Peak & Prairie
October / November 1999
Sustainable Community Design:
Good Business and the Right Thing to Do
by Jody Ostendorf,
Three successful—yet unconventional—home builders recently exhibited design approaches that can discourage sprawl, increase energy efficiency and promote sustainability to Environmental Protection Agency officials and staff.
Chuck Perry, with Perry/AHDC, is the Denver-based developer who will transform the old Elitch Gardens site at 38th and Tennyson into an innovative, mixed-use development. When plans for a big box retail/commercial center were vigorously opposed by neighbors, Perry sought stakeholder input and decided to create an appealing alternative to the suburbs, homes offering the convenience of city living within a village environment.
His plan for the 27-acre historic site in northwest Denver will encourage diversity by offering apartments, townhomes, live-work studios and single-family homes alongside an active commercial center and restored historic buildings such as the Elitch Theatre. Pathways and alleys will encourage walking and biking and, although cars will be accommodated, pavement won't dominate the landscape.
As part of Colorado's Built Green program, the village will be built using eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient components including wind and solar energy alternatives. Green spaces will feature xeric plants appropriate to Denver's dry climate. Housing developments which reclaim urban sites cut costs because utilities and roads are already in place. Furthermore, strengthening the existing urban environment reduces urban sprawl pressure.
Jeff Lee, an urban infill builder for 12 years with the Los Angeles-based Lee Group, builds homes ranging in price from $55,000 to $1.6 million. Early in his career, Lee set up meetings with community groups, neighbors, city councils and local community leaders who told him what they wanted: affordable, single-family detached homes.
Lee took that idea even further by sitting his new developments next to commuter train lines, increasing home insulation, employing gas-fired cooling systems free of ozone-destroying agents, and installing solar electric roof panels that generate enough electricity to power household appliances.
The upfront cost? About $6,000 more per unit than standard new housing construction. The long-term savings? By saving $50-60 per month on utilities, residents can knock $18-21,000 off a 30-year mortgage. As Lee said, "Our buyers wanted to help the environment. But when they heard how much they would save each month, they really wanted to help the environment."
Lee insists that many builders want to be involved in making a positive environmental difference. Unfortunately, in California qualifying for "green building" status is so easy that every builder is eligible. That makes it harder for those, like Lee, who are truly cutting edge to compete, price-wise, if buyers don't understand the long-term savings. However, through word-of-mouth by new owners, the Lee Group's energy-efficient homes are outselling the competition 3-1 despite the higher initial price.
Frances Pavich, of Legacy Sustainable Development Inc. in Taos, NM, developed an off-the-grid community comprising 60 lots on public and private open space. Using on-site power generation, Pavich designs homes for urban transplants who want all the amenities of cities without big-city problems. Pavich's background in organic agriculture, with an emphasis on non-toxics and resource conservation, provided the blueprint for her dream of creating "organic" housing.
With 5,000 acres of what was previously overgrazed rangeland, Pavich has dedicated 20 percent to sustainable housing. An 800-foot deep, solar-powered well supplies the community with a reliable water supply. Solar and wind-generated energy provides 1200 watts per house, with two-three days of storage. Pavich's community demonstrates how homeowner's energy requirements can easily be met with current solar and wind technology. While front-end technology costs can reach $7-10,000 per house, homeowners recoup their investment in 4-5 years by saving up to $1,800 a year in utility bills
These 3-4,000 square-foot homes with computers, televisions, stereos and major appliances, all 100 percent powered by the sun and noiseless wind generators. Open floor plans capitalize on southern exposure and resource conservation is optimized with indoor gardens fed with recycled household water, restored grasslands, water collection systems and permaculture landscaping. Permaculture is a design system for creating integrated, sustainable human and agricultural environments.
Pavich emphasized that prior to moving forward with unusual—and untested—community design concepts, she conducted research and developed careful marketing strategies. A Department of Energy study of consumer housing preferences shows that people place a premium on a sense of community and open space. They support sustainability and most people are willing to pay for it.
This was the third presentation in the EPA's Sustainable Development Speaker Series. Presentations are free and open to the public. For more information on the EPA's Sustainable Development program, visit
Household and kitchen tips:
Prevent waste and make life easier!
By Jan Oen
1.Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of a sugar cone to prevent ice cream drips.
2.Use a meat baster to “squeeze” your pancake batter onto the hot griddle—perfect shaped pancakes every time.
3.To keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the bag with the potatoes.
4.To prevent egg shells from cracking, add a pinch of salt to the water before hard-boiling.
