Can BIM Grease the Path to Zero?

This builder/developer is using the technology to do just that.
Can BIM Grease the Path to Zero?
While Building Information Modeling (BIM) is standard operating procedure on large commercial projects, relatively few residential builders have gotten on board. However, the technology has great potential for innovating homebuilding in general and green, high-performance building, in particular. The few homebuilders who are using it call it a game changer. One of these is Jay Epstein, a Virginia builder/developer who started down the high-performance path more than 30 years ago. He was an early participant in the Building America program, and his company won three recent Housing Innovation Awards from the Department of Energy—in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Now he has teamed up with Skokie, Ill.-based DIGIBILT to use its BIM system for designing and managing construction of the state's first net zero ready community, Walnut Farm, which will consist of 75 single-family homes in Williamsburg, Virginia. Epstein hopes the project will serve as an exemplar for the industry. "I want this... read more
 

Paths to Zero

There's more than one way to reach the goal of building Zero Energy homes. A new EEBA training helps builders chart their best course.
Paths to Zero
As more high-performance zero-energy ready homes get built, and as more customers learn the financial benefits of owning such a home, demand for them will continue to rise. But for builders who have never exceeded minimum code requirements, the prospect of building to zero can seem daunting. Those preparing to embark on the journey usually have a lot of questions. What features should they start with? How long will it take to master this way of building? How will my customers pay the extra upfront costs? The answers to the first two questions, according to Bruce Sullivan, who teaches EEBA's new Path to Zero Energy Homes training seminar, are 1) you can start almost anywhere, and 2) once you get going you can move along at your own pace. He also says that the path can unfold in a nearly infinite number of ways. In fact, the seminar might better be called "Paths" to Zero, since the journey will be different for every builder. The path an individual builder takes will depend... read more
 

Q&A with Geoff Ferrell

The new board president shares his thoughts about the future of EEBA.
Q&A with Geoff Ferrell
In January of this year, Geoff Ferrell stepped up as President of the EEBA board, succeeding Gene Myers of Thrive Homebuilders. Mr. Ferrell's deep immersion in high-performance home building makes him well qualified for the position. He currently serves as Chief Technology Officer for Mandalay Homes in the Prescott, Arizona area, a company that has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of the most innovative home builders in America and was recently named ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for the 3rd consecutive year. His duties include ensuring that the company's specifications and construction practices consistently meet its performance goals, and as part of that he leads the company's quality assurance efforts. We asked Mr. Ferrell for his thoughts on the EEBA board's priorities for the next few years, as well as his personal goals for the organization. EEBA: How did you get introduced to EEBA and why have you stayed active? GF: I attended my first EEBA ... read more
 

A Revolution In Water Recycling?

New septic technology could help reduce pollution, save water and qualify homes for LEED points. It could also let you build on otherwise unbuildable lots.
A Revolution In Water Recycling?
Dave Hopper has been in the septic installation business since the late 1980's and rarely sees anything new that qualifies as a game-changer. That was until last year when his company, H&M Construction in Walton, Kentucky was asked to install a new type of system from Cincinnati-based NextGen Septic. He has since installed about a dozen of these systems and now offers them to builder customers where the project warrants. Although his customers end up paying an installed cost about twice that of a conventional septic, none of them complain because it lets them build on lots they could not build on otherwise. "The system basically sells itself," he says. Problem Solver The NextGen system consists of a stainless-steel treatment unit placed on top of a two-chamber septic tank. The unit is small enough to fit between the tank's two risers. Rather than flowing to a leach field, effluent from the septic tank is pumped through the NextGen unit, where biomedia remove nitrogen,... read more
 

How To Dominate A Competitive Market

A Seattle rater and consultant shares lessons he has learned working with the top green builders
Green building is like any other endeavor. Look at a local market and you will see most green builders going about their business the usual way—doing good work but competing with one another for the best jobs. You will also likely see a few companies that have managed to rise above the herd. The latter companies are the ones who create a recognized brand based on their green building expertise. They're less affected by price pressures and stay busy even when the real estate market cools. The obvious question is: how did they get there? You can get a good perspective on that question from industry professionals who work with those market leaders as well as with the rest of the pack. That's why we decided to spend some time with Tadashi Shiga. Shiga is Principal of Evergreen Certified in Seattle. He has worked with 250 builders in what may be the greenest building market in the U.S. His company provides verifier and rater services for programs that include PHIUS+, HERS,... read more
 

