Do I Really Need to Test My Homes?

A performance trainer shares answers to the most common questions he gets in his blower door seminars.
Do I Really Need to Test My Homes?
by Sam Myers Blower doors have been around since the 1980s, but for a long time were used mostly by niche builders. However, with more and more codes and high-performance home programs requiring air leakage testing, this tool has entered the mainstream. That change has fueled a demand for training. As a training consultant for a blower door manufacturer, I train and certify builders and other industry pros on the equipment and test methods. After completing around 60 of these trainings, ranging from one-to-ones to classroom-size groups, I've noticed that the same questions come up again and again. I thought it would be useful to offer answers to the top half-dozen questions I hear from my students. Here they are. 1. Why do we have to do this? While the EEBA audience already understands the value of air sealing, the average builder who is forced to test by code often complies grudgingly, at least at first. They're more likely to embrace the test once they understand its... read more
 

Building a Sustainable Brand

Seattle's Dwell Development is a case study on how a high-performance builder can use branding to power growth regardless of where the market goes.
Building a Sustainable Brand
Shopping for a home has some important things in common with dating. Your initial attraction may be based on looks, but the criteria for a long-term match will be more about substance and character. Seattle builder Dwell Development has built a very successful marketing program around this principle. Sales of its individually designed, sustainable spec homes tripled, from 10 to 28 homes per year, during the three years following 2008 when a lot of builders were either closing shop or struggling to stay alive. At the bottom of the recession, the company was even pre-selling homes in one community for 20 to 25 percent more than competing homes of equal size. They accomplished this by crafting a distinct local brand based on modern architecture, a high-performance message, and a disciplined marketing program. Design First According to company principal Anthony Maschmedt, Dwell has built more than 300 homes over the past 14 years, all of them detailed to perform at least 50%... read more
 

How QA Earns More Than It Costs

The numbers are in. Quality Assurance really does reduce liability costs for high-performance builders.
How QA Earns More Than It Costs
It's no surprise that builders with formal Quality Assurance programs report fewer warranty claims. For instance, Professional Builder magazine interviewed builders, National Housing Quality Awards judges and QA consultants around the U.S. for an August 2017 article and found that while most builders lack such programs, those who put who them in place get a quick return on their investment. One builder interviewed for the article reported a 70 percent reduction after just a couple of years. But while quality gains are the obvious purposes of such programs, they can offer the added benefit of lowering insurance rates. That's according to Nathan Kahre, High Performance and Healthy Home Manager at Thrive, a 250 home-per-year Denver builder. At a seminar he taught during EEBA's annual Summit in October, he said that within two years of launching its QA program, the company was rewarded with a hefty reduction in liability premiums—more than enough to pay for the program. "After... read more
 

EEBA Summit Showcased Building's Best

The organization's annual meeting introduced the winners of three prestigious industry awards
The mission of the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) is to help industry pros design, build and sell well-crafted high-performance homes. Since great examples are great teachers, EEBA is always honored to showcase the best work of high- performance builders and designers. For the first time ever, this year's annual Summit, held in October in San Diego, hosted three prestigious awards programs. The U.S. Department of Energy's Housing Innovation Awards and the Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor airPLUS Leader Awards recognized accomplishments of industry leaders. The Department of Energy's annual “Race to Zero” competition showcased the best designs created by student design teams from around the U.S. DOE Housing Innovation Awards The Department of Energy's Housing Innovation Awards honors forward-thinking builders who take innovative approaches to zero energy ready homes. This year's awards paid tribute to “Grand Winners for Innovation” in six... read more
 

EEBA Tackles the Big Questions

Annual Summit is a huge success, as high-performance builders look to the future of the industry.
EEBA Tackles the Big Questions
Declaring the mission of the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) as “changing the world,” EEBA President Gene Myers reminded attendees at the group’s annual High Performance Home Summit in San Diego of their true impact. "We're all environmentalists," he said, "but we express this by creating the environment in which our customers live. It's our duty to make sure they thrive and prosper." Myers is owner and CEO of Thrive Home Builders in Denver. The company has won numerous awards for its high-performance homes, a track record he credits to his involvement with EEBA. His remarks gave voice to a common belief among the 300 plus builders, architects, raters and other professionals in attendance—that high-performance, green building represents the industry's future, and that it will play an important role in solving the most difficult issues builders face, from rising insurance costs to a shrinking labor pool. Problem Solvers The annual event teaches... read more
 

