Energy Efficient Homes are the Way

By Laura Jackson

As the level of experience and technology has exploded, green building in today’s world has become so much more than replacing a few light bulbs and upgrading your appliances. And finding the right professionals at the start of any building project is vital to a successful end result.

Park City is fortunate to have a variety of certified, experienced green builders willing to share their expertise on some of the most important issues affecting environmentally responsible building today. Scott Jaffa with Jaffa Group explains that so much of the future of green building has to do with education. “It’s crucial for consumers to understand the long-term implications. So much of our American culture today is conditioned to focus only on the short term. We design homes to outlive their owners.”

The future of building green is not just about the long-term benefits to our environment either, as vital as those are. “One thing we know for sure, energy costs are not going down,” said Jaffa. “As those prices continue to rise, so does the necessity of more energy efficient homes.”

Jaffa continues, “And it’s important to understand the long-term benefits of maintenance as well.” Because of the types of materials used in a home designed to be green and sustainable long beyond its original owners, it becomes an almost maintenance-free home. The future implications of paying little to no maintenance costs are tremendous, though sometimes overlooked in the current home market. “It costs more as a homeowner and as a nation to maintain buildings built with inefficient materials.”

How much “green” are we talking about?

Although we all want to do our part in protecting the environment, of course there’s the practical question we must know before beginning either a remodel or new building project, “How much is this going to cost?”

Jason Dunlop with Big-D Construction explains, “There is an immediate assumption that green building costs more. Going back five or more years, some of the emerging building products and materials came with a much higher price tag. However, within the last few years, green building materials and products have become competitive in price.”

More importantly, said Dunlop, “Experienced contractors with estimating capabilities can provide a customer with green building cost information, potential returns on their investment, and projected long- term savings for their project.”

“There are many things you can do today without raising the price of your home exponentially, from basic energy efficiency to tighter building and so much more,” said Garret Strong of Tall Pines Construction. “One of the biggest challenges in green building today is accounting for that value with lenders and appraisers.”

Douglas Knight of Douglas Knight Construction believes, “We find that today green building works on a somewhat modified bell curve as it becomes more mainstream. It’s simple and cost efficient to get a project to be ‘green’ compared to the average existing home, and we encourage most clients to build their homes this way. To take a home to the most advanced level of energy efficiency, costs will increase, but so will the home’s overall efficiency and longevity. While super green homes are becoming more common each year, they still represent a small percentage of the market. With increased education and technological advancements, we are certain to see more homes achieve that super green level in the future.”

What does “green” actually mean today?

Preston Campbell of Go West Development explains, “One of the biggest challenges we face in trying to build ‘green’ is that the word means so many things to so many different people. Is it bamboo floors, low VOC paint, geodesic domes, or a vegetable garden on the roof?”

Strong concurs, “The thing that is huge right now is agreeing on the definition of green. We know it doesn’t just mean recycling. We think it’s really about building a better, more sustainable product over the long term—one that is more energy efficient and that focuses on the home’s overall systems.”

Campbell continues, “To me, it really means just two things—energy efficiency and longevity. We build every house today using techniques that have been proven in Canada and Alaska for over 30 years. One thing we do is measure, and then take control of, the amount of air and moisture that enters a building. But insulating a house well is really only a small part of the answer.”

Why is it important to have a “living and breathing” home?

“Over-insulating without controlling air and moisture infiltration has caused lots of unintended problems in U.S. residential construction,” explains Campbell. “The walls and roof of a modern building need to be treated as a breathing organism. People living, cooking and bathing inside them add moisture and we must have ways to remove some of that, although most houses are built without those devices.”

Strong said, “One of the biggest pushes in green construction has been about air filtration. On all of the homes we build, we conduct what is called ‘floor door testing.’ It essentially monitors the air coming in and out of the building. With this test, they monitor ACPH (air changes per hour) from the beginning to the end of the project. Not only does this give them the information they need on the home’s air quality, but it allows them to find out where air might be escaping, allowing them the opportunity to seal it before it’s too late, such as after the siding, insulation, or drywall is already in place.”

What are some of the best, long-term sustainability solutions?

Dunlop discusses some of a builder’s best options for increased sustainability, “Continually seeking education for themselves, for their staff, and their customers will always result in a better end product. As the green building market continues to evolve towards higher standards, it is imperative to stay on top of the changes and the requirements. Becoming a certified professional in one of the rating systems is a clear demonstration to your customers that you are dedicated to staying in tune with the most up-to-date means and methods.”

The type and longevity of a home’s roofing materials can result in a significant impact on our environment as well. Consumers easily spend a large proportion of their remodeling dollars replacing subpar roofing materials, sending used roofing materials to landfills. Tiffany Brady, Marketing Director for Aspen Roofing explains the variety of energy efficient options available, “There are new and exciting materials on the market that don’t limit you to traditional looks and colors. Not only are metal options virtually unlimited, but shingle colors and looks have evolved as well.” Aspen offers Energy Star rated shingles, metal roof packages, green roof systems, energy efficient solar powered attic fans, solar photovoltaic systems, attic insulation and more. “All of these help save money on your roofing system while increasing longevity and remaining conservation-minded,” said Brady.

“The most important issues affecting green building and its sustainability are educating clients about their options to build efficiently, along with helping them find balance between the costs compared to the home’s overall budget and goals. Having this balance ties directly into the success and long- term sustainability of the overall green movement, and with this, green building will truly become mainstream in the building industry,” said Knight.

Campbell concludes, “By far the best solution for increased sustainability is to build houses that will outlast their owners. We have been incredibly fortunate to have clients over the past few years that were willing to pay a little extra (and it really is just a little) to let us add these features to their homes. The long-term payback is energy bills that are much lower, and houses that last much longer. The payback for us is that we’ve learned how to do this the right way, and now wouldn’t build a house any other way.”

Special Thanks to:

Preston Campbell, GO WEST DEVELOPMENT

Jason Dunlop, BIG-D CONSTRUCTION

Scott Jaffa, JAFFA GROUP

Douglas Knight,DOUGLAS KNIGHT CONSTRUCTION

Garrett Strong,TALL PINES CONSTRUCTION

Tiffany Brady, ASPEN ROOFING