As we know better, we do better.
That adage also applies to home building and construction. Builders today are heeding the call of consumers, not only because of want, but because it’s better for the planet. Addressing energy concerns encompasses much more than it did a decade ago.
Incorporating cost-effective and energy-saving measures into builds is becoming the norm. The Department of Energy (DOE) has a national rating system known as the “Home Energy Score” that reflects the energy efficiency of a home based on structure, heating, cooling and hot water systems. Estimating home energy use and associated costs, it provides solutions to improve home efficiency.
The score is based on:
• A home’s envelope – foundation, roof, walls, insulation, windows, heating, cooling and hot water systems.
• A total energy use estimate and estimates by fuel type assuming standard operating conditions and occupant behavior.
• Recommendations for cost-effective improvements and associated annual cost saving estimates.
• A “score with improvements” reflecting the home’s expected score if these improvements are made.
The score, from 1 to 10, 10 being the most energy efficient, considers many variables. But, builders are striving to get closer to the high mark.
Most of us want energy-efficient homes because it helps us save money and creates a healthier interior environment for us and our families. Using less energy reduces our carbon footprint which is good for everyone and for future generations.
Many states have net metering which gives credit for excess electricity produced by a consumer’s home, usually through use of solar panels. If a homeowner uses excess energy, that energy can be “sold back” to the utility company or the utility company can issue a credit on a customer’s bill. According to Solar Energy Industries Associates (SEIA), 38 states have mandatory net metering rules. Currently, South Carolina isn’t one of those states. According to a local utility’s website, residential customers can get incentives from using LED bulbs and other lighting, appliance recycling, heating and cooling rebates and natural gas rebates.
As utility costs rise, builders and developers are employing different methods to address that issue for homeowners and buyers. And, energy efficient isn’t just for upscale homes. Now, more modestly priced homes can be “near zero” when it comes to saving money, energy and leaving less of a carbon footprint.
I consulted a few experts in the industry to find out just what represents the most energy-efficient homes and the costs associated with building the most energy efficient home possible.
Expert opinions and solutions
“Energy loss through an improperly insulated home is costlier than any HVAC, lighting or appliance package that you may be considering purchasing to save money,” said Adam Copenhaver of Cope Grand Homes. “Our recommendation is always start with properly insulating a home’s envelope to include windows in that decision and follow through closely with the proper install of these components.”
Copenhaver and his twin brother, Ben are the founders of CopeGrand Homes. Each have degrees and experience in engineering and building construction science. Their commitment to energy conservation and sustainability has resulted in their being recognized throughout the industry as stewards of optimal energy-savings home building. Copenhaver recently received “Charleston’s Choice” best builder of 2019.
“We’ve gotten a lot smarter in building,” he said. “Candidly, there are so many better products today that allow us to build higher quality, smarter, and vastly more energy-efficient homes.”
Modern building techniques such as ones used to fortify homes against inclement weather mitigate or eliminate the risk of having a catastrophic water leak within the home.
“Just as important as new products, today we have a community of builders and industry professionals who we communicate with across the country,” he revealed. “We regularly rely on these experts and they rely on us which makes us all better builders, better crafts people and better service providers.”
Copenhaver said one of their most efficient homes was built for about $250,000. “It wasn’t a large home, about 700 square feet but it had tons of upgrades and hurricane-rated construction,” he said. “Energy efficiency starts with the design of a home and when you begin making those energy efficient decisions there, they don’t need to cost a thing. It’s important to consult with experienced architects and builders if you’re interested in making energy-conscious priorities when it comes to your home.”
CopeGrand Homes is a “build on your lot custom builder,” and their homes are on Seabrook, Kiawah, James and Johns Islands, Folly Beach, downtown, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island.
Insulsteel, a company that constructs homes with an “EcoShell,” has been building homes that address the need for high-performance buildings with Zero Energy Design (ZED), Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), hurricane wind structural engineering and lower overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Their unique structural design of their EcoShell and ExoSkeleton panels allow for open space interior design. This design isn’t just what most buyers want, but it provides a more uniform air distribution.
Insulsteel began as a small company 16 years ago and are now recognized as a national member of the top one percent of U.S. builders by the DOE. The DOE conducted a study on one of their homes on Johns Island as being a “DOE Zero Energy Ready Home.”
“Our design eliminates thermal bridging and delivers as much as 400 percent better insulation than typical fiberglass,” said Steve Bostic, CEO of Insulsteel. “Getting to the highest performance structure possible is a never-ending process and Insulsteel has been in a product development mode for the past decade.”