Promising New Tool for High Performance Home Sales

The Meeting Map aims to disarm prospects' status quo bias
Promising New Tool for High Performance Home Sales
High-performance and Zero Energy homes are a growing percentage of the housing market. But while these homes offer tangible benefits—including a healthy, comfortable environment and enough energy savings to offset any extra construction costs—some people still balk at the price premium. According to James Geppner, resistance persists in large part because of how architects and builders communicate those benefits. He says that buyers will embrace high-performance homes if those homes offer solutions to real-life problems, but that most salespeople aren't doing a great job helping them see that connection. Now, he thinks he has just the tool to open their eyes, a tool that will help buyers conclude that their most important needs can only be met by a high-performance or Zero Energy home. Geppner is Executive Director of Erase40, a company whose mission is "to use behavioral science to speed the adoption of low and zero energy buildings." He believes that the application of... read more
 

High Performance Builders Seek the Next Frontier

Many are coming to the conclusion that energy efficiency may no longer be enough
High Performance Builders Seek the Next Frontier
As code requirements and consumer demand raise the performance of U.S. homes, energy efficiency isn't the marketing differentiator it once was. Just ask Brandon DeYoung of DeYoung Properties. When he, along with his brother and sister, took over the family's Fresno, Calif. homebuilding business a decade ago they had a vision: build super energy-efficient homes with low electric bills and minimal environmental impact. They've succeeded. Their latest project is a community of 36 Zero-Energy production homes, the state's largest. But while that community is newsworthy, it doesn't put the company as far ahead of the pack as they would like to be. A new rule from the California Energy Commission will require all homes built after 2020 to have rooftop solar panels, so the DeYoungs did what all marketers always do: find additional ways to set themselves apart. The result was the DeYoung Smart Home. Every home is outfitted with a Samsung home automation hub, as well as a smart light... read more
 

Refuge From the Storm

Resilience is another reason to build Net Zero Energy homes
Refuge From the Storm
When winter storms put the lights out in Matt Coffey's neighborhood he doesn't worry. "My house can stay in a comfortable temperature range for days," he says. That's because his 3-bedroom zero energy Cape-style home combines a high-efficiency building envelope and HVAC system with rooftop photovoltaic panels. Coffey is one of five staff architects with South Mountain Company (SMC), an architecture, building, and energy firm West Tisbury, Mass. The company is one of a cadre number of builders who realize that while energy-savings and healthy living remain the top selling points for high-performance construction, these homes can also be made resilient enough to keep going when the power goes off. Resilience in the face of weather events and power outages could shape up as the cutting edge of performance building. It's a benefit that builders of Net Zero Energy homes can easily offer with just a few adjustments. And outages are a fact of life. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards... read more
 

Home Battery Q&A

Answering the most common builder questions
Home Battery Q&A
You've decided you want battery storage. How do you go about choosing the right one for your customers? Battery makers will help you through the process, but you're more likely to make the right choice if you go into those discussions with some basic knowledge. According to Adam Weinstein, a regional sales manager with battery-maker Sonnen, builders tend to ask a lot of the same questions when deciding what battery type and system to choose for their homes. We asked him what those questions are and how he generally answers them. Q: What main types of home batteries are on the market today? A: The two most common types for home storage are Nickel Magnesium Cobalt (NMC) and Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP). NMC batteries are made for rapid charge and discharge, and also pack a lot of power into a small, mobile package. Those qualities have made them popular with some electric vehicle manufacturers. However, news stories about thermal runaway, or explosions, in electric... read more
 

Healthy Growth for Solar Battery Storage

While the West Coast still accounts for most installations, the technology is taking hold in all parts of the country.
Healthy Growth for Solar Battery Storage
It used to be that a typical grid-tied solar electric system only worked when the grid worked. If a storm took out the power lines the homeowners ended up in the dark, despite those shiny panels on the roof. That's changing thanks to more efficient and cost-effective battery technology, as well as to utility involvement. Greentech Media Research (GTM) estimates that for the first time, total installed home battery capacity of 15.9 megawatts has reached near parity with utility-scale deployments of 16 megawatts. It's on track to get even bigger. "The residential [storage] market this year is going to be over five times the size of the market last year," said GTM Senior Analyst Brett Simon. And while California and Hawaii account for 74 percent of that capacity, installations are also growing elsewhere, with products from companies that include LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sonnen, and Tesla. Distributed Grid Electric utilities are helping to drive this growth. For instance,... read more