A slow moving movement has begun and in the coming months will become a fast paced necessity. Green building has been getting widely accepted by many builders, not only in Charlotte but throughout the country.
There are some production builders right now that are going to be displaying a HERS rating score on every house they build to prove the home’s efficiency. The 2012 residential building code is going to up the stakes on energy values throughout the home, and yet I am still seeing opposition from some people in the custom home builders market.
The problem stems from trying to take any old house plan that is off the shelf or designed inefficiently and trying to retrofit the home to be energy efficient in the field. This seems like a very frustrating way to do things. I am sure that this would increase costs, have plenty of room for error and slow production. The key thing with green building is that you have to treat each house as a system. The system not only includes the framing, insulation, mechanical systems and the foundation but needs to extend to the designer, home owner, and site conditions.
I have spoken to several builders that say that green building is a waste of time or it causes more problems than it solves. To that I say, get better educated or build a better team because you are doing something wrong. Building a tight home does cause other factors of the home to be considered. When building an air tight home, if the builder never accounts for proper ventilation, then the home will fill with moisture and begin to mold. If the HVAC system is not properly sized, then it will not run long enough to dehumidify and will cause a moisture problem. If a sealed crawl space is used without proper positive drainage a water problem will occur.
All of these problems can be avoided with proper communication and planning starting with a good home design team. If the HVAC contractor doesn’t know that the house is planned for 2×6 studs @ 24″ on centers with R-20 spray foam insulation and a conditioned attic then he will not be able to properly size the unit or the duct work. The reverse of that is if the builder specifies these items to the HVAC contractor and for some reason goes back to conventional framing and R-13 batt insulation, then the unit again will not be properly sized. Then we have technical items that will ruin all of the efforts of building green homes like where and how to provide proper drainage planes, flashings and sealants.
In order to build a truly efficient home, the design and construction documents must be detailed and devised in a way to increase productivity and decrease the amount of resources used in the construction of the home, as well as being an efficient use of space for the way the home owner will live in the home. Assembling a team of professionals that are educated on building science and that will communicate with each other throughout the entire building process is the only way that green building will be cost effective. A proper home design can be made to reduce construction waste by using advanced framing techniques and using proper sheet good dimensions to reduce material cutting.
As our industry looks for ways to make green building more affordable, we need to look at changing the ways we do business. It is very inexpensive to have a meeting with the trades to explain what is expected and to educate them on certain aspects of critical installation. It is very expensive and time consuming to ignore this communication which could cause a builder to change out HVAC, plumbing, or lighting equipment if the wrong items were installed or quoted.
At KDH Residential Designs we have a passion for delivering to our client the best possible system that they can have. A green home doesn’t necessarily need expensive gadgets and gizmos. All it needs is to be designed, detailed and built efficiently and tight. Items such as solar panels, geo-thermal heating/cooling systems, spray foam insulation, and recycled building materials obviously factor into building a sustainable home and will continue to become more affordable, but none of these items are needed to build a green home. Call it what you will, a high performance house, a green home, a sustainable home, or whatever catch phase in popular today, the key is to build a team of educated professionals that understand building science. Start with a good home design that is not only tailored to the way the home will be used but tailored to the lot, the climate, the home owner and the overall energy efficiency goals.
Green is not always something that a consumer can buy. It’s a lifestyle change. If you can’t afford a 20% water reducing shower head then simply cut four minutes off of your twenty minute shower. If you do buy the water reducing shower head then snow ball the effect by reducing your shower time anyway. If you have solar panels on your house that save you three hundred dollars a year on your energy bill, don’t brag to me when buy an Energy Star refrigerator and put the old non rated refrigerator in your garage that costs you four hundred dollars a year to run in a hot unconditioned space.
The high performance home is a system and should be properly planned, executed and maintained. The system should include the residential designer, the builder, all of the trades, the mechanical equipment, plumbing fixtures, electrical components, and most of all the home owner. If the home owner doesn’t know how to properly maintain or operate the components of the home or if it the system is overly complicated, the system will break down and not be used to it’s maximum capacity. It would be like wondering why your car is broken down only to find out that the dealer should have told you that you should change your oil periodically. A true high efficiency home should come with an owner’s manual. If you don’t have one then you are probably not living in a high efficiency home.