Bostic said that Insulsteel of South Carolina has perfected materials such as steel and composite panels that give homes the precision of a tightly sealed building envelope. “We seek out industry-leading solutions which improve materials and the building process, such the energy recovery process (ERV) which exchanges the energy contained in exhausted building air and uses it to treat the incoming outdoor air in HVAC systems.”
According to Bostic, an average home causes more air pollution than the average car and refining and incorporating state-of-the-art filtration systems into the homes they build eliminates pollutants which ensures pristine indoor air quality.
Sustainable and energy efficient home building is top-of-mind for both buyers and builders. “Clearly, billions of dollars are being spent on research globally in the search of THE battery,” said Bostic. “In the meantime, with rising energy costs and a keener focus on sustainable living, a ‘whole house’ approach is the future of home building. “
Price is a concern for many homebuyers though Bostic urges consumers to think about the cost of ownership. He stated that the price of an energy-efficient home – even one built with Insulsteel’s innovative processes – is comparable to traditional custom architecture. Citing reduced material waste costs and off-site manufacturing as costs in building, he said buying direct from material suppliers can save clients between 10 and 20 percent. Insulsteel homes can withstand hurricane-force winds. According to one case study, Insulsteel’s family-sized homes can have electric bills as little as $15 a month.
These homes incorporate water vapor barriers, window and door sealing products, energy efficient HVAC/ERV systems and the best in class solar and battery storage systems.
“Insulsteel is currently building version 8.0 which eliminates all structural wood and non-structural wood framing in residential construction,” Bostic explained. “In addition to the strength and energy-saving performance of new composite steel and EPS materials this is significant. It’s a means of mitigating moisture-producing mold, mildew and pests.”
Insulsteel’s builds are in Isle of Palms, Awendaw, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, James and Johns Islands, Seabrook and in the Stono Ferry area of Hollywood.
Budget friendly and better
“We are enjoying a nice niche,” said David Mikulski, Owner of Near Zero Energy Homes.
Mikulski has built energy-efficient homes in Brightwood Plantation, a community of homes in Huger that comprise four different floor plans and range in size from 1,700 to over 2,800 square feet.
“We do something unique,” he said. “We use ICF (insulated concrete forms) block foundations which cuts costs – you don’t lose energy in the ground. We use SIPs walls (structured insulated panel) and spray foam in the attic. We also use radiate barrier – that’s a foil on the outside of our homes that reduces energy costs. These are our must-haves.”
Mikulski has been a builder for over 30 years. He learned through experience the products used to build a structure make a huge difference, especially near the coast where it has to withstand both the elements of time and Mother Nature.
“Our homes are true energy efficient and we’re selling 1,800 square foot homes for $260,000,” he said. “Builders want to get to net zero or near zero. Putting different components into homes can get you there, but there’s no true net zero home.”
Mikulski said his construction process saves homebuyers in total costs. “The building system that we have is stronger, more efficient and it costs less to build homes this way compared to stick framing. We’ve built 2,100 square foot homes that have utility bills less than $100 a month.”
Look for more of Near Zero homes in the future. Mikulski said he is in the permitting process of building a new community in Berkeley County, north of Clements Ferry Road.
“The neighborhood will be known as Mount Pleasant Farms,” he said. “Each home will have about one-acre lots and they will be very energy efficient. We hope to get costs close to zero – near zero.”
Hunter Quinn Homes has recently unveiled their latest series of energy-efficient homes called “High Performance Homes.” Some of these homes are in Limehouse Village in Summerville and at the Paddock at Fairmont South in Moncks Corner.
“We are working diligently to incorporate the High Performance series into our other communities and expect every home will be built to be a High Performance home within the next couple of years,” said James Harper, Sales Manager of Hunter Quinn Homes. “These homes incorporate the latest energy efficient building products and techniques that have typically been reserved for high-end custom homes into affordable homes to today’s working families.”
Hunter Quinn’s High Performance homes include spray foam insulation on the inside of the roof. Exterior walls use the ZIP System, an integrated and revolutionary weather resistant way in which to provide a barrier to a home and solve problems of water, vapor and air control issues. Windows are triple paned.
“We are also incorporating panelized construction into all of our series of homes,” Harper said. “Panels are constructed off site in a conditioned space to eliminate exposure to the elements during construction to ensure precise measurements and cuts and to eliminate waste on the job site. All left over wood is reused in other aspects in the framing process. We have been able to eliminate an entire dumpster full of waste for every home we build – that’s over 150 dumpsters of construction waste saved every year.”