Net-Zero Dream Home

Share this post

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.

VISION

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.”

WISE CHOICES

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.”

Net-Zero Dream Home
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.”

FRONT PORCH
“We love the front porch, getting to sit on the built-in bench as the sun sets, looking at the surrounding mountains and our neighbor José’s garden,” says Peter. “We love listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, and a ditch with running water. It’s very peaceful.”


PLANNING AHEAD
Both of their 23-year-old kids are taking a semester off of college, and there’s plenty of room at home. “You never know what life is going to throw you,” Cindy says. “The kids might move home with a spouse one day, and we wanted to be able to evolve with the changing needs of the family.” So they built a studio apartment in the back. For now, rental income on the 500-square-foot unit will help offset their mortgage. A two-story ceiling gives the small space a grand feeling and this bank of stacked windows matches a similar detail in Peter’s mother’s former house in Missouri Heights. They copied this design to honor memories of being in her home.

Net-Zero Dream Home
THE HEART OF THE HOME
Peter grew up with this antique farmhouse table, now the central focus of their open floor plan. Warm, weathered wood offers a contrast to sleek, modern red cabinetry. Accents in wool rugs and hand-painted pottery pop against the clean simplicity of the space.

Net-Zero Dream Home
CHARACTER
A set of antique Mexican wooden shutters made with hand-hewn iron hinges and latches hangs above the stairwell, a wedding gift from Peter’s father. Cindy made the light fixture using a three-piece stringer from Lowes and Ball canning jars from City Market.

NET-ZERO DREAM HOME
A SENSE OF PLACE
Located right off of the Rio Grande Trail, the home’s unique, triangular-shaped entry and tall, narrow design catches the attention of passers-by. “We knew our presence would be felt,” Peter says, “so we made design decisions and materials choices with the neighborhood in mind. We wanted to create something beautiful and sensitive to its surroundings. When we hear from people who enjoyed watching the construction process, or who like what we built, it makes the whole process and everything that went into it feel complete.

Net-Zero Dream Home – Siding
SO MANY CHOICES
The longterm impact of building materials can be a big consideration. Peter and Cindy chose Hardie Plank fiber cement siding. Unlike wood, it will not rot. The color will not fade or require painting. Over the lifetime of a house, this can save countless maintenance costs, dramatically reducing the embodied energy of producing additional materials. Instead of using traditional lap siding, they chose 1”x 6” trim boards spaced over a breathable vapor barrier similar to Gore-tex. This creates visual interest and contrasts with a rusted corrugated wainscot.


LET THERE BE LIGHT
Natural light is a priority for the couple, so they wanted windows on both sides of the home. North-facing windows could have brought noise and curious eyes from the nearby bike path while undermining the home’s passive-solar qualities. They chose inoperable double-pane clerestory windows. These windows cannot be opened, and they are built with two panes separated by an insulating air pocket that inhibits heat transfer – so energy loss is minimal and noise is buffered. From inside, there is no sense of the foot and bike traffic only feet away from the home.

WARMTH
Cindy and Peter discovered this Heartstone Bari woodburning stove at a friend’s home in Vermont. It can swivel to face either the living room or the dining room. “We love getting to just sit and watch the fire,” Cindy says. This appliance is as energy-efficient as the rest of the home. It is touted by the manufacturer as “the cleanest, most efficient modern stove on the market,” far exceeding EPA emission standards. 

Net-Zero Dream Home – entrance

LEARN MORE

Town of Carbondale’s Green Energy Code.

Colorado Office for Resource Efficiency, CORE.

Hardie Plank concrete siding chosen by Cindy and Peter.

Cindy and Peter’s Bari wood burning stove.

FIND MORE MP HOMELIFE.

PHOTOGRAPHY
Sarah Kuhn

SARAH KUHN
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

About Kathryn Camp

MOUNTAIN PARENT Editor & Designer • Aspen lured Kathryn here in the 1990s when a road trip turned into a new way home. Her journey has taken her from writing to cheffing to teaching preschool, and finally back to her first love – words. When Kathryn is not at her desk with MOUNTAIN PARENT, she writes fiction and keeps bees. She stays on pace with her teenage children and husband Rich on bikes, skis, and snowboards, forever racing behind their beloved husky-coyote hound Zelda. They live in downtown Carbondale.