Save Money by Building “Green”

By Rick Koze

Green building has come a long way in the last five years. Builders have gone from offering a few energy efficient features and options to examining every part of the house and tweaking it to maximize energy efficiency. Why? Because, the bottom line is a “green” house saves you green.

Creating a new home is the greenest option because the most efficient new products and techniques can be used. Builders must now meet more rigid building requirements mandated by the government in the new codes put in place in 2009. (Ask your builder about the home UA value.) Today, a new home is estimated to be at least 17% more efficient than one built before the adoption of the 2009 codes.  Kay Builders of Allentown has been ahead of the curve in energy efficient techniques long before codes were in place to require builders to do so. We’ve gone beyond what is necessary in building a home so it saves the owner money now and in the future.

Here are ways new homes can save owners money with the added bonus of decreasing their carbon footprint:

Upgraded HVAC Systems: One of the most important aspects of energy efficiency is your home’s heating and cooling system. Although the code requires a 72% fuel-efficient furnace and the required SEER value of air conditioning units has been increased to 13 SEER, manufacturers have  cost-effective upgrades to increase these values even more. Kay Builders includes a 92% efficient gas furnace and usually includes a 14 SEER air conditioning unit.  In addition to improved heating and cooling units, all duct work must now be sealed and attic ducts insulated. The new code also requires a programmable thermostat to control temperatures throughout the day, saving money and energy.

Windows: One of the largest sources of energy loss in the thermal envelope is a window. In today’s new homes, windows meet a much higher level of energy efficiency. Required U values have increased and consumers should request low e-glass if it is not included. Additionally, manufacturers’ increased focus on energy efficiency has resulted in the availability of cost-effective window upgrades.

Insulation: New codes require thicker insulation in attics, walls and ceilings. In most cases this means using 2 x 6 lumber for exterior walls to allow more room for insulation, which has the  additional impact of a more structurally sound building. Kay Builders has been using 2 x 6 exterior wall construction for years.

House Wrap: Installed right after framing, we wrap a house to create a thermal barrier that helps keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It also is a vapor block from the exterior materials and framing. While Kay Builders has been wrapping houses for a number of years, this is now standard code on new houses.

The Blower Test: This test measures the leakage of the thermal envelope.  By performing this relatively inexpensive test while the home is being built, leaky ductwork, seals and poor weather stripping can be identified and corrected.

In addition to the things that are required of builders, we like to have a conversation with our buyers from the beginning about what they can do to make their home even more energy efficient while still building it at an affordable price. Here are some things we suggest to our buyers.

ENERGY EFFICIENT UPGRADES

Upgraded Appliances: New appliances by nature are more energy efficient but try to buy the most efficient appliances you can afford. Each year manufacturers are coming up with more energy efficient appliance models.  By spending a little more to upgrade, you can have a more efficient appliance.

Tankless hot water heaters: Up to 20 percent of a house’s energy usage is from the hot water heater. The more children you have, the more you use. Quick-recovery, gas hot water heaters tend to be more efficient than electric models, especially with the new electric rates. Buyers can also consider an on-demand gas unit where you pay to heat the water as it is used which drastically reduces heating costs.

Attic Fans: An attic fan increases ventilation and moves the cold or hot air from the attic keeping the draw on the HVAC system more uniform, and thereby saving you money. One or two can be added at a cost of about $450 each, which can be paid back reasonably quickly.

Home Automation System: This system, with the push of a button, puts appliances (HVAC system, the hot water heater, and lighting) into a sleep mode while you are at work, away from the house or on
vacation. The systems can be monitoredremotely over the Internet and settings can be changed from outside the home as needed.

The benefits of building a new home are many. In addition to having the peace of mind of energy efficiency that can save money, new homes are more fire safe, require less maintenance and are often more structurally sound.  For example, foundation walls are now mandated to be 10 inches wide instead of eight inches.  And don’t forget the warranty included with a new home and the ability for  buyers to completely design and customize the house they always wanted.

Rick Koze is the president of Kay Builders, Inc. (kaybuilders.com), a family-owned business based in the Lehigh Valley. A native of the area and an Emmaus High School graduate, Koze holds a B.A. in Economics from Yale University. He has more than 15 years experience working with Fortune 500 companies.

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