Air Sealing Triage

A simple protocol will make your results more predictable and consistent
Air Sealing Triage
By Mark LaLiberte High-performance builders have long understood the importance of good air sealing, but the topic is now attracting interest from conventional builders as well. With codes mandating confirmed air leakage numbers of 3 ACH 50 or better, those builders are realizing that they need help. Along with my business partners, Justin Wilson and Gord Cooke, I teach air sealing as part of the Applied Building Science classes at Construction Instruction. Again and again, we've seen builders of all types challenged by this important step. But the truth is that effective air sealing isn't mysterious, even if some builders seem intent on over-complicating it. Some complain that the amount of information on the topic is overwhelming and contradictory. Others point out that they can't know for sure before starting a house where the air leaks will be. While both of these objections may be true, they're really just signs that the builder lacks a defined air sealing... read more
 

The Rater as Healthy Home Advisor

If you want to build homes with better indoor air quality, this professional can be a great resource
The Rater as Healthy Home Advisor
By Steve Byers Attend an EEBA Summit or any other gathering of high-performance builders, and you will learn a lot about how to build healthy homes with great indoor air quality (IAQ). The attendees will all seem committed to building such homes, making it easy to conclude that health has become a priority for the industry. The problem is that it hasn't. I love these conferences because they attract the best builders, but they can also be an echo chamber. My interactions with code-minimum builders—who represent most of the industry—have taught me that for most, IAQ isn't even on their radar. This obviously begs the question of "how do we reach those builders?" Getting Motivated Helping them want to build healthy homes takes a stick and a carrot, with the two ends of the stick being liability and reputation. On the liability end, an asthmatic child developing problems after the family moves into one of your homes is a worst-case, and lawyers will likely be... read more
 

Financing Zero Energy

Some ideas on how to have the money discussion with homebuyers
Financing Zero Energy
By Bruce Sullivan I've seen lots of articles that try to educate homeowners about zero energy construction by diving right into the building science and construction details and leaving the financial payoffs until the end. When I teach EEBA's Path to Zero course, however, I flip that sequence. I always begin with an in-depth discussion about money issues because I know that's the gorilla in the room. Once the attendees understand the financial benefits of this way of building, their minds open to learning more. Of course, the EEBA audience is a professional one, but the approach also works with homeowners, making it a good idea for the builder to consider having this discussion early. In my conversations with builders, however, I find that many aren't sure about how best to have the money talk. Fortunately, it's not that difficult. Most homeowners already have an intuitive grasp of the fact that energy-saving improvements, such as adding insulation and high-efficiency... read more
 

High Performance Basic Training

Some of the things I learned at Houses That Work
High Performance Basic Training
Although the 2021 version of the International Energy Conservation Code has yet to be finalized, chances are it will get most new homes very close to Net Zero Ready. Builders and architects need to understand the best ways to meet the code requirements for a particular floor plan in a specific climate without creating moisture, health, or other problems. The escalating demand for building science knowledge on the part of industry professionals is why, over the past few months, we have encouraged people to attend EEBA's annual Summit, a 3-day educational and networking event with the top designers and builders of green, high-performance homes. This year's gathering was October 1-3, and in our last article EEBA President Geoff Ferrell offered an insightful summary of how Summit attendees are shaping our industry's future. But of course, the once-a-year Summit isn't the only education that EEBA offers. There's plenty of gold in our full-day training seminars: Houses That Work,... read more
 

The Other Half of Water Conservation

Low-flow fixtures are important, but if you're really serious about saving water you may need to re-think your plumbing system.
The Other Half of Water Conservation
By Tim Kampert Bathrooms account for more than 50 percent of all indoor water use, according to the EPA. That makes WaterSense fixtures a great choice for any project, and a must for anyone claiming to build green homes. But while low-flow fixtures are important they're not the whole story. In my experience as a building performance specialist working with production builders across the U.S., I have learned that there is plenty of additional savings to be gained from more efficient plumbing. It's not uncommon for a homeowner to flush thousands of gallons down the drain each year waiting for hot water to reach the tap. The effect on the water bill is certainly an issue here, but so is homeowners' frustration with that wait time. In fact, a common complaint our builder clients hear from homeowners is that "it takes forever to get hot water." Considering the frequency of those complaints I'm surprised more builders don't do something about them. The truth is that wait time is... read more
 

