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Opinion: A concrete way to build affordable, resilient, energy-efficient homes in Colorado’s wildfire zones

In Teller County and elsewhere, building with non-combustible materials is one of the best ways to mitigate damage from natural disasters such as fires.

As of February, America’s home-insecure population has eclipsed an estimated 2 million individuals. With an economy reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as The Colorado Sun recently reported, a staggering increase in the price of lumber, the need for affordable and safe housing in America is as urgent as it has ever been. 

Here in central Colorado’s Teller County, we have not been spared this need.

Keith Meier

There is a saying that has always resonated with me: “Think globally, act locally.” Elevating our neighbors strengthens and unites our communities while representing a small but important piece of a larger global movement. 

In this spirit, and as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County (HFHTC), I consider my task to help provide shelter and hope in Teller County an honor.

2021 is a crucial year for HFHTC. I am beyond excited to announce that our affiliate is partnering with Build With Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, and the Colorado Ready Mixed Concrete Association (CRMCA), on this year’s housing construction project. A number of Build With Strength members will be donating and/or discounting building materials for our 18-unit project in 2021, enabling greater access to attainable housing in our region.

Our design is based upon Net Zero Energy Ready-designed homes (with plug-and-play solar energy conversion capabilities) and will be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, Energy Star, the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), and Indoor AirPlus.  They will be constructed of highly sustainable materials with long life cycles which reduce lifetime maintenance costs. 

This partnership is important for many reasons, but particularly so given Teller County’s recent uptick in wildfires. The High Chateau fire in 2018 burned 1,400 acres and 11 homes in our community.  Drought and extreme weather fueled the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, which was the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado’s history at the time.  The fire burned nearly 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes, and remains Colorado’s most expensive wildfire with insurance costs totaling $453.7 million. 

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The future risk of similar wildfires is high and we must not ignore this stark reality. Fortunately, building with non-combustible materials is one of the best ways to mitigate damage from natural disasters such as fires. 

For those who don’t know, concrete is able to withstand temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees, making it a great option when building in fire zones. It is also virtually impervious to rot, rust, warping, mold, and infestation.  All this adds up to more durable and safer homes when compared to other options. 

Considering that extreme weather shows no sign of stopping, emphasizing safety in construction is vital moving forward and our partnership with Build With Strength equips us to do just that.

We will build nine structures in Teller County with insulating concrete forms, or ICFs. These are foam blocks that stack like Legos and provide a core for the concrete to cure. The installation of ICFs can drastically cut construction time and requires less labor, which is important considering our sweat equity program for homebuyers. 

The installation of this system will be easier on our volunteers, create a safer construction site for our build teams, and reduce noise and waste on the jobsite.

Finally, concrete-based construction’s economic benefits have a direct and positive effect on our homeowners’ wallets. Homes built with more resilient materials cost less to insure, which is exceptionally important for first-time homeowners. 

The families living in these extremely energy-efficient homes will also appreciate a significant reduction in annual energy costs, which anyone familiar with Colorado winters will tell you is a very good thing. We are thrilled to be delivering a safer and more attainable housing option for our families.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The prospects of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County’s attainable and energy-efficient homebuilding contributions in 2021 are in stark contrast with the hardships endured throughout America in 2020 and I am very excited for this future.

To me, Habitat for Humanity of Teller County represents a means to offer shelter and grace, bringing affordability back to our county. In the darkest times, we must band together as a community and hold ourselves united with virtue and poise. 

As a community, we must keep progressing and working toward a better future. Building homes with safety and resiliency in mind is a step in the right direction that everyone should consider.   


Keith Meier was hired in July 2019 as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County. He is a registered architect with over 35 years of experience and a licensed general contractor for over 25 years.  


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