Ophelia Wilkins
Colorado Housing Inc
Pagosa Springs


“The goal of my fellowship was to re-brand affordable housing in southwest Colorado as attractive, high-performance housing which residents take as much pride in as their rivers and mountains.”

Ophelia’s fellowship focussed on promoting, streamlining and systematizing green building practices in rural southwest Colorado.

At Colorado Housing Inc. (CHI), she worked to integrate quality design, green building strategies and efficient production into mutual self-help housing development in which homeowners perform 65% of the labor to build their own homes. She participated in every level of the organization from drafting policies dictating smart growth development with Board Members, to working with homeowners as they learned how to build with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) which reduced the time to frame and insulate a house from months to days. At an organizational level, CHI adopted the goal of progressing towards construction of affordable homes with net-zero environmental impact.

“In southwest Colorado,” says Ophelia, “I found a region, with a passion for sustainable, affordable communities but a struggle with implementation due to resource constraints. This synergy led to the collaborative design of a net-zero energy affordable home, and replicable construction of homes consuming 50% or less energy than the national average for new homes – a standard which all new CHI homes will meet.

Ophelia holds a Master in Architecture from MIT and is a LEED Accredited Professional. Prior to her fellowship, she contributed to design and hands-on construction of straw-bale homes on American Indian reservations from Arizona to North Dakota. She also worked on space planning for the BART light rail system and a campaign to preserve an historic copra crane in San Francisco.

Post-fellowship, Ophelia has returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, furthering her involvement in public transportation and public space improvement projects.  

owilkins-three-springs.jpgThree Springs Workforce Housing

24 affordable rental housing units

Residential Unit Profile:
Three Springs is a 620-acre annexation to the City of Durango. Developed by the Southern Ute Growth Fund — a for-profit development arm of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe — Three Springs is a true mixed-use development. Over half the land is dedicated to open space, and the project area contains a regional hospital, a commercial district and five residential neighborhoods. The hospital is complete and in operation, the rest of the development is in Phase 1 of construction.

Three Springs voluntarily committed to building 25% of the residential development at affordable or attainable prices. The specifics of this commitment, known as “Fair Share,” were developed and will be administered by the Regional Housing Alliance (RHA). These affordable units are being phased in with the whole development.

The attainable housing units will be condos built by Innovative Housing Solutions — another for-profit arm of the Southern Ute Tribe — which produces systems-built manufactured homes built to LEED standards and Energy Star rated. The Phase 1 attainable condos are 4-plexes built as double stacked flats.

The IHS President asked the RHA to offer options to the original design solution and will be building twenty-four condos in autumn 2008 with alternatives presented by Rose Fellow Ophelia Wilkins.

Completed 2008


owilkins-net-zero.jpgNet-Zero Pilot Project

9,000 sq ft gross site area
New construction
1,248 sq ft gross project area
Affordable rental housing unit
Structured parking
Affordable units serve moderate income households.
1 3 BR 1,248-1,248 sq ft

Residential Unit Profile:
This net-zero pilot project is an affordable home in Ignacio, CO that will be sold to a family at 80% of area median income or below. This home has been designed to achieve net zero energy consumption. The development team adopted this goal in order to push the limits of how green an affordable home could really get while setting a precedent of high-quality affordable housing.

What is Net-Zero? A building with net-zero energy consumption creates as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. In order to achieve net-zero energy performance, every system of the house must be optimized to realize energy reduction, energy efficiency and energy production.

Design Process—Charrette: A Green Communities-funded design charrette, a forum for collaborative problem solving, was the primary tool used to achieve the project goals.

Reaching Zero: The net-zero strategies used in this house are:

  • Maximizing Natural Site Features | The design uses passive solar heating and the constant temperature of the ground to reduce the mechanical heating load.
  • Building Envelope | The primary structure is SIPS, (Structurally Insulated Panel System), which has 125% the insulation value of a home built to code. The walls sit on a shallow frost-protected slab-on-grade foundation with in-floor heat.
  • Mechanical Systems | The hydronic in-floor heat coils are warmed by the geoexchange system, and the domestic hot water system is powered by solar-thermal panels with an electric-resistive back-up. Grid-tied solar electric panels power all appliances.
  • Occupant Education | CHI will educate the future occupant of this home about the home’s net-zero features and recommended guidelines for appliance usage.

CHI currently believes that all net-zero features except the geoexchange system can be funded grant-free. The ultimate project goal is to integrate the lessons-learned into all future CHI homes.

Opp360 logo

For full access to our tools and resources, please provide the information below.

We use this data to better understand our users; we do not sell or share this data. By providing this information, you can expect to receive newsletters and other updates from Opportunity360.