Added benefit to owning a high performance home.

January 16, 2009

You regularly hear these days about how a builder’s homes are Energy Star certified, Earth Advantage certified, Green built, High Performance, etc.  What does this really mean?  If you investigate, most builders are doing the bare minimums to get there certifications.  Simply increasing the efficiency of the HVAC system, adding insulation to increase the insulating factor, increasing the efficiency of windows and introducing fresh air into the home usually by a fan added to a utility room.  This of course is a simplified list, but you get the picture.  What is marketed by these builders is the high efficiency of their HVAC systems, their insulating factors and more often just the fact that their homes are certified by Energy Star, Earth Advantage and the like.

 

Unfortunately, what you don’t hear about very often is the testing and third party inspections that go into these homes to get the certifications.  I believe that one of the more important benefits of this performance building process is the scrutiny that the homes go through.  The level of quality and performance that is demanded to get even the minimum level of certification forces the builder to build a much better built home than a code built home utilizing the municipality inspectors, i.e. City, County and State building inspectors.

 

There is a requirement that all of the HVAC ducting be sealed with mastic caulk.  This helps prevent the ducting from leaking air flow.  This is extremely important to a home owner when they have a HVAC system that has duct runs through the attic and crawl spaces.  Any loss of air flow is gone to the outside of the home.  The more sealed the ducts are the more air actually gets to it’s intended destinations and the more efficient the over all system will be.  One of the tests required for our certifications is a duct test.  This test evaluates the air loss and there is a minimum tolerance allowed in order for the home to be certified.  The different levels of certification have different requirements of these tests. 

 

At Marnella Homes, our homes have all of the HVAC system installed to the interior of our homes, the “conditioned space”.  This means that all of the ducting and the HVAC unit is inside the home and none of it is in the garage, crawl or attic spaces.  All ducting is within the joists of the main and upper floor.  This reduces about 30% of sheet metal compared to a conventional system and requires less travel of the air that is ran to the rooms of the home.  So in this case, what air that might leak is merely leaking back into the home.

 

Another test that is required is a blower door test.  This test evaluates what air is lost when the home is pressurized.  Meaning, when the home has air drawn from it, where would the air leak in through; wall outlets, wall switches, windows, the base of walls, etc. To prevent this leakage, it is a requirement of the builder to fully seal the base of the walls at the floor, around the windows, wall outlet boxes for switches and plugs, ceiling lights, etc.

 

Again, when you hear of a builder talk about the certification, ask questions.  What level of certification do they have for their homes and what measures are they taking during construction? But, in the end, even at the minimum level of certification, these homes are built to a much higher standard than most code build homes.  This will have a lasting effect on the livability and resale over time because of this.  All new homes look great when new, it’s how they stand the test of time, that identifies how well built they actually are.

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2 Responses to “Added benefit to owning a high performance home.”

  1. PatPro Says:

    All of the tests mentioned in your article are excellant suggestions to obtain energy certification. As a mechanical engineer who has done a fair amount of HVAC design for residential as well as commercial properties, I can say the paybacks are there. When will engineers and contractors be able to put their talents to work for the residential side of the world? Heck, even the commercial and medical clients I do work for balk at the initial cost of adding a bit more efficiency to the design.

    • tonymarnella Says:

      Thank you for your comment. It has been tough for us to get to this level. Our trades fought the changes and the costs made it difficult to stay competitive. It has been quite a learning curve. Add in this housing market and it is hard to hold on to this level of performance building. If we hadn’t been working on this for the last few years to work in effeciencies, I think we would be dropping some or most of this. It gives us a selling benefit and I feel will give lasting value to our homes for resale however, it isn’t what any of our buyers are willing to pay extra for. Hopefully, over time people will see the value in this and be willing to seek out homes built to this standard and not just the lowest price.

      Take care,
      Tony


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