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Green Building News

A Net-Zero-Energy Community Near Boulder

Incorporating New Urbanism principals, well insulated envelopes, and renewable-energy features, Geos would be one of the largest NZE communities in the U.S.

Parts of the master plan. Geos will feature four basic housing options – comprising four neighborhoods – and about 40% open space, including parks, plazas, and trails.
Image Credit: discovergeos.com
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Parts of the master plan. Geos will feature four basic housing options – comprising four neighborhoods – and about 40% open space, including parks, plazas, and trails.
Image Credit: discovergeos.com

A few years ago, developer Norbert Klebl enlisted the help of Michael Tavel Architects and David Kahn Studio, both based in Colorado, to design a mixed-use community that would offer not only New Urbanism amenities such as plentiful open space and a pedestrian-friendly layout, but enough energy efficiency to allow the community to operate at net zero energy.

That collaboration has since produced concrete plans for a community of as many as 240 homes and 30 live/work spaces on 25 acres in Arvada, Colorado, about 20 minutes southeast of Boulder. Klebl recently told Sustainable Industries magazine that, individually, the homes should easily qualify for LEED Platinum certification and collectively could earn the Gold level of USGBC’s Neighborhood Development Rating System, which is currently being developed by USGBC, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Advancing New Urbanism

The project, which is being marketed under the name Geos, has already attracted considerable attention in the design and planning realm. Most recently, David Kahn Studio and Tavel Architects won a 2009 National Honor Award for Analysis and Planning from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

It’s also likely Geos also will add to the New Urbanism momentum generated by other ambitious, mixed-use projects such as Highlands’ Garden Village, a Denver-area community that marked its tenth anniversary when members of the Congress for the New Urbanism gathered for a conference in Denver last June.

Just as important, though, is that Klebl is edging closer to actually building Geos. He told Sustainable Industries he is still trying to finalize financing for utility infrastructure in the $90 million project but adds that it is nonetheless within seven months of breaking ground.

Strategies for solar access

For an article that appeared in the spring 2007 issue (PDF) of Boulder Green Building Journal, the Austrian-born Klebl, who earned an engineering degree in Europe and an MBA from Columbia University, noted that he was inspired by the Passivhaus discipline but also that he and his design team struggled with how to achieve a net zero-energy balance with good solar access and, as the article points out, “a neighborhood street layout that retains the richness, scale, and walkability of more traditional designs.”

An example of the designers’ approach to that problem is the site plan developed for the Geos neighborhood called “Checkerboard Blocks,” where single-family homes are spaced in a checkerboard pattern to help maximize solar access. Each unit will be equipped with a 5 kW PV system and will also draw heat from ground-source heat pumps installed throughout the community.

The building envelopes, meanwhile, are designed for airtightness and for thermal resistance of R-30 on exterior walls and R-50 on roofs. The seven housing models offered by Geos range in size (and price) from about 1,000 sq. ft. ($225,000-$250,000) to about 1,800 sq. ft. ($399,000-$450,000) to over 2,000 sq. ft. ($440,000-$500,000).

If financing plans stay on schedule, Klebl says, the project will be complete by 2014.

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