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Basalt teachers ready for pioneering net-zero homes
Basalt Vista housing welcomes families starting Saturday
Basalt Vista
The Basalt Vista project was overseen by Habitat for Humanity, which brought diverse groups together to confront the challenge of affordable housing in the Mid-Valley. The net-zero, solar powered homes will generate more electricity than they use - photo by Jordan Curet

Affordable housing is in short supply in the Roaring Fork Valley, but two families are going to move into their own new homes in the Basalt Vista Housing Project on Saturday, June 29.  

Natasha Walker and Katela Moran Escobar and Jair Bravo are teachers at Basalt Elementary School, and all say they are ecstatic about their new, two-bedroom homes in a project led by Habitat for Humanity.

According to Escobar and Bravo, “The insulation, wood and all the other materials used are of excellent quality. The design of the roof is so impressive and unique. We like that there are (electric vehicle) charging stations too.”  

Escobar pointed out that certain details make the homes stand out.

“We love the privacy of the bedrooms downstairs and the high ceilings make the house so spacious. We were delighted to be able to choose the color of the bathroom tiles, countertops and the light fixtures, and to work on our house, and help others build theirs,” she said.

Escobar, Bravo and their son, Juan Marco, used to live in an affordable rental, but the apartment space was tight, and there was no place for Juan Marco to play outside. They are excited that all BVHP residents will be able to enjoy a shared playground and community space. 

According to Heather Henry and Elise Wolf of Connect One Design, the landscape architects who conceived the playground, “The playground and pavilion at Basalt Vista honors the neighborhood’s concept of ‘front porch living.’ It is the communal space for residents to utilize as their extended yards, whether playing on the features, putting out lawn games for a gathering, or enjoying the beloved (and extended) sledding hill. 

“The design itself celebrates the existing wildness and natural topography of the site set at the foot of an imposing hill. Berms are pulled into the play area, blurring the lines between native and man-made – encouraging kids to ‘graduate’ to more curious, exploratory, and improvised play as they get older.”

Vision brought together public, private entities

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about how to address the affordable housing crisis afflicting Colorado’s communities, especially in mountain resort areas like the Roaring Fork Valley, where luxury real estate and second homes dot the hillsides.  

Habitat for Humanity, which led the BVHP, had a unique vision and pioneered a creative model of public-private partnership that has brought diverse groups together to confront the challenge of affordable housing. 

The partnership was committed to clean spatial and architectural designs that respond to community needs and complement the aesthetics that make some of Western Colorado’s towns so alluring. All involved in the project acknowledge that affordable housing is key to building sustainable communities where teachers, firefighters, police and young professionals live close to where they work. Without affordable housing, it’s widely believed that the local economy and cherished small-town culture is threatened.  

The Basalt Vista Housing Partnership, spearheaded by Habitat for Humanity with the Roaring Fork School District, Pitkin County, the town of Basalt, Holy Cross and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), maintains that high-quality affordable housing generates positive impacts for families and for communities. 

As well as being an aspirational affordable housing project, Basalt Vista is also a no nonsense, socially responsible effort. And BVHP’s aesthetic design, cost-effective and energy efficient construction is a model in Colorado of which all players involved can be proud, and which the community has clearly endorsed. 

According to Scott Gilbert, President of Habitat for Humanity, Roaring Fork Valley: “We are even more thrilled with the design, now that the homes are built. And, we are so pleased that this partnership is creating such an attractive home ownership opportunity. After all, home ownership is not just the American Dream, as President Jimmy Carter said, it is a human dream.”

Home ownership
“Home ownership is not just the American Dream…it is a human dream.” - photo by Jordan Curet
The Basalt Vista homes are considered reasonably priced for this area. The two, three and four-bedroom units will sell for between $270,000 to $395,000, and owners can reduce this price by $25,000 by contributing their own “sweat equity” to build the units. 

The homes have also been designed to be affordable to operate. The 27-unit net-zero solar powered homes will generate more electricity than they use, resulting in electric bills likely to be at least 85 percent less than comparable homes, according to CORE. 

Nestled at the base of the hill behind Basalt High School and aligned with the hillside’s natural contours, Basalt Vista is touted as the first all electric, net-zero community in rural Colorado.

According to its designers, each home is oriented to capture views of Basalt Mountain, and is designed with the living space on the upper [ground-level] floors and bedrooms located on the lower floors.  

High vaulted ceilings at the entrance create an open, airy space that leads into the living room and kitchen area – a comfortable shared common area. The gabled roof-canopies extend beyond the large energy-efficient windows expanding the cozy living space to the outdoor back porches. 

The units maximize solar potential with split and offset truss roof forms that are positioned to capture passive solar energy, and which allow natural light to flow in. The warm wood exterior finish blends with the natural hues of the landscape and creates a natural and inviting community environment. 

“The duplex and triplex units are set back into the hillside with front porches and front yards activating a playful streetscape instead of the more typical approach that locates the outdoor spaces in a fenced back yard on a typical grid layout. according to Brian and Erica Golden, founders of 2757 Design Co., the project architects and designers who worked with CCY Architects on the initial site planning feasibility study. 

“It’s a front porch neighborhood,” they continued.

The Goldens are passionate about aesthetic, affordable housing and said they strive to build “the best, for the most, for the least.” 

They employed a phrase borrowed from mid-20th century industrial designers, Charles and Ray Eames, who inspired their work. “If we design and build efficiently, then maybe that extra unit gets built,” said Brian Golden. “Thoughtful, high-end design doesn’t have to be complex,” added Erica.  

According to local resident Gino Rossetti, who founded the self-named and renowned architectural and design firm: “This is a very important project that should be celebrated. The setting is truly unique with mountain views available for every unit.

“The site analysis is very good, and there are good proportions and spaces between [homes]. The buildings themselves are very well designed and appropriate. The vocabulary used to describe the units is very simple and yet interesting, without copy-catting for each unit. This entire project represents a vast improvement when compared to most of the designs for affordable housing in the valley. I am certain the families will be happy and proud of their homes. It will reflect positively on Basalt, the high school and all of the partners,” Rossetti said.

The partnership, in a nutshell

  • The Roaring Fork School District donated the land. Valued at $3.2 million.
  • Pitkin County funded the infrastructure (road and utilities). $3 million
  • Habitat for Humanity, the developer, is raising funds to cover the gap between the cost to build the homes and the revenue generated from the sales. Habitat will also facilitate access to mortgage finance.
  • Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) helped fund the high-efficiency cold climate heat pumps and photovoltaic systems. CORE also provided funding for the study and design of the energy systems on the project. (Total grants to date: $107,500.)
  • Holy Cross Energy donated smart inverters, PV inverters, EV charger hooks-ups, hot water heaters and controllers, and lent batteries for the first four homes. Plus, HCE will contribute at least $50,000 in energy efficiency rebates and rooftop solar rebates, for the additional homes after the first four homes, that are in the “Live Learning Lab.”
  • Bryant Colorado is providing the heat pump units at heavily discounted prices.
  • Expert Electric is providing electrical installations at discounted rates. 
  • Sunsense Solar, a longtime Habitat for Humanity partner, is installing the solar at a discount.
  • The Town of Basalt reduced fees and contributed $30,000 in-kind to help get to net-zero.
  • LG is providing solar panels at discounted prices, generating savings of $20,000.
  • Private donor support provided new specialized pots and pans for the induction stove-tops.