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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features July 09, 2014

3/14/2013 9:58:00 PM
Ask the contractor: 'Greenwashed' homes may not be energy-efficient

Sandy Griffis
Yavapai County Contractors Association

Q: My wife and I have recently retired to Prescott and are looking forward to purchasing a home. We have three homes that we are considering. One is rated as an Energy Star home and the other two are not, but they have "green" features. We read your column weekly and want to know the thoughts from your builders.

A: There is certainly a lot of "greenwashing" taking place among today's builders and homeowners throughout the industry. Bob Norman of Sun Pine Homes, Ed Stahl of R.E.S Contracting and Kurt Holmes of Prescott Green Builders all agree that merely claiming a home is green because it has bamboo flooring, natural paint or the latest slick green components, despite a leaky duct system, can be misleading.

A big point that Norman wants to make is "the most important principle of green design and construction is producing a home that is highly energy-efficient. Have it independently tested to prove its performance."

Energy Star-rated homes have the lowest environmental footprint due to energy savings and will have the added benefits of health, comfort, safety and durability.

Holmes builds all of his homes to meet or exceed Energy Star standards and as he says, "anyone can say they build an energy-efficient home, but having the home certified Energy Star ensures that it is. An Energy Star home goes far beyond energy efficiency, Holmes said. The certification standards use the building science system approach to ensure the home is energy efficient, but also ensure that the home has good indoor air quality, is safe from radon buildup, has proper weatherization barriers, window flashing, foundation drainage, ventilation, comfort and is safe and durable.

Green building should be immediately correlated not with just sustainability, but quality. It is quite difficult to build an energy-efficient home that is poor quality. An Energy Star builder must have a firm grasp on building science.

Another important component of Energy Star homes is that the Energy Star process itself guarantees that the home will meet the approved standards. "With Energy Star, the builder and homeowner get the added benefit of third-party inspections and certification by the certified energy rater," Norman said. The house plans are sent to the energy rater for review and analysis. The rater provides independent third-party verification and looks for key information on the plans to help the builder select the best combination of energy-efficient features to ensure that the home will earn the Energy Star label when constructed.

These raters personally follow the progress of the build with multiple site visits to verify compliance at key intervals. "Throughout the construction process, the rater performs a number of on-site inspections and diagnostic tests to verify the proper installation of the selected energy-efficient features and overall energy performance of our homes," Stahl said. "Good construction will pay back for decades and as the cost of energy increases the savings become more and more significant for us and our planet." He said that a recent study of homes sold between 2007 and 2012 documented an average increase of 9 percent in selling price when the home had a green certification label such as the Energy Star Certification. Norman agrees and added, "Many energy-efficient options are good investments and are an asset for resale."

All three of these local Energy Star builders agree that the costs to build are 1.0 percent to 1.5 percent more than current built homes, and the payback time is approximately three to five years. Energy Star and other performance upgrades are adding about $6,000 to the price but saving the customer about 30 percent minimum in annual energy costs of $2,000-$3,000.

Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) is a professional association representing licensed, bonded and insured contractors, suppliers, distributors and business entities. Call YCCA for information on hiring a contractor at 778-0040. Submit questions to ycca@cableone.net or through www.ycca.org.

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