- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Builders and home buyers across the country are increasingly interested in so-called “zero-energy” or “green” building.

Zero-energy homes combine highly energy-efficient design and technology using solar electric and thermal systems to produce as much energy as they use on an annual basis, resulting in zero net energy consumption.

In response to the growing consumer demand for green homes, the Home Builders Association of Maryland (www.homebuilders.org) has created green — environmentally friendly — building guidelines for its members. HBAM also is moving toward creating a green building council.

“Members achieve points in different categories, such as indoor environmental quality, resource, energy and water efficiency. They have to earn a number of points in different categories in order to rate as a green builder,” says Kristin Hogel, HBAM communications director.

In addition to providing green building seminars and up-to-date energy information for its members, the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association (NVBIA) is considering instituting a builder certification program for energy-efficient homes. (www.nvbia.com)

“We have started to see a trend in energy-efficient home sales and begun tracking the numbers,” says Laura Hampton, NVBIA communications director. “We are investigating formalizing certification in the near future.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a green home as one that uses energy-efficient construction techniques and products, environmentally preferable materials, water-efficient products and processes, renewable energy options, waste reduction and recycling during construction, and sustainable land development practices (www.energystar.gov).

Building green doesn’t just mean saving energy, it means saving the environment.

Energy used in homes often comes from fossil-fueled power plants, which contributes to smog, acid rain and risks of global climate change.

An Energy Star-rated home aims to use 50 percent less fossil fuel, to recycle 90 percent of all organic waste, consume 50 percent less water, and recycle 75 percent of all construction waste. Each Energy Star-qualified home can keep some 4,500 pounds of greenhouse gases out of the air each year, the EPA reports.

Overall, an Energy Star-qualified home is at least 15 percent more efficient than homes built to meet the 2004 International Residential Code.

A number of energy-efficiency improvements in new home construction can save homeowners hundreds of dollars on their monthly payments and put additional cash in their pockets because of federal tax breaks and state and county rebates.

These changes in construction can save homeowners between $200 to $400 per year on utility bills.

“We could all afford to keep a little more money in our pocket,” says Donna Heron, EPA press officer. “Consumers are not the only ones to benefit from the construction of energy-efficient homes. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Internal Revenue Service offers up to $2,000 in tax credits to contractors who construct a qualified, new, energy-efficient home beginning in January 2006.”

Additionally, consumers who purchase and install specific products, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs, and heating and cooling equipment in the home can receive a tax credit of up to $500 (www.energy.gov/tax breaks.htm).

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax break requires a home to be certified to provide a heating and cooling energy consumption that is at least 30 to 50 percent lower than in manufactured homes, and 50 percent lower than in homes built prior to 2005. In addition, homes must have a building envelope component that provides a level of heating and cooling energy consumption that is at least 10 percent below that of a comparable home.

When looking for a zero-energy home, consumers need to look for the blue Energy Star label, the government backed symbol for energy efficiency.

“Energy Star Homes are part of a dual program with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency,” Ms. Heron says. In addition to its Web site, the program maintains a consumer hot line, 888/782-7937, she says.

Together the agencies identify new homes and more than 40 types of energy-efficient products. The Energy Star label is typically located on a home’s circuit breaker box.

Homes are independently verified to meet strict Energy Star guidelines. Energy Star rates homes based on insulation, windows, tight construction and ducts, heating and cooling equipment, and lighting and appliances.

Energy Star uses a 100-point Home Energy Rating System (HERS) as the performance standard. Homes must receive a rate of 86 or higher to receive the Energy Star label.

Energy Star homes undergo more inspections and testing than code-built homes. HERS inspectors conduct on-site evaluation and testing.

The process includes a blower-door test to test for air leaks in the house, a duct blaster test to test for leaks in the duct system, and completion of a thermal bypass checklist that requires a visual inspection of common construction areas where air can flow through or around insulation.

The HERS process helps identify and correct mistakes before they become hidden behind walls.

More than 2,500 of the nation’s home builders are a part of Energy Star’s program. The standards for HERS ratings, protocols and testing guidelines are maintained by the Residential Energy Services Network (www.natresnet.org).

Homeowners can also look for the Energy Star Indoor Air Package label. It is a new specification developed by EPA to address indoor environment issues.

Homes that achieve this level of excellence are first qualified for an Energy Star rating, and then incorporate more than 60 additional home design and construction features to control moisture, chemical exposure, radon, pests, ventilation and filtration.

These features protect residents from mold, chemicals, combustion gases and other airborne pollutants.

Energy Star isn’t the only rating system for building materials or builders.

The National Association of Housing Research (NAHR), a housing technology and information resource, was developed more than 40 years ago as a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). It provides product research and building process improvements that have been widely adopted by home builders throughout the United States.

The “research center seal” is internationally recognized as a mark of product quality and an assurance of product performance.

“We work with government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to certify that products meet or exceed government standards,” says Kimberly Warren, communication specialist with the NAHR. “We also certify builders with our seal of approval. Consumers should look for our seal when choosing a builder.”

“The more energy efficient a home is, the more marketable it is,” says Walter Molony, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors. “In today’s large market of homes for sale, consumers will choose an energy-efficient home first, especially if it is the same price as a nonenergy-efficient home.”

In keeping with the trend, the NAHB Research Center, U.S. Department of Energy, the Maryland Energy Administration and Bob Ward Cos. have teamed to build the “Powerhouse,” Ms. Warren says.

“The Powerhouse is a new ultra-energy-efficient model home in Upper Marlboro,” she says. It features products, systems and design techniques that facilitate dramatic improvements in energy performance and lower utility bills for homeowners, and is the first of its kind constructed in the mid-Atlantic region.

“The model will serve as an educational model for local builders and [energy-] conscious home buyers,” Ms. Warren says.

Bob Ward Cos. finished construction of the 2,600-square-foot home in June.

“We were one of the first builders to build 100 percent Energy Star homes in 1997,” says Marcy Loane, marketing manager for Bob Ward Cos. “To date, we have built 129 Energy Star homes in the [Washington] area. NAHB Research Center approached us to build the Powerhouse, and we are excited to learn about the new technologies.”

Ms. Loane adds that with the current Baltimore Gas & Electric rate increases, the timing couldn’t be better.

An Energy Star-qualified home includes:

• Effective levels and proper installation of wall, floor and attic insulation; comprehensive air barrier details; and high-performance windows

• Efficient air distribution, minimum duct leakage and effective insulation

• Efficient heating, cooling and water heating

• Efficient lighting, including fixtures that earn the Energy Star

• Efficient appliances, including Energy Star-qualified dishwashers, refrigerators and clothes washers.

Source: www.energystar.gov

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