The Yellow House: For Adults with Autism, COLORADO

The Yellow House in Carbondale, Colorado is a unique project designed specifically for adults with autism. As such, extensive design considerations were made to ensure the house would accommodate individuals with a wide spectrum of sensory sensitivities. One factor of particular importance is air movement, which some individuals have a heightened sensitivity towards. Warmboard provided a huge benefit over forced-air systems in this regard. Also of concern is the climate. Located just a few miles from Aspen, the Yellow House required a heat source that would be able to quickly and efficiently heat a home when the weather changes rapidly or drops to single digit temperatures.


Scott Schlicter
House Manager

The Yellow House is something that has evolved over the last decade or so. Eleven or twelve years ago they started a summer sports program where they would rent dorms at a local college. These summer camps eventually evolved into skiing and snowboarding camps in the winter. Flash forward and all of these 12 and 13 year olds who had been coming to camp for years and years were growing into young adults with no place to go for the assistance and support they need. Basically, we’re trying to find a solution, other than a group home or institution, for all of these people with autism entering adulthood; which is starting to number in the millions every year. We are trying to find a new solution; one better than the old institution and group home system from the 50’s and 60’s which has never really been overhauled. For some of these young adults with more pronounced behaviors, it’s hard for them to live in a community or home because most will kick them out if they run away, self-injure, etc. So we are trying to design a model that is a safe place for these adults who would otherwise be institutionalized. A lot of that was accomplished through the construction; planning space and color schemes. This includes anything from the safety of windows and blinds on the interior, to EMF free zones in the bedrooms, heated floors, sound-proof walls, and close monitoring systems with cameras in the public areas and microphones in the bedrooms to conserve privacy in their private places. The remodel was extensive – every single wall and floor was moved except for the stone living room; even the stairwell was moved. There is huge demand for houses like these. Four months in, a young woman that I teach skiing to was having some behavior issues and came and spent time at the Yellow House. Now her father is willing to foot the bill for a second one; and that’s only four months in. He is like so many parents we encounter. They make it through those teenage years and then their child is in their 20’s and all of a sudden their parent’s are like, ‘Now what do I do? They’re adults and they’re going to outlive me.’ We haven’t even really finished the Yellow House yet but we’re already in plans for a second because there is so much need. We must figure out how to care for this group of people who are physically healthy but need assistance mentally. These folks are going to live to be 80 or 90 just like everybody else. Warmboard is great. We have it in our ADU as well as the main house and I love the theory behind it. It just makes sense to heat where your feet are and you are, and not to blow hot air into a room and into the ceiling. It also provides some insulation, because there are lots of people that like to jump as part of their ‘stimming' (self-stimulation) and it helps with the sound so that it doesn’t sound like a beating drum when you’re jumping on the second level. Warmboard has been really responsive and comfortable. It’s fun when people who aren’t used to heated floors, or Warmboard, stay in the house and they say, ‘Oh, this is really nice.’ It’s just been wonderful.”

Jim Pidcock
High Mark Development

“Every person who is on the autism spectrum has a unique set of experiences, and so we have to cater to that and try to minimize the effects of the sensory issues. We did a lot of research with EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) and minimizing electric current running through the house through different types of systems. The heating is a big deal with that, so while it may just be coincidence that Warmboard is helpful negating some of the sensory issues, that’s important to point out. That was part of the process, sitting down as a design team and concluding that Warmboard was really going to help negate some of these potential sensory issues. Also, we do a lot of radiant in-floor heating in this part of the country, and its pretty easily sold in terms of the concept. We are at a higher altitude and generally our winters are colder than in other parts of the country. Once people get used to it, they kind of get spoiled to it. That was certainly one of the factors. Another thing that probably had a lot to do with our decision was the ease of installation. While a couple of my contractors were familiar with Warmboard, others were not, but the installation kit made it easy for everyone. They thought it was going to take much longer than it did, and it actually took less time than anticipated. That was definitely helpful. The design process went well, and what we ordered is what showed up. The plans were well thought out, the product works well and we were able to tailor everything to our specific project. I think that’s a huge deal. With a forced hot air heating system, if you’re going to keep a house warm, you’ve really got to run the thing a lot - especially in this climate. If it gets down to low temperatures, twenties and teens and zeroes, and less, the heating system is going to be running a tremendous amount of the time. The radiant heat allows for less movement and less sensitivity to it. And I know in the future we’ll be using your product again regardless of whether it’s a house that involves people with autism or just a run of the mill project. The design and considerations of the Yellow House are for a very specific clientele, and while we build for anyone, this project is… I don’t want to call it unique, but it’s certainly rare. That being said, there is a high prevalence of people on the autism spectrum, and every year there are more and more people, so as we get into the future houses such as this one are going to become more common.”

Steve Novy
Green Line Architects

“We like the idea of using radiant heating in the floor. It’s an efficient system, as compared to other heating options, because you’re heating the floor itself and the space people are occupying. Because this was a remodel, we also liked that we didn’t have to tear out the floor, we could simply install Warmboard on the existing sheathing. It was pretty straightforward and added some strength and additional structure to the floor. We felt this was a much better alternative to a Staple-Up kind of condition because we know that Warmboard allows for a better distribution of heat over the entire service. Also with Staple-Up it’s hard to get access either from the floor joists or the room below. And comparing it to radiant tubes being put into a gypsum concrete or lightweight concrete slab, here we didn’t have to factor in additional loading from the slab, so that was nice. We didn’t have to think about the extra weight concrete would add to what is essentially a turn of the century structure. Plus the ability to get an efficient in-floor heating system that’s hydronic; I think that’s the ideal scenario for us. We get better zoning with hydronic, and in addition to the points mentioned earlier about heating the space that people are occupying, with forced air you get stratification and other issues. Not to mention the fact that we didn’t have to put in a lot of ductwork. We paired the radiant in-floor heating system with an HRV, and the HRV ducting is simple, just six inch solid and flex ducts which are easy to route in an existing structure. I like the concept of Warmboard and I’ve been trying to find a good project for it. Now that we’ve done a successful installation we’ll certainly recommend it again. I’d like to follow up with the contractor and see what the costs are but I believe it’s going to be very comparable to other types of radiant systems, especially in remodel situations. As you know, this is a unique project. And it’s a fascinating to see how the needs of people with autism differ from a more typical kind of project we are involved in. We learned a great deal and will continue to learn as we evaluate how the Yellow House performs. I’m just happy that we’ve been able to use good mechanical and electrical systems that meet their needs. We also looked into a lot of other things such as the durability of products and the ease of cleaning various surfaces, and Warmboard fit well into that entire spec scenario. There was a side benefit to the aluminum in Warmboard. We were thinking we might have to shield between floors, but decided it was unnecessary because we already have an aluminum layer as part of Warmboard, so that’s kind of a neat thing. We’re very excited about getting to use the product and will certainly be recommending it in the future. We’ll also be evaluating the performance over time so we should check back in a year or so and see how everything’s working. We are looking forward to doing more projects like this to be honest with you.”