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Net-zero development offers glimpse of future

Colorado’s first net-zero, geosolar master-planned development, GEOS, provides a futuristic glimpse into the way communities are designed and built.

The 25-acre mixed-use development integrates condo, townhouses and single-family homes along with ground level commercial space for neighborhood services.

“The GEOS neighborhood is the rejuvenation of the typical village setting before the automobile society,” said GEOS creator and developer Norbert Klebl. “GEOS reunites residential living with work, neighborhood services and onsite recreation. We maximized workability and separated cars from people wherever possible. It re-creates community.”

The real innovation to GEOS is how it combines traditional living with advanced design and building practices, and homes powered solely by solar and geothermal energy.

Klebl’s inspiration for GEOS was prompted by two events. The first was his experience building a solar-powered village in Western Samoa. The second was a referendum in Colorado requiring 20 percent renewable energy from major utilities.

“Having experienced the feasibility on the island,” Klebl said. “And the strong commitment by the Colorado electorate convinced me that the time was ripe for the big leap: away from the traditional suburbs to community-oriented, fossil fuel free neighborhoods.”

Comprised of homes that generate as much energy as they consume, GEOS is billed as the largest net-zero community in North America.

“It seemed ideal to develop an entire community with high-performance homes powered completely with ground source heat and solar panels,” Klebl said, noting the buildings will use 75 percent less energy than current Energy-Star rated homes. “This is achieved by installing structural insulated panels (SIPs) for optimal solar orientation. For maximum solar gains we developed a checkerboard layout where individual homes are offset and do not shade the neighbors.”

The ground source heat pump systems, requiring the same wattage of a hair dryer, reduce the energy needed by heating and cooling the home. These systems use ground temperature to heat and cool the home.

“Bosch appliances and full LED lighting will reduce the plug loads low enough that all electricity needs can be supplied with roof to PV solar,” Klebl said. “Air quality for these tightly built homes will be insured with an energy recovery ventilation system.”

Each garage features a level 2 fast-charging station for an electric car.

The landscape design distributes storm water to vegetation.

“All bushes and trees will be fruit bearing,” Klebl said. “Lawns will use prairie grasses.”

The master plan also dedicates a 3-acre plot for a community garden.

Klebl began work on GEOS in 2008, on the 25-acre lot he owned between Boulder and Denver. He recruited a team of progressive architects, home technology innovators, ground source and solar system designers to bring the vision to reality.

The property required floodplain mitigation and re-zoning before Klebl could submit his development plans. Delayed by the recession in 2009, construction began in 2012 and the GEOS Arvada project is currently underway.

“We have just started with the build out,” Klebl said. “First homeowners will move in this summer.”

Klebl said the design fully reflects his vision. He plans to incorporate additional features during the building phase including solar-activated honeycomb blinds, more integrated panel and strip LED lighting, and storage batteries. Klebl hopes to eventually wean the residents of GEOS off the grid.

GEOS has won several awards for its design and sustainability by the American Institute of Architects and American Society of Landscape Architects.

Other developments incorporating net zero energy homes are in New York and Washington State, but Klebl believes the transition to GEOS style communities is going to be a slow process.

“Large/national builders will need many more years, just like the automobile companies going electrical,” Klebl said. “The major obstacle for a wider adoption will be the contractors. They have been pushed by builders/developers to save pennies and not to come up with new ideas.”

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