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As rebuilds begin, Marshall Fire victims eye energy efficient homes

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SUPERIOR, Colo. — As we approach one year since the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and buildings in Boulder County, fire victims are working to rebuild their homes in a way that gives them a better chance of lessening — or even surviving — the next disaster.

As Rocky Mountain PBS showed you in “Colorado Voices: Building Better after the Marshall Fire,” several families in Boulder County are clearing their ashen rubble with the intention of building a home that is not only more eco-friendly, but also more fire resistant.

Kathryn Russell is one such person. Her Louisville home burned to the ground in the Marshall Fire, and now she plans to rebuild in a way that is more energy-efficient.

Colorado Voices

Marshall Fire victims rebuilding more eco-friendly homes

“As soon as all our houses burned down, everybody — within a month — felt like the clock was ticking,” Russell said about the process to rebuild.

She liked the idea of building a certified Passive House, considered the gold-standard of energy-efficient buildings, but deemed it too difficult with the timeline she was working on.

Russell captured this photo of her neighborhood after the Marshall Fire destroyed hundreds of homes in Boulder County.

To get a better sense of the options available to her, Russell attended “Build Forward” earlier this month at the Superior Community Center. It was a workshop and expo organized by the Colorado Green Builders Guild, a nonprofit that works with home builders to make eco-friendly, energy-efficient homes and buildings more common and accessible to Coloradans.

“When people are wondering what we’re going to do next to solve the climate crisis, I usually surprise them when I tell them we’re not waiting for any new technology,” said Johnny Rezvani with the Colorado Green Builders Guild. “We’re not waiting for somebody to invent something or discover something new. We have everything we need now, and we need to understand how to put those pieces together.”

Those pieces Rezvani mentioned include homes. By building structures like Passive Houses, for example, homeowners can lessen their footprint, as the homes are 75% more energy efficient than average new builds. Passive Houses also offer health and safety benefits. The structures are air-tight and include advanced air filtration systems that improve indoor air quality — a major plus in a state with worsening air quality — and the sidings are often made of fire-resistant material.

“I've lived here for 25 years now, and we've gone through quite a number of fires and evacuations,” said Andrew Michler, the owner of Colorado’s first certified Passive House, which is located in Masonville. “So when I first built the house, I was thinking fire is, like, one of the main elements that it was designed for.”

The Build Forward expo offered a chance for home builders and fire victims like Russell to learn what incentives, rebates and loans are available to Marshall Fire victims, and also to learn about the different energy standards people can meet when building or rebuilding a home.

Russell decided to build an all-electric home that meets the standards of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code. The Colorado Energy Office and Xcel energy are offering thousands of dollars in rebates for people who build to this standard. The rebates increase in value based on how energy-efficient a home is. For example, people rebuilding a home to Passive House standards can receive up to $37,500 in rebates from Xcel.

Russell isn’t alone. According to a press release from Boulder County, 41% of people who have obtained a permit to rebuild homes impacted by the Marshall Fire are building to standards that qualify them for rebates. So far, about 10% of victims have obtained a permit to rebuild.

However, Passive Houses are traditionally more expensive, although Michler told Rocky Mountain PBS that homeowners often offset the higher mortgage cost by saving money on energy.

As for Rezvani, he thinks Passive Houses will soon become more attainable.

“Historically, high-performance and passive house homes have been for the wealthier few, and we’re in a period now where it is more accessible and more do-able than ever and it’s because we have access to the materials we need, we have people who know how to install those things,” Rezvani explained. “Also, because the knowledge from events like this and others like it has been flowing through this community of builders and architects, we understand how to make it accessible.”


Jeremy Moore is the senior multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can email him at jeremymoore@rmpbs.org.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

Kate Johnson is a video editor with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at katejohnson@rmpbs.org

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