Why Marnella Homes?

August 8, 2016

When looking through the many listings for different builders and their homes, what makes their homes different from one another?  It is far more than just the architectural style and price range.  As I often say, “what is behind the sheetrock is as important, if not more so, than what is in front of it.” I encourage anyone looking at a new home to walk the builder’s homes prior to the installation of sheetrock to see how they are assembled. You will see a lot of surprising things, not all good.  A few things that are in built into every Marnella Home are; Advanced framing, extensive air sealing, blown-in insulation and HVAC systems that are in the conditioned space.  These are just some of the features that, with all we know about building science today, it still surprises me that more builders refuse to build with these systems.

More wood is not better.  However, that is the theme amongst most builders because it is how they were taught.  They are just following the lessons of their Grandfather, Dad or the mentor that got them started.  In the new way of building, less wood is better.  The Advanced Framing technique, utilizes less wood which means room for more insulation, which means a more comfortable and efficient home.  This style of framing really stands out from conventional framing.

Extensive air sealing isn’t just filling over-cut openings in the exterior shell of a home.  It is the air sealing of every seam and joint in the exterior shell of a home.  The benefit of this is not simply to improve efficiency and energy loss, though important, it is also to improve the health of the indoor environment by sealing out pollutants that can be drawn into the home.

Blown-in insulation is so important to effectively insulate a home.  Installing Batt styled insulation is such an inferior way of insulating, yet still most common.  The insulating performance of insulation is its thickness.  So, why does anyone expect that a compressed batt, forced over plumbing or wiring in a wall, is going to perform to it’s intended performance?  I know, right?  It can’t.  That is why blown-in insulation that completely fills a wall cavity, regardless of what is in its path, will perform to it’s intended performance.

HVAC systems in the conditioned space is one of the smartest moves that we have made in our homes…ever.  Not only are these systems exponentially more efficient than a standard forced air system, but they create a more comfortable home.  In 2007 we moved our HVAC systems inside the home, our service calls for uneven heating/cooling  and requests to have the systems balanced, stopped completely.

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So, as you are looking around at new homes, remember to look at the homes in their pre-sheetrock stage.  Food for thought, a home built to the building code minimum, is really a home that is barely legal.  Anything less, and the building inspector would not approve it for occupancy.  On average, a Marnella Home is built to 35% over the code minimum.  The benefits to our homeowners include, lower maintenance, lower heating & cooling costs, greater comfort and lasting value.

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The Few, The Deserving

August 16, 2011

After receiving a comment, on a post I wrote about home performance from a builder, that all new homes were ENERGY STAR certified. It occurred to me that if someone in my industry didn’t understand the facts about the ENERGY STAR new home certification then I needed to clarify this further. I agree that the energy codes for new construction have been elevated significantly in recent years. However, so have the requirements for the new homes programs of ENERGY STAR, Energy Trust of Oregon, Earth Advantage and the like.

ENERGY STAR rated homes perform to a minimum of 15% up to 30% more efficient than code built homes. These are homes that have real performance and energy efficient features and practices built in. These homes are built using higher standards for the building envelope and HVAC system. These higher standards and additional measures are verified through third party inspections utilizing duct blast and blower door testing. In addition, if the builder is serious about performance, he will have had his homes rated with one of the performance measuring systems like EPS (Energy Performance Score) or HERS (Home Energy Rating System). Here in Oregon we mostly use EPS.

The actual number of new homes certified in the United States each year is less than 20%. Here in the northwest, the 2011 year to date percentage of new homes certified in Washington State is 12.7% and in Oregon it is 14.2%.

The bottom line is, don’t be fooled by “Green” marketing and assume that a new home is certified by one of the new homes programs. Ask questions, have the builder or sales broker show you their certification. The builder might have simply installed an Energy Star rated dishwasher and recycled the cardboard from the box.

If your home has a furnace installed in the garage, it most likely is. At one of our Construction 101 classes at Volare our Town Home community in Happy Valley, this came up. We have been installing our entire HVAC systems inside the conditioned space of our homes (meaning the interior living area of the home). We realized the obvious benefits of: improved performance by reducing the length of duct work for the air to travel, by not installing ducting in the attic or crawlspace spaces as they are much hotter or colder than the air we are providing to the rooms that need it. Another benefit is, if the duct system leaks air it is only leaking into your home not the outdoors. However, it never occurred to us the air quality benefit of a furnace in the home versus the garage.

