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Posted: November 01, 2008

‘Green’ mountain luxury living

Caribou Ridge plans high-end sustainable homes for Nederland

David Lewis

Nederland is a peaceful, quirky little mountain community - population 1,300, altitude 8,300 feet - with much emphasis on "quirky."

After all, the town probably is best known for its Frozen Dead Guy Days festival, a celebration of the dry ice-driven preservation of the remains of a fellow named Bredo Morstoel.

The good news for those who believe in the importance of burial rituals is that, sources say, about half of Nederland's population is fed up and looking to convert the Frozen Dead Guy fest into a more conventional winter celebration. More good news stems from the observation that Nederland is outgrowing its reputation as the place Boulderites go when the People's Republic has begun to seem too conventional.

Nederland's movement toward the middle has been made possible by the middle's movement toward Nederland, a coincidence that gives rise to the town's mostly modest and sensible real estate development: an expanded hair salon, a small new commercial center next to a Nepalese restaurant, and a new Whistler's Cafe with added dinner service.

All are owned by newish-comers, not native Nederlanders.

Then there's west Boulder County's first planned unit development since who knows when: Caribou Ridge, whose green ambitions are anything but modest.

The development's immodest beginnings stem from Colorado's most celebrated former recording studio, Jim Guercio's 3,500-acre Caribou Ranch, where Elton John, Joe Walsh, Supertramp and dozens of other artists made records in the '70s. After years of wrangling, Guercio ended up selling 2,180 ranch acres to Boulder County, retaining almost 1,500 acres, most of it through a conservation easement.

Guercio also retained some development rights, the upshot of which is Caribou Ridge. Five years in the making so far, Caribou Ridge promises to become the greenest development in Colorado and its largest zero-energy community.

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It all started when Will Guercio, Jim's son and Caribou Cos.' director of real estate development, bumped into a German couple. "They said, ‘We have great pre-fab, energy-efficient homes.' I was like, ‘Sure, sure.' But a light bulb went off in my head: ‘This is where we're going - the need to be green,' so I actually flew to Germany to see what they were talking about," he recalls.

Currency exchange rates killed the idea of importing German housing, but Will Guercio left chagrined at Europe's huge green technology lead over the United States. Then he met Davide Picard, president of Boulder-based Zero Energy LLC and soon to be the project's builder.

"He had experience working with what I saw in Germany, so I go, ‘I want this to be a green community. We need this. We need to set the bar,'" Will Guercio says. "Also, I wanted to educate people that they could have a custom home and still be green."

One goal of Caribou Ridge is to generate enough of its own energy to sell it to Xcel.

The key to this ambition is the development's solar farm, an array of photovoltaic cells to be constructed on the ridge above Caribou Ridge's 34 homes.

"We worked extensively with Xcel Energy in conjunction with the solar power system design so that we could back-feed the whole program," Picard says. "When you talk about the zero energy, what that means is that we have solar power, that we are making thermal energy that we are harnessing and so by the end of the year your costs are zero."

Picard cites a study he says indicates that the sales value of a green home is 20 percent to 30 percent higher than that of a conventional dwelling. "That said, when you look at the rate of return on a renewable energy home in a self-sustainable format, the rate of return is in the 60 percent to 80 percent arena," including Xcel rebates, tax incentives and the like.

The project's green-onomics has lots of other dimensions. For one, Will Guercio's vision of a zero-energy custom home community couldn't work without commensurate aesthetics. That's where Denver-based 4240 Architecture came in.

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"We're trying to mix traditional alpine architecture with contemporary architecture," 4240 associate architect Brian Weber says. "We want the (homes) to feel as part of a community with elements of unity, but each one is going to have to be different."

But the heart of the project is its guts: walls made of Cempo, a mix of Portland cement and recycled polystyrene that adds up to an R50 insulator; a heat recovery-ventilation system that uses an underground geothermal ground loop to enhance its HEPA filtering; a gray water system that recycles about 30 percent of the water from tubs, sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines and sends it back to the home's toilets; and lots more green stuff.

One spec home currently is under construction at Caribou Ridge with the possibility of a second. After some trouble finding comparables, an appraiser estimated the home was worth $1.4 million.

All of which brings up a practical question: Who's going to buy it? There have been exceptions, but high-end Nederland homes sell for about $400,000, real estate agents there say.

"Everyone's interested in seeing what happens. There's certainly not too many million-dollar houses on less than five or 10 acres," says Nicholas Brodsky of Nederland's Boulder Mountain Realty.

"That's a lot of money and they are going to have to want to live in a Podunk town like Nederland," says Melody Loar, Realtor with Century 21 Peak Performance Group. She laughed and said, "I've lived here 39 years so I can say that. We're not Aspen. We're never going to be an Aspen."

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Readers Respond

Author: Hey, lighten up about Nederland's quirkyness! Most of the good folks there delight in that, and I disagree that most want the Frozen Dead Guy fest to turn into something "less weird." There's enough normality to go around, and as a culture we all need something entertainingly strange in our lives. We certainly don't need Nederland to turn into a suburban bedroom community for Boulder. By Paul Hill on 2010 03 30

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