are some of the highlights. 

Discussing only five aspects of marketing your residential project is like saying there are only 5 steps in completing your multi-family project. 1-Acquire the land, 2-Secure financing, 3-Obtain Permits, 4-Build the project and 5-Sell or Rent the Units. Easy, right? We all know there are a lot of details that fit under those 5 steps in your development project. Same can be said for marketing your project. So, the items discussed below are not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, they represent some critical areas that are often overlooked or not shown the attention they deserve. 

Multi-family Marketing: 5 Keys to Success:

Branding. Branding is typically not given the attention it deserves. The name, look and feel of your project matter as those are the first things potential customers see before they ever see the inside of a unit.

Strategy - What is the one thing that differentiates you from your competition? Not price, customer service, or location—something more specific that others probably can’t claim. Are you closest to the mountains? Do you have daily dog walking? A concierge? Think of something you can own that your competitors can’t. How would you describe the brand if it were an actual person? Come up with several key traits and make them the foundation of your branding. Examples: Kind, funny, ultra-professional, the 1%.

 - How does your strategic aesthetic speak to your target? Are you targeting an older demographic? What are they striving for? How can the brand embody that? The vibe should match between your branding and your

residences. If your complex has a mountain lodge feel, how can that translate to the logo?

Logo - Your logo should be strategic and meaningful and, ideally, you have several brand marksWhen you have multiple versions, you can utilize them in different applications so that your brand isn’t repeatedly announcing itself. Do you want the logo to be a wordmark or an icon or a combination of both?

Marketing Assets
 - Branding is more than a logo. Multiple fonts emphasize hierarchy and are used for different applications. Graphic elements add depth. Think beyond one or two brand colors, a palette of pop

colors keep your brand fresh. 

Voice and Tone
 - Having a logo, fonts, and colors doesn’t mean your brand is complete. Strategic attributes trickle down to how your brand talks. Are they gregarious or unassuming? Matter-of-fact or more conversational? Stick to that vibe in everything you do

Referral Marketing

Referral marketing can be great lead drivers and do the heavy lifting of paid search (PPC) on your behalf. Good referral marketing sites run paid search so they appear near the top of searches like “Condos for Sale Sloans Lake.” Some examples of For-Sale referral sites in the Denver area are: Zillow,,, and Some examples of For-Rent referral sites are: Zillow,, and 

Keys to Successful referral marketing are:
  • Use sponsored positions where possible. It will help your listings stand out from the competition.
  • Use high quality pictures – LOTS of them!
  • Maximize your listing in any way you can. Use all of the options your referral partner offers. Since most people don’t, your listings will stand out.
  • Monitor and Maximize your ROI. Look not only at the Cost Per Lead, but the quality of those leads. Are they converting to sales? You can sometimes negotiate for better pricing with referral partners based on the performance of other sites that are performing better than theirs. But, you can’t just ask for a cheaper CPM or CPL, you need to know your numbers and share them in your negotiation so its clear you know your stuff.
  • Finally, drop underperforming partners. Even for shorter-term projects, its good to try different sites. You’ll know what works and what doesn’t for your next project.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System

CRM Systems can really help streamline and automate marketing to your verified leads, leaving your sales team more time for personal interaction or lead generation. For your CRM to work well for you, you have to actually use it! Make sure your salespeople are vigilant in entering and managing the leads in the system. You want to assign Prospect Codes at each steps of the customer journey so you can tailor emails and offers to the right people at the right time. 

For instance, you may want to have an ‘auto-response’ one day after someone visits your project thanking them for coming and asking if they have any follow up questions. You may also want to have an optional email ready to go if you learn your prospective buyer has a property they need to sell before they buy their next one. You want to do this for each stage of the buying process – Discovery, Presentation, Pricing Discussion, Contract Signing, Countdown to Closing and After the Close. You want to stay in touch with your buyers or renters even after they move in. As we’ll discuss later, positive reviews are gold and negative reviews are toxic and almost impossible to remove.

