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Clark Johnson’s “net zero” home is a showplace for elegant green living.

Once a year, the Summit County Parade of Homes gives each of us permission to celebrate our inner lookie-lou. For two weekends in September, we can stop our feverish guessing about what’s inside some of the area’s most exciting new showplaces and actually fling open the doors and traipse right in.

Sponsored by the Summit County Builders Association, the parade’s 16th edition promises to be quite a treat. Voyeuristic entertainment aside, this year, as always, there will be an abundance of unexpected inspirational features in the 15 homes on view, from unique tile and exotic flooring to a rooftop vegetable garden. And as always, many in the crowd touring the homes will borrow some of the creative ideas on display and use them in the building and remodeling projects they’re dreaming of—or actually doing.

As Summit County is home to four of the nation’s most popular ski resorts (Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone), local building professionals have lots of experience in mountain home design and construction for a sophisticated, worldwide clientele. The parade began in 1994 as a way for those companies to show off the best of the best in their design and materials creativity. 

The way we live in our homes has changed dramatically through these years, and many of those trends are reflected in the differences among Parade of Homes entries then and now. Karen Wray has witnessed this evolution during the years she has served on the parade board and in her current role as marketing committee chair. As design coordinator for Mountain Log Homes, she selects interior finishes for the firm’s projects and has observed a number of dramatic changes, both in those residences and in the parade homes.

“We’re seeing a lot more of the urban contemporary and less of the traditional mountain décor,” she says. “Details like brushed steel fireplaces (instead of stone) and the metal cable and mesh railings are coming on strong.” Where once furniture and interior paint colors tended toward a faithful brown, rust and green reproduction of the mountain landscape outside, now Wray sees high-voltage colors such as purple, lime green and turquoise enlivening interiors.

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Modern trends coexist locally with the classic mountain look.

The technology craze that has tied even the most remote mountain home into the Internet has propelled a trend toward bigger houses, as telecommuters spend more time in their vacation homes. “Years ago, people who came here were looking for a rustic getaway,” says Wray. “They wanted to escape from TV and computers.

“But today, owners from Chicago or Boston or New York spend more than the usual few weeks here because they can work so easily from their home offices.” Partly as a result of the owners’ using their high-country retreats more frequently, parade homes that several years ago averaged 2,000 square feet have expanded to 4,000 or 5,000 square feet or more.

Technology also has other important roles to play, from entertainment to convenience. No modern luxury home is complete without an impressive theater featuring plush seating, a big screen and the latest gee-whiz sound system. Recently, a parade home even boasted a kiddie bunk bedroom in which each bunk bed was outfitted with its own private video game station for the youngsters’ amusement. 

In a more practical vein, homeowners are increasingly turning to technology to transform their average-IQ home into a “smart home,” allowing them to control its functions from wherever in the world they happen to be. Wray’s company recently installed such a system in a residence they built. The client lives in Chicago, and whenever he or his guests plan to visit the home, he just turns on the heat or the air conditioning from his iPhone a few hours prior to their arrival. The system also lets him remotely set the alarm, turn on walkway or interior lights, and ascertain whether windows and doors are open or closed.

Green building is another savvy trend taking over the homebuilding landscape nationwide. Though local builders have been ahead of the enviro-construction pack for years, in 2008 Summit County further fueled the movement by passing its own Sustainable Building Code, which created a point system for insulation and windows, energy-efficient systems and appliances, and sustainable materials.

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Code changes for energy-efficient windows haven’t diminished the views.

This year, the Parade of Homes boasts at least two residences in which local builders have displayed their sutainability bona fides with green techniques, embracing their clients’ desires as well as their own mountain-grown environmental ethic. Both homes were painstakingly designed to produce all the energy they need to function, a system known as “net zero” energy consumption. One of them, a six-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot, castlelike home built by Trilogy Partners in the Timber Trail subdivision, will be Breckenridge’s first luxury residence to achieve this high level of efficiency, according to managing partner John Rath. Energy-generating systems include photovoltaic roof panels plus a geothermal exchange system that transfers cool temperatures drawn from 300 feet underground to supply the home’s heating and cooling needs. Twelve different companies worked together on the engineering/design/construction team to create the finished product, a magnificent stone mountain home that’s also environmentally innovative.

Clark Johnson of Apex Mountain Homes built his family’s new home at Angler Mountain Ranch as an experimental showplace for net zero building and their personal holistic commitment to green living. Photovoltaic panels supply hot water and electricity and also power the family’s car, which they converted to electric. The Johnsons had to lobby the Silverthorne Town Council to change the town’s 15-year-old ban on burning solid fuel so the couple could install a revolutionary Tulikivi soapstone fireplace that produces winter heat by burning wood just two hours a day. Johnson says they didn’t even need to use the in-floor radiant system. The home’s sustainability extends to lifestyle: the family is planting vegetable gardens on the flat-roofed garage and in a temperate greenhouse integrated into the home so that they can enjoy fresh homegrown produce even in the winter months. Every detail was calibrated to save power, including forgoing an energy-gobbling clothes dryer in favor of drying racks that retract into the wall.

These net zero homes may save lots of energy, but they’ll generate plenty of ideas for Parade of Homes visitors. To recognize the eco-magic of these and other green homes in the parade, several new energy-related awards will be doled out this year, according to Wray.

The $10-per-person admission pass is a small price to pay for this cornucopia of ingenious, cutting-edge concepts in design and technology. The parade also is a charitable event, benefiting the Summit Foundation, a community organization that since 1984 has been assisting locals in need with a “hand up rather than a handout.” Last year the event garnered about $20,000 for the foundation, which also sponsors scholarships and gives grants to other nonprofits supporting health and human services, art and culture, sports and recreation, and the environment.

“Some come to the parade because it’s great entertainment, some come to get ideas for their homes, and some are looking at the spec homes in the mix because they want to buy in Summit County,” says Wray. “Either way, we can promise them a great time and some really spectacular living spaces.”

Joy Overbeck’s work has appeared in Redbook, Health, Parents, TV Guide, Woman’s Day, LUXE, 5280 and other publications. She is also the author of three books.

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