Entrepreneur Anson Fogel and architect Scott Bartleet are keen on defying expectations. When Fogel prepared to build a house on 4.5 acres in Carbondale, Colo., he decided that 2,300 square feet would suffice. That’s an average size to most Americans, but puny in this wealthy resort area near Aspen, where 15,000-square-foot megamansions are typical. Meanwhile, Bartleet was tasked with creating a house incredibly well-adapted to the mountainous climate — even though the native Australian had lived in Colorado for only a few years.

The Fogel residence was the first project for Flux Design Studio, which Bartleet runs with his wife, Lyndal Williams, from a converted Methodist church in the neighboring town of Basalt. When Fogel approached Bartleet in 2004, he had already selected a spot on his land overlooking Aspen’s Roaring Fork Valley, and had a rough idea of its size and layout. “I started doing the design myself and then realized that artistically I needed some help,” Fogel recalls. “Especially with how the volumes sat on the site.”

Showing respect for the landscape, Bartleet minimized the project’s footprint by designing a two-story home and delicately placing it alongside a small grove of piñon trees and centuries-old sagebrush. “It’s really about responding to the site and its variables, and that shapes the building,” Bartleet says of the approach. For example, he stacked the kitchen over the bathrooms, which allows the plumbing to work efficiently and to take up as little space as possible.

Fogel, a die-hard techie (he owns ESC, a company that installs home audiovisual and lighting systems), collaborated closely with Bartleet, especially in the design of passive systems to minimize energy consumption. “We brought in weather equipment and tracked changes in the climate,” he says. The placement and direction of the house’s windows are the result of their research. “It’s purely a function of prevailing winds and cross ventilation,” Fogel says. “On the upper level, where windows take advantage of convection, the data suggested we didn’t need as many as we thought.” The window placement, plus orienting the house to reduce exposure to direct morning and afternoon sunlight, made air conditioning unnecessary.

Other design features also protect the house from temperature extremes. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) were used in lieu of traditional framing. Bartleet explains that in addition to their excellent insulating properties, SIPs are prefabricated in a factory according to construction drawings, thereby eliminating waste. Inside, the structural panels are further insulated by sheetrock. On the exterior of the building, different materials such as glass and wood define the various components of the house. The western elevation of the house features a screen of vertical strips of recycled barn wood. The space between the screen and the building’s exterior traps the sun’s warmth, yet allows too-hot air to escape naturally, instead of transferring the heat to the building.

Fogel’s home is a media paradise, with a projector and drop-down screen, digital audio and lighting systems, and concealed speakers. And yet, thanks to the house’s careful orientation, LED lighting, EnergyStar appliances, and a high-tech building management system that adjusts heating according to weather conditions, “the home uses less energy than a small apartment,” Fogel says. He’s now installing a 4.2-kilowatt system of solar panels that will produce enough energy to power his home year-round. 

Perhaps more importantly, Fogel is taking what he learned in the private sphere back to the office. Last year he founded a new business called InPower Systems, which provides climate data and energy mitigation analyses and installs renewable energy systems. Sound familiar? Fogel calls his own home project “a lab where we experimented with different approaches and techniques.” Now he’s selling his A/V clients, the owners of Aspen’s super-size houses, on technology that’s more exciting than surround-sound: photovoltaics, building management systems, geothermal heat pumps, and LEDs.

The homeowners are biting. Fogel estimates that he’ll pimp these palaces with half a megawatt of renewable energy this year alone.

Story by David Sokol. This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007