Where Low-Cost Utilities and an Iguana Share Space

Article excerpt

TUCKED into a hillside 16 miles west of Aspen, Colo., is the headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Institute, also the residence of Hunter and Amory Lovins.

The 4,000 square-foot experimental building is bright, spacious, and comfortable. It makes use of superinsulation, renewable energy sources, and a semitropical greenhouse to produce tomatoes and bananas. The heating and lighting bill is minuscule - despite a lengthy winter and mountainous setting where temperatures can drop to -40 F.

The Lovinses live in one wing. The other wing is packed with desks, file cabinets, book cases, and computer equipment where RMI staff work. In the center is a large kitchen, dining space, and gathering area next to the "bioshelter" complete with fish pond (with aerating waterfall) and roaming iguana.

With its 16-inch walls, argon-filled "Heat Mirror" windows (twice as efficient as triple glazing), solar design, compact florescent bulbs, and other energy-saving measures, the building averages just $5 a month in electric bills at the residential end and $15 a month in the work space (due to copiers and other business equipment). A pilot model refrigerator and freezer use no more than 15 percent the typical amount of electricity. …