EEBA's High Performance Home Blog

Posts From June, 2018

Paving the Way for Resource Efficiency

A California builder goes beyond the basics to create a residence where home performance and resource conservation are essential.
Paving the Way for Resource Efficiency

Casa Aguila, a 4-bedroom home in Ramona, CA, was custom-built for homeowners looking to be grid-independent in the future. Designed and constructed by Alliance Green Builders to stringent California Title 24 Standards, the project includes numerous resource-saving highlights.

In a state where water is a scarce resource, Casa Aguila was built with water conservation in mind. One of their biggest hurdles was obtaining a blackwater permit in a County not known to be open to new ideas. While these systems typically use very complex machinery, the Casa Aguila design was much simpler and was created with a built-in backup system that utilized the existing septic tank and leach field. With the help of the project consultant, Bill Wilson, they were able to categorize the system as an “advanced wastewater treatment system”, allowing the home to become the first residential project in San Diego to obtain a blackwater treatment permit.

“If we had been going for a greywater permit alone, it would have probably been a pretty simple process. However, acquiring the greywater/blackwater permit was challenging,” says Katie Teare of Alliance Green Builders.

The home also employs four 10,000-gallon rainwater cisterns for potable water, four 10,000-gallon stormwater tanks for irrigation of ornamental landscaping, and one 10,000-gallon greywater tank that is specifically used for irrigation and fire suppression.

“The greywater and blackwater from the home are combined and flow through two consecutive tanks,” says Teare. “First the existing tank septic and then the new tank - and are filtered and distributed through irrigation lines to a permaculture Food Forest.”

As far as energy savings go, this home boasts 22.1-kW of PV, a 3.2-kW wind turbine, and backup battery storage, giving it a -92 CA Energy Design Rating (EDR). For comparison, a new home that is built and verified to meet the bare minimum Title 24 requirements is considered to have a Title 24 score of 0%.

Alliance Green Builders’ success on this project will allow the greywater/blackwater design to be used as a blueprint for others who would like to undertake similar projects and provide clients with the highest level of resource conservation and energy efficiency in California.

Interested in learning more about water efficiency in the construction process? Learn more about the EEBA Water Efficiency for Builders and Designers seminar.

A New York-based Home Builder’s Journey Toward Zero Energy Ready Homes

An aspiration to create durable homes leads this builder to higher home performance and a zero energy goal.

After building his own home, Greenhill Contracting president, Anthony Aebi, reflected on the way homes are built in the U.S., as well as the lack of higher code standards. His background in Swiss homebuilding, and a desire to build more durably, eventually led him to the use of Insulated Concrete Forms ("ICF") in all exterior walls of the homes he built. The noticeable improvement in home performance set in motion a quest towards zero-energy homes.

"[Since 2007 our] team has worked tirelessly to reduce the construction costs associated with high-performance homes, including developing continuous improvements...with the use of ICFs, spray foam thermal, and air-control strategies," says Aebi.

   
Photos: Amy Dooley

While there are no actual building code standards directed towards disaster resilience in the Esopus, New York area, homeowners automatically receive the benefits of durability because of the reinforcements ICFs provide. In addition, this type of construction allows a home to maintain indoor temperatures through multi-day power outages. Aebi confesses that while some buyers think the durability is “cool” most are much happier just knowing their home was designed using solid construction techniques.

And as for the actual energy-efficiency of the homes? "The last 15 homes we have built, homeowners are [paying] no electric bills," says Aebi. In fact, out of the 34 total Zero Energy Ready Homes Greenhill Contracting has constructed, there are only five homeowners paying any type of electric bill. "[We are proving] the DOE Zero Energy Ready threshold can be achieved without any significant costs over a code-built home."

Visit EEBA's education center to learn more about the Building Science for Cost Effective Approaches to Zero Energy Homes.

Selling Energy Efficient Homes

You've built an energy efficient, high performance home...but now how do you sell it?
Selling Energy Efficient Homes

Over thirty years ago, builders began approaching Gord Cooke about utilizing building science in their construction processes. Many expressed interest in incorporating energy strategies into their homes, but they also went back to their offices wondering how to actually sell it.

"The mistake is assuming that if it has to do with energy efficiency, to sell it as energy efficiency," says Cooke.

With over a decade of energy and marketing research studies, data from the Shelton Group shows that while many buyers are interested in energy efficiency, they are rarely motivated to buy a home simply because it will save them energy. Most buyers get caught up in other aspects of the home building process - the location, the paint colors, the countertops and cabinets - energy efficiency tends to get lost in the conversation.

But where does it fit it?

While Shelton’s group collects data through surveys and research, Cooke enjoys physically visiting sales centers for proof that people aren’t that interested in energy savings. Through his onsite experience, he believes the way to a buyer’s heart is to talk about a real emotional appeal.

"From a building science perspective, we want houses to be built tighter with a continuous mechanical ventilation system, provide them an opportunity to ventilate properly, and save money," says Cooke. "But [instead we should] talk about the healthy living environment - no bugs, no draft, no dust, fresh air. And then at the end of the conversation you say, 'By the way, besides these other things, you ALSO get all these great energy savings.'"

Cooke and Suzanne Shelton teamed up to create a very specific course aimed at teaching builders and their sales staff how to sell energy efficiency. Presented at the 2017 High Performance Home Summit, the full-day session is also available through EEBA's Houses that Work™ program and is especially beneficial for sales people. The class is one of 7 in the program and takes attendees through the building science of a home and turns every technical feature into a benefit for buyers.