HERS Raters: An Untapped Resource

These professionals can help with a lot more than inspections, but few builders understand that fact.
HERS Raters: An Untapped Resource
by Steve Byers According to RESNET, just 20% of new single-family homes have a HERS rater involved. When you consider that a rating is the most accurate way to gauge home performance, it's obvious that the industry has a long way to go. Even those builders who regularly contract with HERS raters seldom take advantage of the full value these industry pros can provide. That's unfortunate. The best raters offer more than code or program compliance: they're extremely cost-effective quality assurance partners. They can even help reduce a builder's liability for health and comfort issues, something today's overworked site supervisors seldom have time for. As CEO of a building consulting and training company with more than 25 years in the home performance business, I find that builders are more willing to take advantage of a performance-focused rater's services if they better understand how we work. The relationship is more like that with the architect or engineer than with the... read more
 

The Problem with HRVs

When integrated with the HVAC system, most E/HRV's don't deliver the desired ventilation air. A new design seeks to solve this problem, but we need your input.
The Problem with HRVs
by Srikanth Puttagunta, PE Builders believe that if they install an Energy Recovery or Heat Recovery Ventilator (E/HRV) they have ensured good indoor air quality. In reality, that's seldom the case. To deliver the needed fresh air, an E/HRV must be installed in a way that guarantees balanced airflows—where the intake and exhaust airstreams move equal volumes. But the design of these units makes proper installation difficult and, when integrated with the HVAC system (as most are), almost ensures that they fail to work as advertised. Of course, an E/HRV costs more than other ventilation strategies, so if it doesn't do what it's intended to, the builder has wasted that extra money. Steven Winter Associates is collaborating with a major manufacturer to develop an ERV that solves the shortcomings of conventional units. We have completed the second prototype. We hope to have a final design by Fall of 2019 with commercial availability sometime in 2020. Before moving to... read more
 

How Well Do You Understand Your Buyers?

New research sheds light on the knowledge and attitudes of people shopping for high-performance, green homes
How Well Do You Understand Your Buyers?
Builders looking for ways to sell more high-performance green homes for more money can glean insight from the February issue of Professional Builder magazine. In it, Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group summarizes research from the company's 13th Annual Builder Pulse Study. The study asked homebuyers a series of questions designed to reveal what they actually thought and knew about green homes, and how much they were willing to pay. The study got responses from more than 2000 of what Shelton calls "Energy Savvy homebuyers." Shelton's researchers also polled 100 builders—drawn from the Pro Builder and EEBA audiences—to gauge how well they understood this market. Here's our take on three of the main findings. 1. Most buyers can't clearly define what constitutes a "green" home or what the must-have features are. And, the features they do list as essential don't match those on most builders' lists. For instance, just 38 percent of buyers said a green home had to include a... read more
 

Five Steps to High Performance Home Sales

If you partner with real estate agents, you need this advice
Five Steps to High Performance Home Sales
by Jan Green High performance homes offer benefits every homeowner wants, including lower energy bills and better indoor air quality. These homes tend to sell more quickly and for more money than comparable, code-built homes, but only if they're correctly marketed. That includes describing them correctly in your real estate listings and working with an agent that knows how to list and sell these types of homes. Unfortunately, some builders choose to ignore this advice. For instance, a basic rule of marketing is to emphasize features and benefits the buyer cares about, but I've seen more than one listing with sentences like this: “Solidly-built 2018 structure has Ballard engineered trusses, 8-inch LPI floor joists on triple 2X10s over concrete block piers built by a licensed masonry company. Home is dried in with Pella windows.” Your competition will know what that sentence means but the average buyer won't, and will have to stop and ask why those terms are significant and... read more
 

Reducing Liability When Building Net Zero

Practical advice for builders from a construction attorney
Reducing Liability When Building Net Zero
By Patrick Barthet Homebuilders are accustomed to managing expectations. They do this at the initial client meeting, when drafting contract provisions, and in all progress meetings. As the project moves from design to occupancy, smart builders work hard to deliver the highest quality work possible while at the same time not promising more than they can deliver. Besides making for happier customers, this also helps minimize a builder’s liability. Managing expectations is a bit more complicated when it comes to high-performance construction, as different homeowners will have different expectations about their home's performance in regards to heating and cooling, moisture issues and indoor air quality. Those expectations may or may not be realistic, and the only way to make sure they are is to put them in writing and to have everyone sign off. In fact, as an attorney who works with builders I always recommend a written, contractual warranty that defines exactly what the... read more
 

Do I Really Need to Test My Homes?