High Performance Coming of Age

This year's EEBA High Performance Home Summit was confirmation that our industry is headed in the right direction.
High Performance Coming of Age
By Geoff Ferrell If I had to choose one word to summarize this year's EEBA High Performance Home Summit in Denver, it would be optimism. The most visible sign of that was our record attendance of nearly 400 people, which reflects a growing interest in high-performance homebuilding. But while the numbers were encouraging, where I really heard that optimism was in the presentations I attended and the conversations I had. It was by far the best energy I've felt at any industry gathering. Ever. The sessions included lively and constructive debates, exciting research reports and stories of homes, buildings and communities that put the best research findings into practice. Everyone was fired up about the work they were doing. As is true every year, one of the educational tracks focused on sales, marketing, and business performance. Excellence in these areas is exponentially more important in the high-performance world because every one of us is fighting to differentiate... read more
 

The Ultimate In High Performance

This award winner is just one example of the lessons builders will learn at this year's EEBA Summit.
The Ultimate In High Performance
This is the sixth year that EEBA will be hosting the DOE's Housing Innovation Awards at its annual Summit. The awards recognize builders who have pushed the envelope on the Path to Zero Energy Ready homes by showcasing projects that offer lessons for others builders. As such, the awards perfectly support EEBA's mission of educating the industry on how to design, build and sell high-performance homes. An example of what attendees will see this year is a winner in the Large Custom Home category, a 4-bedroom, 4691 square foot zero energy home in Hampton, Virginia on a beach overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. It was built by Health-E Community Enterprises and in many ways represents the ultimate in high-performance: super-efficient, healthy, resilient and handicap accessible. But while the home was obviously designed for a well-heeled custom buyer, builder Jay Epstein used design approaches and materials choices that he says apply to more mainstream projects. In fact, he offers similar ... read more
 

Solving the Appraisal Problem

Appraisers will be better able to value high-performance homes when more builders start documenting those homes' features
Solving the Appraisal Problem
by Sandra K. Adomatis Fannie Mae and Freddie MAC are in the process of revising the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report (form 1004). Although the draft has yet to be made public, I believe that it will provide a path for more accurately describing and valuing energy efficiency and green features. The recognition by the mortgage industry that buyers are seeking green features—especially features that lower their monthly energy bills— is a step in the right direction. It should improve the appraised values of these properties as well. But while better appraisal forms will help, they're useless if the appraiser and real estate agent aren’t provided with the home's high performance details. The appraiser can't value green features unless those features are documented, and that's the builder's job. The fact that few builders provide adequate documentation is costing everyone. I've seen many high performance homes that were valued the same as similar homes built to a lower... read more
 

Help Ensure Our Industry's Future

A new EEBA initiative will recruit and train the next generation of building science professionals. But we can't do it without you.
Help Ensure Our Industry
Builders are often complaining about the industry's lack of young talent – but complaining won't change anything. Improving the situation will demand focused action. It will require that builders, trades, manufacturers, and other industry partners band together in a systematic effort to attract that talent. EEBA took the first step to that outcome during our Path to Zero educational seminar in June. Eight scholarship students from the University of Denver attended free of charge, as their registrations were generously funded by EEBA partner companies. * These partners understand that recruiting and training the next generation of building science professionals will require a sustained effort and the money to support it. The event was the beginning of the NextGen Scholarship Initiative. Its mission is to bring students, recent graduates, and young professionals from around the U.S to the annual EEBA High Performance Home Summit and our various regional trainings, where we will... read more
 

Problem-Free Closed Crawls

The advantages of closed, conditioned crawl spaces have been well documented, but many builders need help with the details
Problem-Free Closed Crawls
by Alex Glenn and Tommy Blair Roughly 15% to 20% of homes built in the U.S. each year have crawl space foundations. They're cheaper to build than full basements and more functional than a slab, offering a convenient place for plumbing, wiring, ductwork and heating or cooling equipment, as well as some bulk water resiliency. Twenty years ago, nearly all crawl spaces were ventilated with outside air in an effort to control moisture. Most building codes required such venting. The problem is that atmospheric venting is ineffective, to put it mildly. It can actually cause moisture problems, especially in humid climates when warm, moist air enters the crawl space and condenses on the framing. Many builders and remodelers tried to address these problems by bringing in even more outside air, either passively by building more openings into the foundation, or actively by installing fans in the crawl space. This usually made the problems even worse. Documented Benefits Things... read more