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Residential Retrofit in the Mountains

Green Builder Media’s ReVISION House at Rancho La Garita, high in the Colorado Rockies, showcases sustainability and serenity.

Sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone—a green building lesson not always taken. Green Builder’s renovation of the ReVISION House® at Rancho La Garita is a study in keeping what works, recycling materials and upping the green quotient of a home that was built in 1990.

Log Legacy

The existing metal roof of the ReVISION House® at Rancho La Garita will remain intact, as will the double-pane windows and patio doors. 

According to the Log Association, the R-value of a log wall is equivalent to standard insulated framed walls, depending on the wall thickness.

In this residential retrofit, keeping what works means leaving the log home structure with its metal roof intact. Ron Jones, president and cofounder of Green Builder® Media, as well as the home’s remodeling contractor, says the 3,000-square-foot house with its zoned radiant heat flooring is comfortable even in the coldest temperatures.

A Solid Envelope

Built in 1990 out of D logs—logs that have their natural rounded contour on the outside and are milled flat on the inside—the three­-bedroom home was designed to take advantage of passive solar heating, facing south to capture the winter sun. Jones sets the radiant floor heating to 62°F, and it stays that way on the coldest nights, some of which are below zero. When the sun shines, the home’s temperature naturally rises to the 70s for daytime comfort.

When installing the Whirlpool vent fan for the range, Jones discovered that the logs have fiberglass insulation between each log, which in addition to the chinking makes a reasonably tight wall. He guesses that the roof insulation is roughly R­-38. The Log Association notes that depending on wall thickness, the R-value of a log wall is equivalent to standard insulated framed walls; however, the thermal mass of the thick walls slows the transfer of outdoor temperatures to the indoors.

Designed for Gathering

The home is a split plan on two levels, including the walk­out basement. The 1,500-square-foot basement level features an office, a home gym and one of the three-­quarter bathrooms. The 1,500-square-foot main level consists of a central great room that combines kitchen, dining and living areas, surrounded by three bedrooms. The main bedroom and bathroom are on the home’s east side; the other two bedrooms and a three­-quarter bathroom face west.

The Rancho, as Jones calls it, is on 53 acres adjacent to Lake City, a town of about 400 permanent residents, nestled below Mariposa Meadows. It will serve as a lodge and base camp for visitors attending workshops and other events at the Sustainability Institute in Mariposa Meadows.

Before kitchen image

BEFORE Cabin Style. The original kitchen included custom solid fir cabinets and countertops fashioned from wood flooring. The cobalt blue backsplash tile nicely accented the natural wood tones.

After kitchen image

AFTER Low-Impact Upgrades. Caesarstone quartz surfaces provide a bright contrast to both the backsplash tile and the wood elements. New energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures round out the remodel.

“‘La Garita’ means ‘sentry’ or ‘watchman,’ which reflects how we’ll use the Rancho,” says Sara Gutterman, CEO of Green Builder® Media. The Rancho overlooks the Lake Fork River, known for its excellent fishing, and the property includes a half-mile of riverfront. Gutterman envisions people spending a few days acclimating at the Rancho before heading up to Mariposa Meadows, which is more remote and a few thousand feet higher.

Thoughtful Upgrades

The Rancho is somewhat remote but on the electric grid, so another transition will be starting in the world of plug-and-play power versus learning to live entirely off grid at Mariposa Meadows. Eventually, the lodge will be fitted with energy and water monitoring equipment.

Gutterman and Jones have already replaced the hardware on the home’s front entry door with a Schlage touchscreen deadbolt, which allows keyless entry. Visitors will get a code that allows them access for a scheduled period of time.

To address water conservation, the log home is being updated with a full line of Kohler fixtures and faucets in all of the bathrooms. Fixtures include wall­-mounted toilets and pedestal sinks. Panasonic WhisperGreen fans will be used for bathroom ventilation. One bathroom formerly opened into the dining room with the toilet in full view of diners, an aesthetic no-no. Jones has moved the door to better screen diners. The bedrooms have always been carpeted. Mohawk is providing new carpet for the bedrooms as well as porcelain tile for the remodeled bathrooms.

A local craftsman built the beautiful solid fir kitchen cabinets, Jones says. In keeping with the spirit of reuse and recycle, Jones has saved the cabinets and the flooring, but replaced other things. A worn-out Kohler cobalt blue double sink has been replaced with Jones’ favorite sink: an avid cook, he loves the Kohler single-bowl, stainless steel Vault farm sink, which is paired with a Kohler Sensate touchless kitchen faucet . A wave of the hand starts or stops the faucet.

The kitchen remodel features stainless steel KitchenAid appliances, which, in addition to improving energy performance, “add a modern touch,” says Gutterman. These include the refrigerator, dishwasher, range and range hood. (Jones also praises the one-horsepower Whirlpool food disposer.)

Jones also replaced the lighting over the sink with a Tiffany-style pendant. The counters had been oak hardwood flooring, same as the oak that remains on the great room floors. Jones chose a cream­-colored Caesarstone solid surface composite quartz to replace them. After all, he says, there is plenty of wood in the log home. The counters help lighten the space, which saves on artificial light use. Where there are painted surfaces, they are covered with Behr’s “Clear Moon,” a pearl-white color Jones loves, as it also brightens the home’s interior.