Sunshine Canyon Rebirth – After the Four Mile Fire

Sunshine Canyon Rebirth – After the Four Mile Fire

The final site visit to a project always comes with a bundle of emotion. As an architect, it’s a thrill. I can only begin to imagine the emotions of our clients, Bruce and Joyce Honeyman, as moving day approached last month (June 2012) to their new home on Sunshine Canyon Drive, a replacement for a house that burned completely in the Four Mile Fire.

When the Honeymans interviewed us in the fall of 2010, it was clear that the emotions from the traumatic experience were very near the surface. But the Honeymans were intent on moving forward as quickly as possible to start the healing process both psychologically as well as the healing of their scarred property. As they went through the arduous task of negotiating a claim through the insurance company, we worked with Joyce and Bruce to identify what was important to them in a house, a process they had never imagined going through.

Energy efficiency was close to the top of their priorities and they were fortunate that their property lent itself to some very ideal opportunities in passive solar design….. Topography in an east west direction with a fabulous south exposure that coincided with the greatest views from the site. This provided a solid foundation for a great energy design.

It is a time of great evolution in the energy industry. The multitude of products, systems and design approaches to designing an energy efficient house can be overwhelming to a homeowner. With the fairly new implementation of Boulder County’s Build Smart Program together with the loss of so many houses in the Four Mile Fire, Boulder County made a program called BEopt building optimization software available without charge to the fire victims who were rebuilding in the county. The intent of the program is to take into consideration the geometry and exposure of a house design and make product suggestions to optimize the thermal performance of the house to a point where installing a PV system becomes the most economical choice to supplement the houses energy specs along the path to zero net energy. Using this program, we were able to look at several different wall construction configurations, window types, insulation levels and heating systems to see which performed the best for this specific house. With the information from the BEopt program, we worked with our HERS consultant and insulation subcontractor to identify current “best practices” in the construction industry.

The resulting assemblies were as follows:

  • Roof – R50 water blown closed cell spray foam insulation applied to the underside of the roof sheathing. Using water as the vehicle to “blow” the insulation has a negligible impact on global warming as compared with the more traditional HFC blown application. Also by applying insulation to the underside of sheathing, ventilation of the attic space is no longer required. This worked well for the Honeyman’s house since eave vents are restricted in a high fire hazard zone.
  • Wall – Stucco over R10 foil faced insulation board over wall sheathing and 2×6 framing with blown in fiberglass insulation to fill the stud cavity. Stucco is a natural fire resistant material. The insulation board at the exterior reduces the thermal bridging through the studs. Foil facing acts as an efficient air barrier when joints are taped.
  • Windows – This is a good example where more is not necessarily better in the thermal envelope of a house. We were originally considering triple glazing for the windows but the BEopt model showed us that the house would perform better with double glazing. This is mostly because of the southern exposure. By adjusting the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of the window and the depth of the overhang of the house, we were able to optimize the amount of sun entering into the house to heat in the winter and not heat in the summer. (Open windows are the form of air conditioning in this house.)

The house design evolved over the Fall and Winter and even during construction when we captured some basement area for future shop space for Bruce.  It was a long and sometimes emotional process but as the architect, I felt honored to help a firefighter and his family regain a sense of “home” again in the mountains.

As a mountain resident myself, I feel for those who have recently lived through the trauma of the Waldo Canyon Fire, the Flagstaff Fire and the High Park Fire.  For those who lost their homes, I hope that they are also able to find the spirit in themselves to rebuild as the Honeyman’s have.

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