The furnace unit that is installed inside the conditioned space is a “Sealed unit” this means that the cabinet of the furnace is entirely sealed up. Unlike, most furnace units that are installed in a garage. Most people can recall being near a furnace in a garage when it started up and seeing the flame burning through the venting of the front of the furnace cabinet. What probably didn’t come to mind was that when the fan motor started up it was pulling air from within the garage. This could be including the exhaust from the car, gas fumes from the gas can, bag of yard fertilizer, etc. Anything off gassing in your garage could have its fumes spread throughout your home.

The great benefit of a Marnella Homes system being entirely with the home is that it is only pulling fresh air from the exterior of the home with the assistance of the HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator). The HRV periodically exchanges stale interior air with fresh outside air. This provides interior air quality that is superior to any traditionally installed HVAC system. This should be especially important to anyone with children that have asthma or any other respiratory health issues.

So, should you be stuck with a traditionally installed system in your home, consider this when you are letting your car warm up in the morning and you might want to find a better place to store the gas can, fertilizer bag or anything that you smell when in the garage. However, if you are looking at buying a new home, you owe it to you and your family’s health to consider how your next HVAC system is installed.

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I wrote back in January about the behind the scenes inspections and testing that the green high performance homes get that many don’t know about or if they do, don’t appreciate the intensity of them.  Since we continue to hear about Buyers wanting the “Best Deal” or the “Best Value”, it occurred to me that the Value of these homes is also not being realized.

For instance, 100% of the homes we build here at Marnella Homes are built to the Earth Advantage/Energy Star “Gold” level.  Our homes are extremely well sealed and with blow-in insulation achieve a very low leakage rating.  Also, with our 95%+ HVAC systems, fully sealed ducting and all inside the home in conditioned space.  Our home owners save on average $40 – $50 a month in our 1400 – 1600 sqft homes over a similiar sized code built home.  

Home owners have been sold over the years all the features that builders put in and are told how great they are and sometimes even how many years the home owner will receive a payback from these features.  What so many times doesn’t get either explained or truly appreciated by the home owner or buyer is the value of these features.  We took on the venture of Green performance building with the “What’s in it for me” approach.  Thinking just selling features to someone who doesn’t know much about the industry will tend to make their eyes glaze over.  So, we have tried to show our home owners and buyers “what is in it for them”. 

In the case of a monthly savings, this is a direct savings over what they would be paying for utilities at any other new code built home.  Plus, even with many builders getting on the green built performance band wagon most are doing just the minimum to get their homes certified so, we are outperforming most builders in our area.  This is money that can be for that massage every month, the manicure, dinner, a movie with the family, a ski lift ticket in the winter, etc.  So, many things that these homes make easier to afford.  Because, isn’t the old saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned” more relevant today than ever before in our life time?

Now that I have addressed the actual savings, let’s look at the added value.  Using the $40 – $50 a month in savings, at today’s interest rates that is about $8,000 to $10,000 in additional value to the home. Of course, our lenders aren’t going to let you borrow more because we can show the energy savings, but wouldn’t it be great to know that you have built-in additional financial strength due to the lower monthly cost of home ownership?  I do believe that some lenders will eventually see this value and want to work with builders like us once this resonates with them. However, I am not holding my breath for this to happen anytime soon.

Lastly, now that real estate has moved back to a more traditional style of ownership, I feel that the long term value that these homes offer is also important.  Energy costs are going to continually rise so, in 5, 7, 10 years or so when we sell our homes doesn’t it seem that it will be a added value to your buyer that your home saves a considerable amount in monthly utility costs over the resale homes that will be on the market at the same time?  I think it should now and most assuredly then.

So, buying a home isn’t just the countertops, the carpet and appliances.  Sure those are the features that you can see, feel and touch, but don’t over look some of the most important features that truly create the “value” in your home.  You can always change your carpet, appliances and countertops, but it tends to be a little harder to retrofit a high performance HVAC system inside your home in the conditioned space if you are replacing a traditional system it’s not very easy to go back and effectively caulk and seal up a home that is already completed.

Please share your comments.  I would like to hear from you.

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.