Can This Home be Greened? A Ranch-Style Colorado Home Plagued by Inefficiency and Health Issues

This Colorado home needs a lesson in sustainable design.

| September/October 2003

  • Margueritte Meier of Fort Collins, Colorado, needed to make her home more energy efficient and less ridden with allergens.
    Photos by Brian Dunbar
  • Margueritte could make her yard more appealing with an orchard and planting bed.
    Photo by Brian Dunbar
  • Margueritte Meier of Fort Collins, Colorado, needed to make her home more energy efficient and less ridden with allergens.
    Photo by Brian Dunbar

When Margueritte Meier, an energy healer, artist, and mother of twelve-year-old Taylor, moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, from the high desert of New Mexico, she found it…well…humid. She also found it quite expensive, and she felt as though she had scored when she happened upon a 1950s ranch-style four-bedroom home on a quiet street that she could afford. She loved the size of her yard, but all that grass seemed daunting to maintain and environmentally unfriendly to boot. “I feel guilty putting out as much water as it takes to keep it alive, when it’s not even for food,” she says.

Sided with aluminum and barely (if at all) insulated, the home itself was also far from sustainable. Margueritte describes the metal single-pane windows as “antique without being valuable.” They let in summer heat and winter winds, and the largest of them face west, making it impossibly hot to sit in the living room on summer afternoons. “This is the first home I’ve ever lived in as an adult that has a furnace,” she says. “All the others have been passive solar or wood stove heated.”

Margueritte had some grand visions for her home—convert the garage into a studio, build an outdoor kitchen in the backyard, replace the dining room window with doors out to the backyard—but first she had to deal with the basic health and inefficiency issues that plagued it. So she called me, and I brought over a team of Colorado State University colleagues—landscape design associate professor Liz Mogen and recent graduates Billy and Mariah Hutto, owners of Hutto Design, a residential building, design, and drafting business—to talk about what could be done.

Big fixes

Margueritte’s major priority, the team agreed, should be to improve thermal comfort by replacing all the inefficient single-pane, metal-frame windows with new double-pane windows. The Huttos advised her to seek out Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood frame windows—the greenest choice. (Aluminum and vinyl require less maintenance and may last longer, but they take a lot of energy and chemical waste to produce.)

Replacing the window in the dining room with a well-insulated French patio door would help connect the indoor and outdoor space and make the backyard much more useful. Adding a covered terrace outside the new patio door would help cool the dining room and act as a curtain or blind for the patio door.

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