Consumer Articles

Homebuilders and Owners Seek Energy Conservation

By: Kenda Williams, Times Daily Staff Writer

For Nancy Muse, adding a few energy-efficient features to her pre-existing Florence home, such as double-paned, air tight windows and square ceramic tiles, has helped her attempt at making the home a little more energy conscious.

"One reason I like this house is it's as if someone built it to be passive solar. It has a lot of features that help," Muse said.

For instance, the energy-efficient tiles, windows and other features inside the home and the shade trees that surround the exterior are natural energy savers and have provided proper displacement of heating and cooling to the interior of the home. These things have allowed her to use the air conditioner less, thereby reducing the monthly energy bill.

Muse said there are simple ways people can decrease their rate of energy consumption either in a new or pre-existing home, such as adding a solar water heater or keeping outdoor landscape in mind.

"We all have a few things we could do to our homes or businesses that we could get our money back on," she said.

The National Association of Home Builders reported that in 2006, 2 percent, or $7.4 billion, of residential construction was geared toward building homes with "green" in mind. Experts predict that this number will continue to increase as more people understand the "green" building concept, which is building a structure with energy efficiency in mind.

John Shell, marketing manager for the Energy Right/Green Power Switch Program for the Tennessee Valley Authority in Huntsville, said that especially in the past few years, there has been a lot more interest in energy efficiency and conservation among both homeowners and builders.

"There's not a builder out there that wouldn't build an energy efficient home if you ask them," he said.

The key, Shell said, is education and planning before the building process through discussing with both the builder and homeowner the ways to incorporate energy-efficient tactics into the building process.

Shell said it's essential to getting the word out about green building by educating homeowners and builders about the various programs that have been developed to rate a home based on its energy efficiency, including Energy Right, Energy Star and EnergyKey.

EnergyKey is a program designed through the Home Builders Association of Alabama to help ensure that homes will have lower utility costs and increased comfort.

The home can be rated on three levels, Advantage EnergyKey, Star EnergyKey, and Green EnergyKey, which is based on the home's compliance with certified energy-efficiency standards set by programs like Energy Star, the Home Energy Rating System Accreditation Standard or certified by the Southface Energy Institute.

The main goal of Energy Star, a government program through the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, is to improve energy standards across the board, including in building projects.

Local builder Keith Holmes, of Holmes Contracting in Muscle Shoals, recently became the first certified EnergyKey builder for the Shoals.

"We just thought it might be a good idea to check it out and see if there were any energy-saving ideas they had that we didn't know about," Holmes said.

He said it can cost up to $3,000 extra per house to get it up to the green building Energy Star standard, depending on the size of the home. He said that the up-front cost, however, will pay itsself off in lowering the homeowner's utility bills.

The HBAA reported that a home that is built to the Energy Star level, through Star EnergyKey, can save $200 to $400 annually compared to standard-built homes.

Holmes said he hasn't built an EnergyKey home yet, but he already incorporates energy saving techniques learned through the program.

"I think it's going to catch on," he said.

"Most people are pretty conscious about it and want to build a house with ways to conserve energy."

Shell said that hopefully, through programs like EnergyKey, Energy Star or Energy Right, it will help with verifying the home's trueness to energy efficiency, and homeowners will be more confident in the final product.

"With some third party verification in some form or fashion, you look at it and say, 'can I trust that the work has been done,' " he said.

Karen Clifton, Energy Star program manager with the Alabama Department and Economic Affairs in Montgomery, said that the organization hopes to inform homeowners and builders more about the programs that are available to ensure energy efficient buildings.

"There's two prices on a home. There's the price of a home and the price to live in a home," Clifton said.

By building a home with Energy Star program standards, Clifton said homeowners have saved up to 30 percent on utility bills.

Shell explained that there are many components in creating an energy efficient home, including proper, well-installed insulation, proper sealing of the home to make it air tight, double-paned windows and other factors.

"There are so many things that, as you're building, you can't come back and do, you have to do it while you build," he said.

Proper installation of insulation in the home is one of the factors that, Shell said, can be hard to correct after the home is built.

Even for homeowners who aren't building a new home, there are ways to retrofit a home or make small improvements to the energy efficiency of the home that can make a difference, such as upgrading to energy efficient appliances, windows and

lighting.

"Not only does it make the home more energy efficient, but it makes the home more comfortable and a more even distribution of heating and cooling," she said.

Clifton said the future looks bright for green home building, especially in north Alabama.

"Not only are consumers starting to look at it more with the rising energy prices, but home builders are seeing the benefits of it more," she said. "I think the key to it is educating consumers to know what to look for."

TimesDaily Staff Writer Kenda Williams can be reached at 256-740-5720 or kenda.williams@timesdaily.com