Google Analytics

Before diving into digital marketing, its key to know the lingo. Google Analytics = A free tool that allows you to measure engagement on your website. Channel = A marketing channel. Social Media, Paid Google Advertising, SEO or Referral traffic partners like Zillow are all channels. Campaign = A marketing initiative with a specific purpose (like drive leads) that targets a specific audience segment (people searching for new homes in Golden, CO). Key Performance Indicator (KPI) = metrics that allow you to understand whether your marketing campaigns are meeting your business objectives. Goal Conversion = A positive user action that happens on your website. This is how we track KPIs in Google Analytics. Creative = A digital advertisement. Keyword = We can buy specific keywords like “new homes in Golden” and serve ads when people enter this phrase into Google search

Google Analytics. Having an accurate and useful Google Analytics Setup is critical because it allows you to see what’s going on and whether your digital marketing is working. How will you measure success when potential home buyers visit your website? Measurement planning is key. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so you can compare the quality of different website traffic sources. Some examples of KPIs are: Home listing views, Floor plan downloads, 3D tours, Phone calls, Contact forms, Contact emails and Live chats.

You also want to set up Goal Conversion Tracking in Google Anayltics to capture positive user actions on your website. It’s possible to record when users: Download floor plans, Take 3D toursSubmit contact formsclick chat and call your phone numberSetting up goal conversion tracking allows you to attribute conversions to specific marketing channels and campaigns

Attribution is key to maximizing Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). Attribution helps you determine which channels and campaigns are really driving leads. Knowing which channels, campaigns, or keywords drive leads
allows you to optimize your digital marketing. Eliminate waste and only spend on channels that drive leads. Over time you can compare the lead generation rate and cost per lead across all your channels and campaigns. The goal is to optimize your Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). 


Reviews are today’s Word of Mouth Advertising. In the residential real estate space, Google and Facebook reviews are the most important to cultivate positive reviews. Some things to keep in mind: 88% trust online reviews as much as their best friend. 80% won’t buy based on negative reviews. Angry customers are 2-3x more likely to write a negative review than a customer with a positive experience. It takes (12) positive reviews to cancel out (1) negative. It’s also very hard to get negative reviews removed, so do your best to avoid them from Day 1!

What can you do?
 Engage with your neighbors before construction. Treat every potential customer professionally. Treat every ACTUAL customer EXTREMELY professionally. Actively ask for reviews as part of the closing process. Monitor Reviews for trends and reply to as many reviews as you can, especially the negative ones!


THINKtank - Investing in New Construction

Panel of Experts

By Jeff Cornelius - September 5, 2019

On August 27th, we hosted another full house for our THINKtank: Investing in New Construction. We had a great audience of guests ranging from realtors to investors to developers that made for a dynamic Q&A and conversation. Our esteemed panel consisted of Justin Cooper from Pure Financial Group, Gilda Zaragoza of Invalesco Real Estate and Ben and John Henry from Henry Development.

Below, we’ve attributed answers with the initials of each panelist who addressed the question and summarized their answers for purposes of this post.

Q. What do you first do when you are evaluating a piece of land or a deal?
JC. The Big 3. Purchase Price, Construction Costs, Sales Price.
GZ. One of the things that will help you the most before you ever get to a deal stage is being well-connected. Finding out about off-market deals, especially in a hot market like Denver, is a great start to setting up a good new construction project.
JH. What is the end game? I look at where the competition is priced. A lot of times you have to start with the end and work backwards. Take your target sales price minus construction, the level of finish, what will the neighborhood support, what is the purchase price of the land or existing home? When you see that profit margin, if it makes sense, then you can go forward.

Q. What are the typical costs do you need to consider?
GZ. The survey. Environmental testing. Soils report. Legal costs – maybe for a party-wall agreement. Then, talk to the GC about their costs: insurance, etc. It’s also important to verify zoning and easements with the city – don’t go only by the listing.
JC. Before we get to contract, must understand the zoning and make sure what you want to build will comply with that zoning. Absolutely key to have an out-clause in the contract in case you can’t build what you want despite the zoning.
JH. You should put your team together early so you’re ready to go when a property you like becomes available. Time is of the essence.

Q. What would a team like that look like?
GZ. An architect, general contractor, lender, interior designer, realtor, surveyor, soils engineer, asbestos tester, abatement contractor. You can also ask this team early about value engineering to get comfortable with the numbers quickly.
JH. The team can help figure out the return rate as well. Some investors must be at 20% ROI so it’s important to understand the numbers up front. A swing of $50-100K could make a huge difference on whether or not you want to move forward.
BH. It’s important to have a contingency as well. If you have to upgrade the water tap, it’s a $6,500 swing.

Q. How much is a good contingency?
JH. If its bank financing, they will require a certain amount – could be up to 20-25%. On a remodel or pop-top, we put $10-15,000 in a contingency.
JC. we like to see 10% of construction costs put aside for contingency.

