Dreams come in all sizes. Welcome to Cindy Suplizio and Peter Mueller’s 1500 square-foot net-zero dream home. A house big enough for two grown children, family treasures, and spaces to relax. At the heart is their passion for living in harmony with the Earth. It’s little wonder that these two teachers can show us how to live large with a small eco-footprint.
IT OFTEN TAKES YEARS FOR COUPLES TO FIND THEIR WAY HOME.
Cindy and Peter held their net-zero dream home vision, or some version of it, for more than 25 years. Since meeting as teachers at CRMS in the 1990s. When their twins Tagert and Griffin were born in 1997, the family lived on campus in dorms. “We were surrounded by babysitters,” Cindy says. Job opportunities and a transition into administration took them to Boston. Then Telluride and Evergreen, until 2015 when Peter became the Principal of Basalt High School. Cindy is the Assistant Principal at the Vail Ski Academy. She also teaches math and coaches for Ski Club Vail.
They purchased land from Union Pacific Railroad in the 1990s. This, before RFTA negotiated ownership of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad right-of-way to create the Rio Grande Trail. The couple divided the parcel and sold most of it. They held onto a 25’ x 160’ slice immediately adjacent to what is now known as the Carbondale ARTWay. Originally zoned commercial/industrial, the narrow lot seemed an unlikely homesite. However, things changed dramatically in Carbondale over 20+ years. The Town embraced infill as part of an overall shift toward sustainable development. Historic streets now showcase modern approaches to designing on small building envelopes. So the couple demonstrated a viable conceptual plan and received a change in zoning.
BIGGER PICTURE – SMALLER IMPACT
An old friend from their years in Telluride, architect Clay Wadman helped Cindy and Peter through the design process. First and foremost, they value energy efficiency and aspired to build a net-zero home.
“We have always been interested in finding ways to do things better environmentally. And considering the Earth and what we are leaving our kids,” Cindy explains. She shares that her background in science gave her “a good understanding of the mechanical engineering side of it. Heat pumps, solar arrays, geothermal, and hydro-electric. These are things that are difficult for some people to think about trying. It was easy for me to go there and not worry about this approach.”
Orienting windows to maximize solar gain and doubling up on insulation were key decisions. As was installing a 8.1 kilowatt solar array. Another big factor – choosing to heat and cool with a highly-efficient heat pump. This employs a simple process of circulating air with a duct system, either heating it or cooling as needed. It works in zones, so you can avoid trying to heat or cool the whole house.
ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE
Cindy: “I grew up in Grand Junction, where everyone has an AC on their roof. A decade ago, you didn’t need an AC in Carbondale. But global warming has changed our perception of what we need in our home.”
“It’s amazing how much heat pumps have evolved in the past ten years,” Peter points out. “These are not mainstream yet, but they will be. It was hard to find someone to install what we wanted. No one believed that we could heat our whole house this way. Everyone told us to go with a big, gas furnace. But Cindy understood how it would work, and we went with it.”
THESE DECISIONS PAID OFF
So far their Xcel Energy statements show a negative balance. They bank an average of $2 / day in energy they are feeding into the grid. Town of Carbondale Building Official John Plano helped the couple reach their goal. “This home is the most energy-efficient. It has the lowest HERS* rating of any house I have inspected in more than 20 years in code enforcement. That’s saying a lot,” he says.
*HERS = Home Energy Rating System.
(The industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency, used for calculating a home’s utility performance.)
“John Plano from the Town and Marty Treadway of CORE (Community Office for Resource Effic-iency) helped any time we faced something that would impact our home’s footprint,” Cindy says. She adds that Carbondale is looking ahead with progressive requirements that will help shape new construction for energy efficiency.
GREAT & SMALL
“Small homes feel better to us as parents and as a couple. They feel cozier, more livable,” Cindy says. “We’ve never had a house larger than 2000 square feet. I can tell you that they’ve always felt big to me. Small spaces are intrinsic to how we want to live. And the way we want to be in the world.”
Town of Carbondale’s Green Energy Code.
Hardie Plank concrete siding chosen by Cindy and Peter.
Cindy and Peter’s Bari wood burning stove.
FIND MORE MP HOMELIFE.
Sarah is a fine art and family portrait photographer based in Carbondale. Her two kids are her favorite (and somewhat reluctant) muses. This was our second year to plan our HOMELIFE feature with Sarah. We appreciate her charming way of helping her subjects relax. While a camera focuses on their faces, their homes, their lives. We feel that this ability to connect shows up in the images she captures. Along with the vivid colors and rich details we see on the page.
SEE MORE of Sarah’s work in MOUNTAIN PARENT