Steve Elliott is the first homeowner to volunteer to participate in DaVinci Quest’s proposed Smarter, Safer, Greener House contest

It’s a new concept.  It’s a big contest.  And it could be a tough sell.

But Karl Dakin, CEO of DaVinci Quest, hopes he can get the Longmont City Council on board with his company’s plans to launch a contest in Longmont that would drive innovation — and, eventually, economic development — in the green-building industry.


Centennial-based DaVinci Quest is putting together a global contest to invite teams to design environmentally friendly smart homes — and then renovate 50 houses — for a “significant cash prize.”

The Smarter, Safer, Greener House Contest is still in the works, and one of the first steps is to get city leaders on board. DaVinci Quest will ask the City Council to approve a resolution Dec. 8 in support of the contest.

Although DaVinci Quest doesn’t need the city’s permission to hold its contest here, Dakin said it is important to have city leaders’ blessing and buy-in.

At first blush, that might be difficult to get.

Dakin made a presentation about the contest to the Longmont City Council last week, and some council members seemed leery.

“I’m a little apprehensive, I have to tell you, because we’re embroiled in many lawsuits, and we’re trying to do a little image building here,” Mayor Bryan Baum told Dakin. “It’s a difficult sale at this time. … You’re not presenting us with a proven commodity at this time.”

Beyond needing to use city staff to approve building plans and issue building permits, DaVinci Quest is not asking the city for money.

But, Dakin said, there is always the possibility that some might think that giving DaVinci Quest permission to hold the contest here would somehow make the city responsible.

“The mayor is being prudent and cautious and making sure there is no risk to the city,” Dakin said. “I respect that, and I want to do my best to provide City Council with the information they’re looking for.”

He added, “This is nothing but good, and there’s no downside to this.”

DaVinci Quest is a for-profit enterprise that is taking on global social problems by fostering innovations. It plans to do that by creating a series of 10 competitions to focus resources — time, money, people, ideas — on issues such as energy consumption, health care, food supply and natural disasters.

DaVinci Quest limited its search for a host city for this contest to Boulder County, mostly because of the countywide Climate Smart program, which helps residents and businesses finance energy-efficient improvements by providing loans for more than 40 energy-efficiency upgrades.

DaVinci Quest chose Longmont because the city is large enough to offer a good stock of houses and homeowners who might want to participate, Dakin said.

But council members questioned the logistics of the contest. 

The goal is to match 50 teams (backed by 50 sponsors) with 50 homeowners who will give over their houses to be renovated to make them more energy efficient, safer and smarter. Teams can be businesses or individuals, contractors or manufacturers, students or civic groups with an interest or investment in green building techniques or equipment.

The whole point of the contest is to drive innovation, Dakin said. The idea is that one team will win a $500,000 cash prize for its home renovation, but the innovation that comes from each team’s ideas would be the foundation on which to build new industry in Longmont.

At the close of the contest, DaVinci would organize a convention to showcase the green-building technology and industry and, eventually, put together a research and development center.

DaVinci Quest hopes to get 50 homeowners on board but needs at least 20 to go forward with the contest, Dakin told the council.

Homeowners would receive $25,000 in renovations for $10,000. Each team can spend $25,000 maximum to renovate each home. However, homeowners would have to contribute $15,000 (which could be financed through ClimateSmart), and then DaVinci Quest would pay each homeowner $5,000 for participating.

Steve Elliott is the first Longmont resident to volunteer his home. About six months ago, he participated in the city’s program to audit homes to identify energy-efficient upgrades, so he knows “there’s a lot that can be done,” he said.

When Elliott’s house on Martin Street was built in 1927, “insulation was not high on the priorities,” he said with a laugh, and the home still has the original, double-hung, single-pane windows.

Elliott also has long been interested in using solar power, and the contest could be the impetus for it.

“It’s a good deal for the homeowners,” he said of DaVinci Quest’s planned contest. “There’s lots of good money coming back at me, even though I have to put up some of my own.”

City Councilman Brian Hansen last week supported the contest. It would provide homeowners with an incentive to take advantage of the ClimateSmart program, he said.

“I don’t see any real downside to it,” he said.

But Baum questioned the scope and finances of the contest — and whether residents would embrace the idea.

“I always hate to be the first guy on the block with something brand new,” he said. “I like a proven track record; our city is real sensitive to that right now. I’m very leery of it.”

Newness and novelty can always cause concern, because “you don’t know how to react to it,” Dakin said.

But he said the concept of “innovation through contest” goes back to the 1700s, and DaVinci Quest is putting together a unique combination of contest, economic development and entrepreneurship.

The council is scheduled to vote Dec. 8 on a resolution whether to support the contest.

Via The Longmont Times