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Make the Most of your Spruce Peak Stay by Planning Ahead.

The Green Treehouse


By Rachel Stearns

Here among the Green Mountains, the wonders of nature are all around us: scarlet cardinals flitting across the sky at dawn’s first light; crystal clear mountain streams thundering over rocks worn smooth; birch and evergreen forest stretching as far as the eye can see. At Spruce Peak, we follow a tradition of protecting this precious gift and minimizing the human impact on our environment.

Back in 2010, Stowe Mountain Resort was the first ski resort in North America to earn Audubon International’s Sustainable Communities Certification, which requires a demonstrated commitment to and long-term plan for prioritizing sustainability. This includes sourcing food from local farms and producers, composting food waste, maximizing energy efficiency, monitoring nearby water quality, clustering development to preserve large tracts of uninterrupted forestland, and more.

Spruce Peak Realty president Sam Gaines says the community is now going a step further, protecting the environment by planting trees, filtering stormwater, and constructing only high-quality, enduring buildings that can be enjoyed throughout the decades. “We want to create things that last,” he says. “We are always thinking about how we can conserve the land, our streams, and our air for generations to come.”

The Treehouse—Spruce Peak’s new, 48-unit residential building located across from Spruce Peak Arts Center—is a feat of sustainable architecture and design.

The Green Treehouse

An Eco-Friendly Build

Before builders broke ground, Gaines stood on the site of the future residence and marveled at the wide-open view of Mt. Mansfield. The dramatic rise of the slope created the effect of a canyon or gorge, “almost as if you were connected right to the mountain,” Gaines says. With professionals from Bull Stockwell Allen architecture firm and TruexCullins interior design on board, a vision of living among the trees took shape.

Drawing inspiration from treehouses—often light, playful, and minimal enough to blend into the environment—the team drew up the plans. While this iteration is not actually suspended above the ground, wood framing was an obvious choice for construction. Gaines says heavier materials like steel and concrete, which have a bigger carbon footprint, were used only where absolutely necessary.

Sustainability, durability, and beauty come together in many areas of the interior design, as well. Countertops didn’t travel far before landing in each kitchen: slabs of local Green Mountain granite were hand-selected from a quarry in Barre. Carpeting, where used, is high-quality, USA-woven wool. This natural, renewable material traps allergens and resists stains more effectively than synthetic fibers, extending its life in the home.

The Green Treehouse

It’s Electric!

The biggest challenge of achieving the Treehouse vision was powering the property. Cozy, well-heated spaces are integral to any mountain home, whether you’re warming up by the hearth after skiing or watching the snow fall from the comfort of your room. But oil-filled boilers and gas fireplaces are anathema to sustainable design. Seeking out-of-the-box solutions, the team found sleek, innovative electric fireplaces that utilize water vapor to create realistic flames. (As an added bonus, they add moisture to the air, unlike a real wood fire which tends to dry things out.)

Ambient heat and cooling is provided by high-efficiency heat pumps, a feature rarely seen in large-scale buildings in regions that hit double-digit below-zero lows. But Gaines says the technology has come a long way as, globally, we begin moving away from fossil fuels. “It’s not something we could have done even five or 10 years ago. But we made the decision and I think it was the right one.” Key to the Treehouse’s green cred is that Stowe’s electric grid derives more than 82 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Energy audits of the Treehouse through Efficiency Vermont show that the warm air isn’t going anywhere. Impeccably precise construction and intentional insulating choices (like double-paned windows) help the homes exceed high-performance standards. All appliances sport the Energy Star label, and ranges are state-of-the-art induction cooktops.

Furthermore, to encourage emissions reductions for out-of-town residents, the Treehouse is equipped with more than 20 electric car chargers (and has capacity to add one for every home as needed).

The Green Treehouse

The Smart Home

While heat pumps provide excellent heating and cooling, the Treehouse’s large windows position it to take advantage of another eco-friendly resource: sunlight. Smart shades—which tuck away into the ceiling when not in use, maximizing views—can be programmed to either let in or block light as needed to maintain optimal temperatures.

Air temps can be monitored remotely from a mobile device, as well, preventing wasteful heating and cooling when spaces are unoccupied. “Having more data and technology can be a little bit overwhelming at first,” Gaines says, “But those minor tweaks to how you manage your home can really make a huge difference in efficiency.”

The Green Treehouse

A Sustainable Landscape

For a building that celebrates trees, it’s fitting that none were cut down to accommodate construction. In fact, trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers—many of them native varieties—were added to the surrounding areas. Red and sugar maples, river birch, and dogwood provide habitat for woodland fauna, while serviceberry trees provide nectar for pollinators in the spring and fruit for birds in the summer. Some cultivars were selected for hardiness and resilience, lessening the need for water and fertilizer.

In reinvigorating the mountain community over the past 20 years, the Spruce Peak team adheres to principles of cluster development, which minimizes construction to just 35 acres, leaving the surrounding 2000 untouched and conserved in perpetuity, and allowing critical wildlife corridors to remain intact. As such, the Treehouse homes are designed to maximize every square foot of space, providing all the desirable features of an alpine retreat within a neat, efficient silhouette. Meanwhile, songbirds, black bears, white-tailed deer, peregrine falcons, ruffled grouse, wild turkeys, and the occasional moose are among Spruce Peak’s wild neighbors in Mt. Mansfield State Forest.

According to Gaines, revisions to make Spruce Peak’s environmental charter even more rigorous are currently in progress. “Our goal is to be mostly carbon-free in the next 10 years,” he says. “Obviously this hinges on a lot of outside influences; we can’t do it all alone. But introducing new buildings that don’t depend on fossil fuels is one way we can move closer to attaining this benchmark.”

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