The requirements for the new 18-unit townhome community in scenic Woodland Park, Colo. may be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

The nine two- and three-bedroom duplexes must be certified net-zero ready, achieve at least LEED Gold certification, and be mostly built with unskilled local volunteers.

They also must be priced for a buyer making 60 to 80 percent of the area median income.

Welcome to Trailhead Townhomes, a Habitat for Humanity of Teller County project that tackles the county’s grave lack of workforce housing in ways that reimagines the organization’s 45-year-old mission.

New Building Strategy

“Woodland Park is an affluent community,” explains the Habitat Teller County executive director Keith Meier. “The problem is, our police, teachers, nurses, restaurant managers, all the hard-working people that make this a community can’t afford to live here.” Meier knew it was time to rethink the usual one-and-done annual home project.

The chapter decided to build an entire neighborhood.

Audacious? You bet. To help realize the vision, the chapter enlisted Mark Bowers, AIA, principal-in-charge of Denver-based Architectural Workshop.

Logical Solution

Bowers says an early conversation with the general contractor, High Performance Structures, was an epiphany. “Yes, we can do stick built, they advised. But let’s think through the objectives. Why not ICF (insulated concrete forms)? Not just ICF for the foundations, but the whole house,” Bowers recalls.

Some in the home building trade may think ICF construction – stacking foam-framed, Lego-like blocks to create cast-in-place concrete walls – is a specialized, less affordable construction method. That’s a misconception. In fact, ICF ticks off many boxes:

  • Affordability. “ICF is on track to come in below stick-built,” Meier reports. Townhome mortgage payments may be up to half of a typical monthly rent payment.
  • Quality. “This is an opportunity to build a better home that’s affordable,” Meier says. “It’s concrete. These buildings will outlive the great, great grandkids. ICF makes so much sense on all levels,” Meier, a long-time architect, observes.
  • Sustainability. Eight-inch-thick ICF walls are a thermal mass marvel, rated at R26 without extra insulation. The monthly household energy bill is projected at $30 a month and likely zero (or less) with optional photovoltaic panels on the solar-ready roof. Each townhome is hot water-heated with in-floor radiant heat. The project is likely to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
  • Resilience. Meier says the location has had three forest fires in the last 15 years, often fueled by high country winds (elevation: 8,465 feet). ICF withstands wind speeds up to 250 mph and the concrete core does not weaken, warp, twist, smoke, or burn regardless of fire temperature.
  • Volunteer Friendly. Sweat equity is central to the Habitat for Humanity philosophy. ICF complements a no-previous-skill-required spirit with surprising simplicity and volunteer safety. If you can stack Lego blocks, you have ICF figured out.
Habitat for Humanity volunteers attend a training on how to use insulated concrete forms (ICF) for the build of Trailhead Townhomes in Woodland Park, CO.
Habitat for Humanity volunteers attend a training on how to use insulated concrete forms (ICF) for the build of Trailhead Townhomes in Woodland Park, CO.

Work is now well underway on the nine duplexes, with ribbon-cutting expected in June. Meier is thrilled by what the project may signal for the future. “This is the right thing to do. ICF is the right solution. I wish we were building a hundred of these, not just 18.”

Learn more about how ICF can transform your next project with affordability, quality, and constructability.