Q. Are there certain cities that are easier to work with than others?
JH. All the municipalities are different. Denver seems like they take longer, but we don’t see that one city is necessarily easier than another.
JC. If you are in a historic zone or landmark area, you need to pay attention because some of these groups only meet once a month and if you need a quick answer on something, you may not be able to get it.

Q. From the audience. We hear that hard money lenders charge a lot – is that true?
JC. The 100% financing can cover 100% of the Purchase price, the construction and the closing costs, including our points.  So yes the interest might seem high but it is a very different loan from a bank, you are getting a lot more money from us and will have a lot less out of pocket at closing.

Q. From the audience. John – how do you work with investors?
JH. We can be hired just as a GC or be part of a deal. Investor clients are different because it’s about their return – you often see this in finish selection, etc. Sometimes we partner with investors and will have skin in the game. In this case, we charge a GC fee to build the home, but it’s often reduced. The % participation varies depend on the project.

Sometimes we’ll find the deal and bring it to an investor to bring them as a partner. Our fees typically range 10-12% of construction costs if I’m just the GC. If the scope changes, we address that and will charge them for that extra work. We don’t do Cost-Plus – too much accounting. We are 100% transparent. We do a monthly draw on the first of each month for costs and fees. We also account for allowances for more savvy clients – they can find the deals on finishes, flooring, etc. - our job is just to install what they buy.

GZ. There are lots of different ways to structure your contract. It’s really up to what you and your GC agree on. You can do a maximum project cost, too.

Q. John - Who does your estimating?
JH. I do all the estimating. We’ve worked with most of our subs for 10+ years. I send projects out for bid and get estimates from multiple subs. We have about 84 line items on our bids. When you work with a GC, it’s important to get as many costs detailed up front – we don’t like to lump things together – transparency on all line items is best.

Q. What types of loans are available for new builds and remodels?
JC. We cover 100% of the costs, up to 70% of as-built value. You must show 15% of total loan amount in the bank to make sure you have money to fund the monthly statements. We look at income as well for a backstop.
GZ. When you are starting, a lender like Pine Financial is critical, but you want to work towards bank financing. My last bank construction loan interest rate was 5.5%.

Q. What kind of insurance is required?
JH. Builders Risk insurance
GZ. Property Insurance. Warranty companies are also good to look into. Foundation warranties, etc.
JC. We’ve seen a lot of people getting a ‘wrap policy’ that will continue through the construction defect period – up to 5 years after completion. It’s not cheap - $5,000-7,000 a door, but you are covered, especially with everything we’ve seen lately from lawsuits.

Q. From the audience - Why do architects charge almost the same amount for similar plans they’ve already done?
JH. there are some architects that will re-sell plans for a reduced fee – like duplex designs, etc. You can make minor adjustments like change the façade, etc.

Q. What other contracts do you have in place?
JH. We require our subs to sign a sub-contractor contract that requires liability insurance and worker’s comp insurance, it outlines our draw process, what we will provide vs. what they need to bring to the job site in terms of tools, etc.
JC. It’s absolutely critical to read every contract. As an investor, how are you going to work with your GC – are they going to call you on every change order?

Q. What curve-balls would you look out for?
JC. Zoning! Ability to build 6 vs 7 vs 8 on a lot make a huge difference. Have the right team up front to work with the city.
GZ. power poles in alleys that need to be moved. Trees that have to be relocated. The more you do, the more you learn. In Englewood right now, the city is requiring developers to pave the alleys from their project to the end of the alley. They keep changing their mind, so it’s hard to plan for future projects.


1031 Exchange, Market Trends, & Tax Reform

By Jeff Cornelius - June 24, 2019

On Tuesday, June 18th, we welcomed Paul Holloway from First American Exchange Company to another successful and informative THINKtank to talk about 1031 exchanges. 1031 Exchanges can be an amazing tool for maximizing returns on your real estate investments, but, as we learned from Paul, there are lots of rules to follow in order for the IRS to bless your 1031. Below are some of the highlights of his course.     

Due to the strict regulations and timelines involved, we recommend working with a 1031 specialist and Intermediary to help guide you through the process and handle the financial requirements involved. You should also check Section 1031 of the IRS tax code before buying or selling a property you would like involved in a 1031 exchange.

