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2011 - Volume 1 Issue 2
Casas Bonitas
New Home Construction
Article: Bob Skolnick
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You have a decision to make which centers on comfort, health and money when you are building a custom home or purchasing a new home already designed and built by a local builder. Regardless of the price point of the home, the goal of having an energy efficient home should be your highest priority. If current finances don’t allow you to complete everything on your new-home wish list, practical sense dictates that energy efficiency expenditures supercede items that can be upgraded at a later date.

    Photo Captions

Typical Sustainability
Built Home Features
and Technologies in
New Mexico

1.) High insulation levels

2.) Energy-efficient windows, including double-glazed and spectrally selective glass

3.) High efficiency air conditioner and furnace

4.) Reflective or light-colored roofing with three-foot overhangs Mesilla, New Mexico."

5.) High efficiency lighting, especially compact fluorescent lighting

6.) Energy Star Appliances

7.) Utility-integrated photovoltaic (PV) system

Dew Green Consulting
Dean Neff

Energy Star

El Paso Electric
Manager of Efficiency
Paul Royal

Solar Smart Living

Energy Rater
Larry Perea

Energy Rater
Javier Ruiz

Inspection Connection
Energy Rater
Miles Dyson
Why should this be the priority? The direction of Federal, State and Municipal ordinances and building codes are moving quickly to set standards of energy efficiency that require every home to be very efficient in its use of energy. You can be assured that today’s standards will be insufficient ten years from now. The average ownership timeline in a home is seven to ten years. When you decide to resell your home in the future for whatever reason, you may find your home deficient and likely will have to be brought up to current standards by yourself or by the purchaser to close the sale. This will make your home more difficult to sell.

Another reason to make sure that your home is energy efficient is to reduce your cost of operating the home to the lowest level. This is accomplished by reducing the need to consume energy such as electricity, natural gas and water. The need for energy to run your home will remain during the full life of the home. Reducing these costs can mean a significant savings over the many years you will own that home. Over time these savings will far exceed the initial investment to make your home energy efficient. Recently, El Paso Electric changed its rate system to charge for high peak usage and encourage energy consumption reductions. Anyone who is a current homeowner has seen their summer energy bills significantly increase this past summer.

The region’s primary energy provider, El Paso Electric, has gone to great lengths to encourage residential energy reduction and provides an educational web site and credit incentives and rebates for energy improvements. The cities of El Paso and Las Cruces have taken aggressive steps to reduce their energy footprints and encourage and reward homes built to efficiency standards. The State of New Mexico has initiated a very strong Green Building / Energy Efficiency code and placed substantial tax credits. The state of Texas also has developed similar programs and incentives.

The Federal government has an energy efficiency rating system called Energy Star. Energy Star sets minimum standards for an energy efficient home and it tailors those standards to regional weather characteristics. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. In many states the construction industries are required to meet Energy Star ratings as a minimum. In Texas and New Mexico they are suggested but not yet mandatory. Energy Star will implement and upgrade Version 3 in January of 2011. One of the major upgrades will be requiring heels on roof trusses, which in turn will allow for better insulating where the roof system meets the wall system. Energy Star also certifies and rates appliances, lighting fixtures, heating and cooling systems and construction materials. Some local homebuilders are voluntarily committing to Energy Star standards to ensure their homes retain their value while they commit to the concept of energy efficiency.

There is a tendency to confuse energy efficiency with green building. An energy efficient home, or Energy Star home, is a component of green building certifications or LEEDs designations, which address the environmental impact as well as energy efficiency. In this article we are just addressing energy efficiency and energy star designations. Having your home designated as an Energy Star home requires an independent third party – a licensed expert by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or energy rater. It is best to bring this energy expert in at the design stage and then as required during the construction phases to observe the building process and certify that the required steps for construction are met. The third party also ensures the purchased elements such as fixtures and appliances meet Energy Star standards. After all work has been done you will receive a Home Energy Rating Score (HERS). The lower the rating, the better the home’s energy efficiency. Many builders who build spec homes work out a Builder Option Package (BOP) that provides for a specific set of construction requirements, that if rigidly followed, will result in an Energy Star rating for the spec home. For more information on Home Energy Rating inspection protocols visit

By building or purchasing an Energy Star home you have opened the door to additional financing options. Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEM) are now available in 50 states. An Energy Efficient Mortgage credits a home’s energy efficiency in the home loan. It uses the energy savings from a new energy efficient home to capitalize savings in the appraisal. Energy Star ratings and an Energy Efficient Mortgage, clearly add value to your home. The appraisal industry was slow to recognize the impact of energy upgrades in a home, but that is improving as all parties are becoming better informed. In addition, having your home designated as an Energy Star home will qualify the home for energy tax credits from federal and state, and in some areas, energy rebates from local utilities.

