by Bevin Theodore
Photographer: Patrick Coulie
Nestled amid 1.7 million acres of national forest in southwestern Colorado, the VISION House at Mariposa Meadows offers a glimpse into the future of sustainable housing.
The community sits 10,000 feet high in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, a remote location marked by harsh winters and the threat of wildfires. The property is completely off grid, with a ground-mounted solar array that generates 12,000 kilowatts and three buildings designed to integrate seamlessly with the surrounding environment. Each structure, optimized for energy, space efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction, is built with the best sustainable products on the market. The result is peak performance, comfort and long-term savings.
Ron Jones, president of Green Builder Media and the general contractor for the project, has specialized in high-end custom residential construction and challenging site projects for nearly 40 years. Mariposa Meadows is the latest VISION House, a series of demonstration projects he has constructed around the country. Although all of his projects showcase sustainability, what makes Mariposa Meadows unique is the remote setting.
Photographer: Samantha Carlin
“You can hike off the property in any direction for a month before you would probably encounter anything other than wild country. That’s what attracted us and it’s what makes it special,” Jones said. “It’s also what makes it really challenging.”
The off-grid, carbon neutral property required thoughtful design and product selection. The main criteria for external building materials, Jones said, were fire resistance and durability. James Hardie, known for its low-maintenance, fire-resistant siding, was a natural choice. Only fiber cement products by James Hardie are Engineered for Climate® to withstand extreme conditions.
Hardie® siding not only offers great protection from cold climates, its range of sustainable products lend uniformity to any project in terms of color and quality. Jones praised James Hardie for producing products to exceptionally high standards and said everything looks as pristine as the day it was installed.
“We were really pleased with the quality of the product in terms of the consistency, the uniformity and the variety of different components,” Jones said. “Whether we were doing batten strips on the siding to provide the vertical aesthetic of the buildings, or fascia and soffit – which, by the way, does not attract pests like woodpeckers, the rich color shines through. Combine all of that with very low maintenance and Hardie® Products just make sense. It was a no brainer.”
Jones and Sara Gutterman, his partner and co-founder of Green Builder Media, bought the property in 2013 and broke ground the next year, with the vision of using it to host workshops for sustainability leaders, but also as a peaceful escape. Their requirements included high altitude, access to public land, surface water, forest, meadows, and a remote location with more animals than people. The property checks all the boxes, sitting within three federal wilderness areas, with a stream and two springs, and animals ranging from moose and elk to beavers and deer to raptors and other birds.
“When we have people at Mariposa, we want them to literally and figuratively unplug and take a step back, really embrace nature...to look at our industry, our society and perhaps even our whole civilization through a different lens.”
The last three-and-a-half miles of road leading to Mariposa close in the winter and need to be traversed by snowmobile, so most gatherings will be planned between May and November. The property’s footprint currently comprises about three of the 122 acres. Future plans include adding a lodge with up to 24 units and a four-season greenhouse to allow for high-altitude agriculture. The existing dwelling units are each two stories and boast one-and-a-half baths, a bedroom and sitting room, a full kitchen and dining area, and magnificent views.
At 2,000 square feet, the Atrium Duet is the largest building on the property, with two mirror-image units that share a common space that opens onto a 1,500-square-foot deck. The Garage Studio is 1,200 square feet, with a fully heated oversized garage and workshop on the ground floor and an open-concept living area upstairs. Aspen Cabin, only 700 square feet, is distinguished by a spiral staircase leading from the kitchen and living area up to the bedroom and bath.
They are all built slab on grade, with insulated concrete form foundations, radiant hydronic heating and tankless boiler and water heaters. The outside walls are eight and one quarter inches, roof panels are 12 inches, windows are triple-glazed and the exterior doors are steel, providing superior fire protection and insulation. The R-value, which measures resistance to the movement of heat or cold, is nearly double the typical building code requirements for all products.
Jones said the wall assembly, from the Hardie® siding all the way to the drywall, contributes to premier building performance. Even on the coldest night, with no heat turned on in the buildings, the temperature has never dipped below 40 degrees.
“It’s important not just from an energy usage standpoint but also for the comfort, quiet and general feel of the space,” Jones said.
While Jones chose the best siding material for the unique climate around Mariposa Meadows, he was also concerned with achieving the right aesthetic to fit the dwellings into the splendor of the natural surroundings. The Cobble Stone color he selected is a near perfect match to the bark of the aspen trees. And that aligns perfectly with his ultimate goal of showing people that sustainable is also beautiful and convenient.
“I’d like them to realize there’s not a compromise between sustainability, responsible building and comfort,” Jones said. “One of the things I like to say about Mariposa is that we’re not just in the trees, we’re of the trees.”
Photographer: Samantha Carlin