Top 5 Things to Know:
  1. Real Property: Anything that is deemed to be “real property” is eligible for a 1031 exchange: residential, commercial, industrial, even water rights attached to property. Percentages vary by city and region, but overall, about 33% of all residential property in Colorado is non-owner-occupied and therefore a potential for a 1031 exchange. Urban centers like Denver and Boulder are at 50% or higher, while suburbs like Highland Ranch and Centennial only have 17% of their residential inventory listed as non-owner-occupied.
  2. Investment vs. For-Sale: Property must be held for investment vs. held for sale. In general, builders or home flippers cannot execute 1031s on properties they are actively buying and selling. Also, your primary residence cannot be part of a 1031 exchange. Paul explained that you may convert a 1031 purchased property into a primary residence, but you must follow specific guidelines.
  3. Equal To or Greater Value: The property you intend to buy must be of equal or greater value to the property, or properties, you plan on selling as part of the 1031 exchange. Additionally, you must reinvest all equity gains from your sold properties into your purchased property - you cannot take any cash out if you want all of your proceeds to remain tax-deferred.
  4. Timing and Identification: Within 45 days of selling your property, you must identify up to 3 properties you are considering purchasing as part of the 1031 exchange. The IRS is very strict about timing and their deadlines include weekends and all holidays. So, 45 days is 45 days, not 45 business days. In a hot market where properties can go under contract in days or hours of being listed, its best to be under contract on the properties you intend on purchasing. On the 46th day from your sale closing, you cannot amend your list of potential 1031 properties to purchase. Special rules apply if you are attempting to purchase 4 or more properties as part of your 1031. And finally, you must close on your purchased property within 180 days of the closing date of your sold property. There are exceptions here, too. If you sold your property late in the year – say November – you must complete your 1031 by the tax filing deadline of April 15th of the following year. Most investors would file for an extension in this case, but again, it pays to work with an expert who can guide you through these exceptions.
  5. Same Taxpayer Rule. If John Smith sells Property A, John Smith must also buy Property B. But…guess what…surprise, there are exceptions. Generally, you cannot add a spouse or partner to your purchased property if they were not a party to the sold property.

Planning your exchange:
  1. Specific language needs to be in your sale and purchase contracts, so check the IRS site or your intermediary before executing either contract.
  2. You must leave all of your proceeds in the intermediary’s account during the 1031 process. If you remove even $1 from this account, you are putting your entire 1031 exchange in jeopardy of being denied by the IRS.
  3. Transaction costs – inspection fees, credit reports, appraisal fees, etc cannot be paid from sale proceeds.

Reverse Exchanges. Is it possible to buy your intended “equal-to or greater value” property before you’ve sold your current property? Yes, but it is more complicated and more expensive than standard 1031s. Intermediaries in Colorado typically charge $800-1,500 to help execute a standard 1031 exchange, but those costs can jump to $5,000 to $10,000 on reverse exchanges depending on the size of the property being purchased and complexity of the transaction. In a reverse exchange, its critical to make sure your purchase contract is assignable so you can assign it to your Intermediary and a to-be-named LLC to take possession of the purchased property while you sell your equal value or less expensive property. You are still held to the 180-day timeframe to complete the entire process.

Improvement Exchanges.  It is also possible to use your tax-deffered dollars to make improvements on the replacement property.  This can allow you to truly customize your investment property or build something better than what is currently on the market.  The replacement property will be held by an intermediary while the improvements are made and must be of equal or greater value when deeded back to you.  This is definetely one of the more complex exchanges, but it is gaining in popularity.

As you can see, while 1031s can be extremely useful in maximizing your real estate returns, there are many opportunities that missteps could jeopardize your exchange in the eyes of the IRS. It pays to do your homework and engage your intermediary before you buy or sell your exchange properties.

Invalesco hosts THINKtank events throughout the year to keep our Advisors, Investors and Development partners informed and connected to the Colorado real estate market. Our next THINKtank will cover budgeting for new builds and critical line items and is tobe held in August. To be notified of future THINKtank events, please join our mailing list by emailing



Energy Efficient Home Design & Construction

An Expert Panel Q&A

By Jeff Cornelius - March 28, 2019

This month, we hosted our second THINKtank event of 2019 at the beautiful new Roth Living showroom near the Design Center in Denver. This THINKtank was a Q&A format focusing on energy efficient home design and construction. We were thrilled to have Casey Van-Iten of Cornerstone Homes, Zeke Freeman of Root Interiors and Enrico Bonilauiri of EMU Systems as our panel of experts. Gilda Zaragoza was our moderator.
There were many great questions and a healthy discussion from our audience members. Below, we’ve attributed answers with the initials of each panelist who addressed the question and summarized their answers for purposes of this post.