A performance trainer shares answers to the most common questions he gets in his blower door seminars.
Do I Really Need to Test My Homes?
by Sam Myers Blower doors have been around since the 1980s, but for a long time were used mostly by niche builders. However, with more and more codes and high-performance home programs requiring air leakage testing, this tool has entered the mainstream. That change has fueled a demand for training. As a training consultant for a blower door manufacturer, I train and certify builders and other industry pros on the equipment and test methods. After completing around 60 of these trainings, ranging from one-to-ones to classroom-size groups, I've noticed that the same questions come up again and again. I thought it would be useful to offer answers to the top half-dozen questions I hear from my students. Here they are. 1. Why do we have to do this? While the EEBA audience already understands the value of air sealing, the average builder who is forced to test by code often complies grudgingly, at least at first. They're more likely to embrace the test once they understand its... read more
 

Building a Sustainable Brand

Seattle's Dwell Development is a case study on how a high-performance builder can use branding to power growth regardless of where the market goes.
Building a Sustainable Brand
Shopping for a home has some important things in common with dating. Your initial attraction may be based on looks, but the criteria for a long-term match will be more about substance and character. Seattle builder Dwell Development has built a very successful marketing program around this principle. Sales of its individually designed, sustainable spec homes tripled, from 10 to 28 homes per year, during the three years following 2008 when a lot of builders were either closing shop or struggling to stay alive. At the bottom of the recession, the company was even pre-selling homes in one community for 20 to 25 percent more than competing homes of equal size. They accomplished this by crafting a distinct local brand based on modern architecture, a high-performance message, and a disciplined marketing program. Design First According to company principal Anthony Maschmedt, Dwell has built more than 300 homes over the past 14 years, all of them detailed to perform at least 50%... read more
 

How QA Earns More Than It Costs

The numbers are in. Quality Assurance really does reduce liability costs for high-performance builders.
How QA Earns More Than It Costs
It's no surprise that builders with formal Quality Assurance programs report fewer warranty claims. For instance, Professional Builder magazine interviewed builders, National Housing Quality Awards judges and QA consultants around the U.S. for an August 2017 article and found that while most builders lack such programs, those who put who them in place get a quick return on their investment. One builder interviewed for the article reported a 70 percent reduction after just a couple of years. But while quality gains are the obvious purposes of such programs, they can offer the added benefit of lowering insurance rates. That's according to Nathan Kahre, High Performance and Healthy Home Manager at Thrive, a 250 home-per-year Denver builder. At a seminar he taught during EEBA's annual Summit in October, he said that within two years of launching its QA program, the company was rewarded with a hefty reduction in liability premiums—more than enough to pay for the program. "After... read more
 

EEBA Summit Showcased Building's Best

The organization's annual meeting introduced the winners of three prestigious industry awards
The mission of the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) is to help industry pros design, build and sell well-crafted high-performance homes. Since great examples are great teachers, EEBA is always honored to showcase the best work of high- performance builders and designers. For the first time ever, this year's annual Summit, held in October in San Diego, hosted three prestigious awards programs. The U.S. Department of Energy's Housing Innovation Awards and the Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor airPLUS Leader Awards recognized accomplishments of industry leaders. The Department of Energy's annual “Race to Zero” competition showcased the best designs created by student design teams from around the U.S. DOE Housing Innovation Awards The Department of Energy's Housing Innovation Awards honors forward-thinking builders who take innovative approaches to zero energy ready homes. This year's awards paid tribute to “Grand Winners for Innovation” in six... read more
 

EEBA Tackles the Big Questions

Annual Summit is a huge success, as high-performance builders look to the future of the industry.
EEBA Tackles the Big Questions
Declaring the mission of the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) as “changing the world,” EEBA President Gene Myers reminded attendees at the group’s annual High Performance Home Summit in San Diego of their true impact. "We're all environmentalists," he said, "but we express this by creating the environment in which our customers live. It's our duty to make sure they thrive and prosper." Myers is owner and CEO of Thrive Home Builders in Denver. The company has won numerous awards for its high-performance homes, a track record he credits to his involvement with EEBA. His remarks gave voice to a common belief among the 300 plus builders, architects, raters and other professionals in attendance—that high-performance, green building represents the industry's future, and that it will play an important role in solving the most difficult issues builders face, from rising insurance costs to a shrinking labor pool. Problem Solvers The annual event teaches... read more