What constitutes an energy efficient home? There is industry jargon referring to how “tight” a home is. What is meant by a “tight” home is that the thermal building envelope; roof, walls, windows and doors are sealed to minimize loss and gain of air and moisture. In a very tight home, the interior home environment is controlled. When you have a tight home, not only is it less expensive to operate, it is quieter, has lower dust and an even temperature control.

Building an Energy Efficient Home Considerations:

[1] Lot Orientation - The location and orientation of your home on the lot selected can have an enormous impact on the amount of cooling air conditioning or heating needed to service the home. Walls that face south and west have a much higher heat gain through longer and more intense sun irradiation on those walls. Which rooms you place on that side of the house and the number of windows on those walls will reduce or increase the amount of equipment needed for temperature comfort.

[2] Architectural Styling - Decisions you make about architectural styling have a significant affect. Do you have overhangs that shade windows facing south and west? What type of roof line did you design? Do you have a pitched roof with gables and cupolas or a pueblo style home with a flat roof system. What is the roof materials and color. The roof is the surface of the home that has the most daily direct sunlight and the potential for heat gain. On page 54, we specifically address the options in roof design and materials.

[3] Exterior Wall Construction & Surfaces - In this edition we identify the various local styles of home construction from traditional wood frame construction to rammed earth, insulated concrete form, adobe and brick. The construction method and materials is an important decision in building a tight energy efficient home. The exterior coating must provide a tight seal over the primary wall surfaces. Stucco properly applied provides for a very good exterior seal.

[4] Insulation of Walls & Roofs - Properly installed, climate- appropriate insulation in floors, walls and attics ensures even temperatures throughout the house. High value insulation lowers energy consumption and increases comfort through a quieter house, lower dust penetration and even temperature distribution.

[5] Windows & Doors - Energy efficient windows and doors employ advanced technologies with reflective coatings that block ultra violet light, frames that minimize heat and cold transfer. Double pane low-E glass with thermal barriers and different types of methods of opening and closing all contribute to efficient Energy Star rated windows.

[6] Cooling & Heating Systems - Properly designed, Energy Star rated and properly sized air conditioning units and ducting provide for efficient operation and reduced energy costs. Heating units in this region are typically separate and gas powered. Ducting must be engineered and installed and tested to ensure there are no leaks.

[7] Lighting Fixture & Methods - The basic Energy Star requirement is limited to having five (5) CFL – Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs. You can shoot for the Advanced Lighting Energy Star rating which requires 80 percent of the light fixtures to be Energy Star rated. CFL light bulbs, Energy star lighting fixtures, ceiling can lights with domes and tubular sky lights are positive steps you can take to improve your Energy Star rating.

[8] Kithen & Laundry Appliances - Decisions you make about appliances have a material effect on the energy efficiency rating, sizing of air conditioning units and cost of operation of your home. Select appliances that have been Energy Star rated. Remember gas appliances cost less to operate than their electric counter parts.

[9] Bathroom Fixtures & Shower Systems - We sometimes forget to consider water as an energy resource. The sizing of your showers and bathtubs correlates back to amount of water used and the energy necessary to condition that water to your comfort temperature. Bathroom designs should plan for a tankless hot water heater, low-flow shower heads and faucets and dual flush toilets.

[10] Solar Photovoltaic & Solar Thermal Systems - While solar systems are not mandated by Energy Star or Energy Efficient Mortgages, the sourcing of energy from the sun rather than the local energy grid is the final step in making your home net zero or very low energy. On page 120, we look at the types of solar and how to add it to your home for a sensible cost.

The house envelope and its components are the underlying foundation for safety, comfort and cost. Investing in your homes infra-structure is no different than selecting an auto to drive based on its safety rating, engine capabilities and fuel efficiency as well as the paint color and the other amenities. ///

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