Q. What are some major considerations when designing an energy efficient home?
ZF. From a design perspective, it’s important to focus on lot siting, orienting views to take advantage of passive heating during the winter and being conscious of the materials we use. Energy efficiency is one of the reasons we build in cities. Being close to light-rail and mass transit and alternative forms of transportation all help lessen the energy impact of the inhabitants of that home.

EB. I agree with Zeke that the climate is a big consideration, including what kind of systems are designed into and installed in the home. We have weather extremes here in Colorado, along with the high altitude – this all affects how energy efficient the home will be.

CVI. There are three main areas we focus on when building our new homes. One – The design. Using passive solar design and having the correct glazing on the windows are key. Two – The thermal envelope of the home. Air infiltration and lack of proper insulation will kill a home’s efficiency. Three – the systems. You can retrofit an existing home with a more efficient HVAC system or water heater, but for something like geothermal, it’s much easier to do on a new build.

Q. Does the square footage of the home matter?

EB. More than the square footage, it’s the shape and siting of the building.

ZF. I agree with Enrico. Interestingly, we have been seeing a trend towards higher quality vs. higher square footage. Obviously the smaller the square footage, the less environmental impact there will be in the construction of it, all other things being equal.

Q. Cassie, can you speak to a home’s NetZero rating and how you are achieving that?

CVI. Sure. We focus on the HERS score. That’s a rating that considers the structure and how it’s built. Other ratings like LEED consider things like what was the property used as previously, proximity to walking and bike paths, etc. In addition to a tight building envelope and lots of insulation, we don’t use natural gas – for water heating, fireplaces or the stove in the kitchen. Using 100% electricity for our systems and appliances allows PV solar to help us achieve that NetZero rating – basically that a home produces as much energy as it uses on an annual basis.
Q. How does energy efficiency affect the budget?

ZF. You have to look at it in terms of a long-term investment. There is a slight premium up front, but those costs are recouped over time in the form of energy cost savings.

CVI. Engineering, windows, insulation and systems are all more expensive than average, but it is a long-term calculation. And, the government keeps extending tax incentives, so that helps make things more affordable up front.

EB. Yes, the incentives that are in place are really helping multi-unit developers because at that scales, they are reaching almost parity to non-efficient construction and systems.

Q. What products give you the most bang for your buck?

EB. I would say high-performance windows. I especially like Alpen windows, which is a Colorado-based company.

ZF. We compared a 2x4 studded wall with 2” of exterior insulation vs. a SIP vs. a 2x6” studded wall with interior insulation and the 2x4 was most cost-efficient in terms of R value in our test. That may not always be the case for some projects, but my point is that it pays to look at things on a project-by-project basis and not just assume a SIP will be the most efficient for a wall.

CVI. We can get the same R values with stud and insulation vs. SIPs. Smart window shades and thermostats can help. Solar batteries are improving, too.

Q. Are there any products we should stay away from?

EB. Poorly installed ones. (lots of laughs). Yes, it’s funny I say that, but its true. There are lots of great products on the market, but they need to be installed properly to achieve your energy savings goals. It gets more and more critical as you approach NetZero.

Q. How do you incorporate landscaping into energy efficient design?

ZF. You can do this by planting deciduous trees in front of south-facing windows. This provides shade in the summer and sun in the winter. Xeriscaping can drastically reduce water usage as well.

CVI. You can design drainage the feeds landscaping vs. draining on an impervious surface. Also, have goats! They are great lawnmowers!

Q. What is the difference between passive solar and a passive house?

EB. Passive solar helps reduce the need for heating whereas passive house is a construction standard for air leakage and energy consumption.

CVI. Another standard that is growing in popularity is the Living Building Standard – it takes into consideration the overall wellness of the occupants, not just energy efficiency. As in “do these lights make you happy?”

Q. Do you have any Colorado-specific considerations?

CVI. We see dramatic temperature swings here, so a tight building envelope is key. Also, water conservation is particularly important for us in Colorado.

ZF. As we’ve discussed, house siting is really important here in Colorado to account for the movement of the sun through the seasons, snow gathering, etc.

EB. High-performance windows can really help.

Q. What information sources do you like to stay current on energy efficiency?

CVI. I get the USGBC newsletter – they have an office in Denver. Also, check out the LEED website – lots of good info there.

EB. Check out PassivePedia – it’s like Wikipedia, but for energy efficient construction.

ZF. Hammer & Hand out of Washington. Building Science is an online magazine. The Zero Energy Project. Also, the US Passive House website is a great resource.