Feb 092004
Authors: Erin Skarda

Among the expansion of homes across the Front Range, one stands

out above the rest. McStain Neighborhoods, a Boulder-based

construction company, has started its newest project, The Discovery

House in Loveland.

This high-performance house acts as a testing ground for new and

innovative ways to create an energy-efficient and environmentally

sound home while still providing comfort and design.

McStain’s mission of “Building a Better World” and providing

environmental leadership started with the completion of the

Environmental Research House in 1995, according to the McStain Web


Ever since, the company has dedicated itself every few years to

the construction of a new research house to test new concepts.

This project broke ground on Sept. 19, 2003, when a permit was

received and the house was staked out, said Morgan Cate, a senior

construction management major interning for the Discovery House

project. The house should be complete by April of this year.

“This is a really neat project,” Cate said. “It’s not a typical

house. They’re putting the best thought they can into it.”

McStain is a leading company in building environmentally

friendly and energy-efficient housing, also called green or

sustainable buildings.

Jeff Medanich, the project director of the Discovery House, said

as the market for green-built housing expands, northern Colorado

could be seeing many more developments.

“We’re creating another whole market technology,” Medanich said.

“Put more into the house, get a quick payback with less utilities.

Green-built means better quality, not just good to do.”

Brian Dunbar, the director of the Institute for the Built

Environment and a construction management professor, said McStain

approached them to help with evaluating the plans for the Discovery


Students who were involved last semester helped out by giving

ideas for this house, as well as for future homes.

“McStain approached us to help with research and education

ideas,” Dunbar said. “Innovative ideas that students could give

will help. They can also get internships and get involved with the


There are other opportunities available for students as


“There are more than 20 graduate students (with an emphasis) in

the sustainable-building program in construction management. In the

future, graduate students could do their thesis on the ideas

McStain started and is trying to implement,” Dunbar said.

While it may cost a little more money to build these homes,

Medanich points out the owner will benefit in the end. Because this

house is designed to be at least 50 percent more efficient than the

typical house, utility costs will go down.

“We are excited to learn what it costs and if people are willing

to buy it,” Medanich said. “We want to do the right thing and stay

in business. You spend more in production but get more back in the


One of the house’s primary objectives is to use passive solar

design to reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling as

well as daytime artificial lighting.

The house is built in a certain way as to maximize the potential

for direct solar heat gain during the winter. During the summer,

all south-facing windows and porch doors have shading elements to

prevent unwanted heat gain.

Exterior shutters have also been included to allow the occupants

to work with the existing weather conditions.

The house will be equipped with a standard hot air furnace and a

high efficiency hot water heater, as well as an air conditioning

system. However, Medanich said these units probably will not be


“The standard heater only kicks in when solar heat isn’t cutting

it,” Medanich said. “Air conditioning will be installed but

probably won’t run frequently.”

The builders also experimented with an advanced framing

technique that uses less wood and allows more insulation to be

placed between the walls.

“The windows are insulated so no air can flow through,” Cate


The house has three bedrooms plus a bonus room and a screened-in

outside room with a fold-down Murphy bed. It is also equipped with

E-Star-rated high energy-efficient appliances, two whole house fans

and ceiling fans in every room. The lighting uses fluorescent

lights instead of CFL’s because they are more energy-efficient.

This house will be certified as a Health House by the American

Lung Association, which has set standards for healthier indoor air.

This includes making sure the house is well ventilated while being

built and installing a central vacuum system.

After the house’s completion, McStain will monitor the gas and

electric use for three months, and after the house is bought it

will be monitored for two more years.

Everyone involved with the project hopes other companies will

follow McStain’s vision of building more environmentally friendly


“We hope other companies follow this path,” Cate said. “It’d be

much healthier to have smart development.”

Dunbar agreed.

“High performance homes equal green homes,” he said. “This is

obviously a high performance home, how it interacts with


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