5.Run your hands under cold water before pressing Rice Krispies treats in the pan—the marshmallow won’t stick to your fingers.
6.To get the most juice out of fresh lemons, bring them to room temperature and roll them under your palm against the kitchen counter before squeezing.
7.To easily remove burnt-on food from your skillet, simply add a drop or two of dish soap and enough water to cover bottom of pan, and bring to a boil on stove top—the skillet will be much easier to clean.
8. Spray your Tupperware with nonstick cooking spray before pouring in tomato-based sauces—no more stains.
9.When a cake recipe calls for flouring the baking pan, use a bit of the dry cake mix instead—no white mess on the outside of the cake.
10.If you accidentally over-salt a dish while it’s still cooking, drop in a peeled potato—it absorbs the excess salt for an instant “fix me up”.
11.Wrap celery in aluminum foil when putting it in the refrigerator — it will keep for weeks.
12.Brush beaten egg white over pie crusts before baking to yield a beautiful glossy finish.
13.Place a slice of apple in hardened brown sugar to soften it back up.
14.When boiling corn on the cob, add a pinch of sugar to help bring out the corn’s natural sweetness.
15.To determine whether an egg is fresh, immerse it in a pan of cool, salted water. If it sinks, it is fresh; if it rises to the surface, throw it away.
16.Cure for headaches: Take a lime, cut it in half and rub it on your forehead. The throbbing will go away.
17.Don’t throw out all that leftover wine: Freeze it into ice cubes for future use in casseroles and sauces.
18.If you have problem opening jars, try using platex dishwashing gloves. They give a non-slip grip that makes opening jars easy.
19.Potatoes will take food stains off your fingers. Just slice and rub raw potato on the stains and rinse with water.
20. To get rid of itch from mosquito bite: try applying soap on the area — instant relief.
Recycling in Colorado
By Leslie Martel Baer
Recycling recently has undergone big changes in Colorado. With the King Soopers decision to no longer accept recyclables at its Front Range stores, many area residents — especially those in multi-family dwellings or outlying areas — find themselves without an easy way to continue their recycling habit.
“Habit” is a key word in recycling behaviors. Habits form when engaging in the behavior is as easy — or easier — than not engaging it. The trick to making recycling a habit is to examine what makes it easy.
To answer this question, we have several examples of “easy recycling” around the country, with some of the best demonstrations in our own backyard. When comparing such programs as Ecocycle of Boulder, Recycle Ann Arbor, Denver Recycles and the Solid Waste Utility of Loveland, the latter is arguably the easiest of the programs. Of course, the others also do great work; they each have lessons to share and provide residents with terrific services.
The crux of the Loveland program lies in “easy recycling” from the economic viewpoint. The City uses one truck to pick up both recyclables and garbage; according to Superintendent Bruce Philbrick, their labor and capital costs for picking up a pound of garbage or recyclables are equivalent. The difference between the two occurs upon dumping. Cities pay tipping fees, the per-cubic-yard charges for dumping. In Loveland, those fees are $4-5/cubic yard. The City, however, does not pay that fee for dropping recyclables at its Material Recovery Facility (MuRF). Instead, those materials are sorted and sold.
Because recycling is cheaper — thus easier — for the City of Loveland than dumping, it makes recycling cheaper for residents with a “pay-as-you-throw” approach. Residents select a container for curbside pick-up; the larger the container, the greater the cost. Residents with additional waste purchase stamps or bags to mark it for pick-up. Recycling pick-up is free. By putting a glass container in the recycling instead of the garbage, a resident reduces the solid waste bill by reducing the volume of trash picked up. Now, that’s easy!
While Loveland’s program offers other unique and useful features, “pay-as-you-throw” is a keystone feature to helping residents develop good recycling habits. It rewards reduction of the landfill stream and requires those who generate more garbage to “pay the freight.”
Such a distribution of responsibilities results in an economically equitable and environmentally desirable solution to critical solid waste problems.
Of course, there is a natural question for the inquisitive reader to ask: “What does this have to do with the Rocky Mountain Chapter?” Several members of the Chapter, especially a few on the Lifestyles Education Committee, have expressed interest in working on recycling issues in the Front Range and throughout the state. If you would like to be a part of furthering “pay-as- you-throw” systems and other good recycling ideas, please contact me, Leslie Baer, at 303-377-5023 or firstname.lastname@example.org. No one knows quite yet what type of activity the Chapter will develop; however, with volunteer interest and enthusiasm, we may be able to make recycling more habit-forming!
October 1999 Online Newsletter - Peak & Prairie Home Page - Rocky Mountain Chapter Home Page