HERS Raters: An Untapped Resource

These professionals can help with a lot more than inspections, but few builders understand that fact.
HERS Raters: An Untapped Resource
by Steve Byers According to RESNET, just 20% of new single-family homes have a HERS rater involved. When you consider that a rating is the most accurate way to gauge home performance, it's obvious that the industry has a long way to go. Even those builders who regularly contract with HERS raters seldom take advantage of the full value these industry pros can provide. That's unfortunate. The best raters offer more than code or program compliance: they're extremely cost-effective quality assurance partners. They can even help reduce a builder's liability for health and comfort issues, something today's overworked site supervisors seldom have time for. As CEO of a building consulting and training company with more than 25 years in the home performance business, I find that builders are more willing to take advantage of a performance-focused rater's services if they better understand how we work. The relationship is more like that with the architect or engineer than with the... read more
 

The Problem with HRVs

When integrated with the HVAC system, most E/HRV's don't deliver the desired ventilation air. A new design seeks to solve this problem, but we need your input.
The Problem with HRVs
by Srikanth Puttagunta, PE Builders believe that if they install an Energy Recovery or Heat Recovery Ventilator (E/HRV) they have ensured good indoor air quality. In reality, that's seldom the case. To deliver the needed fresh air, an E/HRV must be installed in a way that guarantees balanced airflows—where the intake and exhaust airstreams move equal volumes. But the design of these units makes proper installation difficult and, when integrated with the HVAC system (as most are), almost ensures that they fail to work as advertised. Of course, an E/HRV costs more than other ventilation strategies, so if it doesn't do what it's intended to, the builder has wasted that extra money. Steven Winter Associates is collaborating with a major manufacturer to develop an ERV that solves the shortcomings of conventional units. We have completed the second prototype. We hope to have a final design by Fall of 2019 with commercial availability sometime in 2020. Before moving to... read more
 

How Well Do You Understand Your Buyers?

New research sheds light on the knowledge and attitudes of people shopping for high-performance, green homes
How Well Do You Understand Your Buyers?
Builders looking for ways to sell more high-performance green homes for more money can glean insight from the February issue of Professional Builder magazine. In it, Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group summarizes research from the company's 13th Annual Builder Pulse Study. The study asked homebuyers a series of questions designed to reveal what they actually thought and knew about green homes, and how much they were willing to pay. The study got responses from more than 2000 of what Shelton calls "Energy Savvy homebuyers." Shelton's researchers also polled 100 builders—drawn from the Pro Builder and EEBA audiences—to gauge how well they understood this market. Here's our take on three of the main findings. 1. Most buyers can't clearly define what constitutes a "green" home or what the must-have features are. And, the features they do list as essential don't match those on most builders' lists. For instance, just 38 percent of buyers said a green home had to include a... read more
 

Five Steps to High Performance Home Sales

If you partner with real estate agents, you need this advice
Five Steps to High Performance Home Sales
by Jan Green High performance homes offer benefits every homeowner wants, including lower energy bills and better indoor air quality. These homes tend to sell more quickly and for more money than comparable, code-built homes, but only if they're correctly marketed. That includes describing them correctly in your real estate listings and working with an agent that knows how to list and sell these types of homes. Unfortunately, some builders choose to ignore this advice. For instance, a basic rule of marketing is to emphasize features and benefits the buyer cares about, but I've seen more than one listing with sentences like this: “Solidly-built 2018 structure has Ballard engineered trusses, 8-inch LPI floor joists on triple 2X10s over concrete block piers built by a licensed masonry company. Home is dried in with Pella windows.” Your competition will know what that sentence means but the average buyer won't, and will have to stop and ask why those terms are significant and... read more
 

Reducing Liability When Building Net Zero

Practical advice for builders from a construction attorney
Reducing Liability When Building Net Zero
By Patrick Barthet Homebuilders are accustomed to managing expectations. They do this at the initial client meeting, when drafting contract provisions, and in all progress meetings. As the project moves from design to occupancy, smart builders work hard to deliver the highest quality work possible while at the same time not promising more than they can deliver. Besides making for happier customers, this also helps minimize a builder’s liability. Managing expectations is a bit more complicated when it comes to high-performance construction, as different homeowners will have different expectations about their home's performance in regards to heating and cooling, moisture issues and indoor air quality. Those expectations may or may not be realistic, and the only way to make sure they are is to put them in writing and to have everyone sign off. In fact, as an attorney who works with builders I always recommend a written, contractual warranty that defines exactly what the... read more