- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

While many Americans pause to think about the planet and protecting the environment on Earth Day, for others, thinking about their energy bills and conserving energy is an everyday occurrence.

Walking more and driving less is one way to save on gas, but homeowners also can be environmentally friendly without ever leaving home. Consumers in the market for a new home can take advantage of new technology and building techniques that have greatly increased energy efficiency and improved residential air quality.

Three builders in the Washington area - K. Hovnanian Homes, Kettler Forlines Homes and Camberley Homes- recently introduced new programs and built model homes to showcase their commitment to the environment.

K. Hovnanian introduced its “high-performance homes” about two years ago, but in January it added a new feature for its customers, an online representative named Nate.

“It can be hard to get the message across about home improvements that increase energy-efficiency because sometimes these are not visible to homebuyers,” says Dee Minich, group senior vice president of sales and marketing for K. Hovnanian.

“We introduced Nate as a way for customers to learn about the energy-efficient features in the homes and to have a resource after they move in, too.”

Nate (at www.NateKHOV.com) writes a blog with tips for homeowners, has produced YouTube videos and communicates on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Information for homeowners includes seasonal maintenance tips, laundry tips and how to save money by checking for things such as a leaking faucet.

“Every home we build, whether it is a $200,000 town home or one of our most expensive luxury homes, is a high-performance home,” Ms. Minich says. “We show customers how much money they can save from the high-efficiency furnace, the CFL lighting, Energy Star appliances, air filtration management systems and other features. We want our customers to understand the quality of our homes.”

K. Hovnanian uses the Home Energy Rating System program established by the Residential Energy Services Network to demonstrate the energy performance of their homes.

Kettler Forlines‘ Brightwell Crossing community in Poolesville in western Montgomery County is one of the first residential developments in the country in which every home is Environmental Protection Agency Indoor airPLUS certified. The EPA is producing a video of the construction process at Brightwell Crossing to demonstrate the building practices for other developers and to showcase the benefits of becoming Indoor airPLUS certified.

“The Indoor airPLUS program is actually an offshoot of the Energy Star program that started a few years ago,” says Tom Kettler, president of Kettler Forlines. “We made a commitment to have every one of our homes Energy Star certified, regardless of the price range or location. The first step to being Indoor airPLUS certified is to be Energy Star certified. This program adds the element of healthier indoor air quality as part of environmentally friendly practices.”

Indoor air quality is of particular importance for individuals with asthma or allergies, but it has become more of an issue for many people because of energy-efficient building techniques.

“The EPA developed a checklist for systems and building techniques that can be used to offset the problems created by building tighter homes for energy-efficiency,” Mr. Kettler says. “Some of the features we are using at Brightwell Crossing include adding an exhaust fan to the garage to continuously vent the air outside rather than into the house, since many people keep things like paint, gas cans and fertilizer in the garage.

“The furnace and the water heater are not only more efficient, but they have been designed to draw air in and exhaust it outside rather than drawing it from the inside and recirculating the air.”

Indoor airPLUS-rated carpets, carpet pads and cabinets also are part of the program, which combines ventilation systems and the use of special materials to reduce off-gassing that can have an impact on residents.

Mr. Kettler says building Energy Star-certified homes initially costs about $2,000 more per home, and adding the indoor airPLUS program costs only about $500 more.

“I think the trend will be to use this program at other developments, but for now we are using it in every home at Brightwell Crossing,” Mr. Kettler says. “We are one of the earliest midsize builders to embrace this program because we try to innovate in ways that make sense for our customers and for the planet.”

Camberley, a division of Winchester Homes, has partnered with the National Association of Home Builders Research Center and the Department of Energy’s Building America Challenge program to design and build a super energy-efficient home at its Poplar Run community in Silver Spring.

“Camberley Homes usually builds luxury homes that have 4,000 to 7,000 finished square feet, and we wanted to try out the concept of a ‘smaller-but-smarter’ home,” says Stephen Nardella, senior vice president of operations for Winchester Homes. “We wanted to design the same high-style home with fewer rooms yet lots of storage. This home does not have a formal living room, but it has a great room and a full-size kitchen similar to the ones we build in larger homes.”

The Centennial Collection homes at Poplar Run will have 2,600 to 2,800 finished square feet. The Branford model, with 2,600 square feet, includes a formal dining room, a morning room, a great room and a “home management” room on the main level, with three bedrooms and two full baths upstairs. Buyers can add a loft level with another bedroom and bath and finish the lower level with a recreation room and full bath.

The Building America Challenge requires the homes to be at least 30 percent more energy efficient than 2012 building code requirements.

“We wanted to learn how to design homes for future energy standards and to find out if customers appreciate and want these improvements,” Mr. Nardella says. “We used a whole-house systems design approach, starting with the mechanical systems of a high-performance house and using optimized framing techniques to reduce lumber use and create more space for insulation.”

Mr. Nardella says the Centennial Collection homes are 30 percent to 40 percent more energy-efficient than current standards, have good indoor air quality and are quiet because of extra insulation and air sealing.

“We are interested in learning which energy features resonate with the public,” Mr. Nardella says. “We have not set the base price for these homes yet, but they will be competitively priced for the area although they are slightly smaller.

“The bet we are making is that people may be willing to pay a little more when they will be paying significantly less for their utility bills.”

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