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Question for all home owners

Kirby_2 Member Posts: 1
Glad to see somebody else has looked at Building Science Corp!
I am planning a new house for some folks and passive solar is one item we are investigating, high R- walls and ceilings another, active solar DHW using evacuated tube solar collectors. As a backup to all this, maybe an earth coupled heat pump. Will prove to be intersting to find a builder who wants to do this though!


  • S Ebels
    S Ebels Member Posts: 2,322
    Question for all homeowners

    If you were building a house this year and you had a choice (you actually do but your builder probably won't mention it) between a standard construction house and and ultra efficient house, which would you choose.

    The ultra efficient house will cost you 20% more to construct than a typical stick built house with R-19 side walls and R-38 in the attic.

    Would you be willing to leave out some of the things you wanted in your new home in order to go with the higher efficiency house. Things like, hardwood, corian counters or granite, fancy bath fixtures etc.

    Would you accept or go for a house design that was a few sq ft less to stay within your budget, enabling you to go with the ultra efficient house and keep some of the amenities?

    Just trying to gauge the true "pain level" of energy prices here.
  • Jason_15
    Jason_15 Member Posts: 124

    I would go for the smaller, and efficient, house that still had the features I wanted. I bought my current house in early 2000 and was worried about heating it because it is old and drafty, but I justified it to myself by saying "what the heck, natural gas is so cheap" Famous last words..........
  • Patchogue Phil_29
    Patchogue Phil_29 Member Posts: 121
    Depends on audience

    Any homeowner that is looking at this website and forum will say they want the more efficient house.

    However, by evidence of all the McMansions that are gobbled up for MEGA bucks *MOST* buyers of new construction either do not care or do not know that they CAN have a house built better/more efficient.

    As an example right here in Patchogue, Long Island NY... new development of McMansions started selling here 4 yrs ago in the $450K plus range (now selling at $650K-plus)... all with bare minimum fiberglass insulation.... 2-story-plus cathedral ceilings.... people are shocked that it costs close to $1,000 per MONTH to feed their scorched air heating system.
  • Xc8p2dC_2
    Xc8p2dC_2 Member Posts: 150
    Did exactly that!!

    When we were having our house built, effiency ruled. Even picked the lot that was best suited for future solar>> Made sure we got at least R19 and R30, When it was framed I walked thru many times and made sure I sealed up anything that resemble a gap [between siding. joists, wiring holes etc]>> Also got Anderson L-E DP windows, and every appl is Energy Star >> got the heatloss down to 25K-35K btuhr depending on DD tempfor 1325 sq ft

    Even after one year, we are replacing the Natgas Bangbang with an Ultra 80 boiler> yep Energy Star too

    And Yes, did have to sacrifice hardwood for laminate and basic countertops and cabinets to keep our price down, figured they could always be done in the future
  • leo g_13
    leo g_13 Member Posts: 435

    "can always be done in the future"

    When I use to do more plumbing then heating, that was one of the best sales tips ever. Moen had come up with shower/tub/basin faucets, that the rough valves could have an assortment of trims attached. I "helped" many customers start with a fairly basic finish, then sometimes, in a couple of years would return and change-out to the style that they had really wanted!

    Absolutely a beautiful idea!

    Leo G

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  • joel_19
    joel_19 Member Posts: 931
    that's easy

    contractors put up what real easate agents want to sell and what buyers want . They want twice the sqft thier parents had , gotta have granite counters and marble tile and hard wood . gotta have a 3 bay garrage , gotta have at least 100k in landscaping blah , blah, blah,.The Mcmansions are filling the need of these folks until the need is gone it won't change . just like illegal drugs or illegal aliens.
  • ralman
    ralman Member Posts: 231
    I feel like I go to work just to pay for gas for my car, oil for

    my boiler, and electricity for my small, old home. If I ever get a chance to build I will try to get the most energy efficient home I can afford. I am interested in a SIPS construction, with a geothermal heat pump. Are there better ideas than that?
  • Rich_29
    Rich_29 Member Posts: 20

    > When we were having our house built, effiency

    > ruled. Even picked the lot that was best suited

    > for future solar__ Made sure we got at least R19

    > and R30, When it was framed I walked thru many

    > times and made sure I sealed up anything that

    > resemble a gap [between siding. joists, wiring

    > holes etc]__ Also got Anderson L-E DP windows,

    > and every appl is Energy Star __ got the

    > heatloss down to 25K-35K btuhr depending on DD

    > tempfor 1325 sq ft


    > Even after one year, we are

    > replacing the Natgas Bangbang with an Ultra 80

    > boiler_ yep Energy Star too


    > And Yes, did have

    > to sacrifice hardwood for laminate and basic

    > countertops and cabinets to keep our price down,

    > figured they could always be done in the future

  • Rich_29
    Rich_29 Member Posts: 20
    Ultra 80

    Would not a Munchkin T50 or its equal better suit your needs ........Just a thought
  • JoeV
    JoeV Member Posts: 62
    McMansions are...

    a waste of resources across the board, not only to cool and heat. Unfortunately, the trend is to build them and flip them after a couple years and it's the bells and whistles that sells.

    Young folks have a lot of money these days from well paying jobs and their parents' nest eggs for a down payment. They don't know enough to be concerned about efficiency. Their biggest concern is the ability to impress.

    To answer your question directly, neither. I prefer to buy an old, drafty house built with real timber and craftsmanship and improve it for the next generation. I live in a bungalow amid a growing sea of Mcmansions and take great joy in jacking up my old Volvo to change the oil, with the radio playing classic rock while the new and very young neighbors have a gathering with their impressionable friends..
  • Xc8p2dC_2
    Xc8p2dC_2 Member Posts: 150

    &Long story >> The replacement fitment was almost exact with the installed>> Plus the ODR// user controlable?? easy conversion to Propane// software to monitor by computer //extended warrantee// etc etc
  • Steverino
    Steverino Member Posts: 140
    curb appeal...

    that's all realtors talk about, that's all you see on TV. I have to say I've never seen anything on one of those TV home shows where they talk about the mechanical on anyones home
  • Dan_15
    Dan_15 Member Posts: 388

    My wife's parents just build a new home down South; concrete exterior walls stamped to look like wood are lasting and surprisingly energy efficient; geothermal heating with radiant floors throughout the entire house; supplemented by Weil Ultra mod-con; separate geo-thermal indoor pool heater; laminate wood floors; well water supply; the list goes on. This home is a model of efficiency that is built to last. No granite or natural stone, but is a wonderfully open plan and unpretentious living space perfect for retirement.
  • Mike T., Swampeast MO
    Mike T., Swampeast MO Member Posts: 6,928

    Hands down I would use ICF (insulated concrete forms) and the finest vinyl windows.

    I LOVE wood, but modern lumber has VERY little resistance to water/weather and tight construction tends to cause problems with trapped moisture. Water will ALWAYS find its way through--somewhere, sometime, somehow...

  • CC.Rob
    CC.Rob Member Posts: 128

    Much as I like doing good things for the environment, I would have to run the numbers. How long I expected to stay in the house (i.e., what's the ROI time on the increased efficiency) would be a big factor.

    Chances are, however, I'd do what I did for our recent modest addition: have it done efficiently (not ultra, but very good) and finish it out myself to help make up for the price difference.

    And I totally agree with Mike T about today's lumber. It sucks. Fortunately, there are alternatives that perform better and a number of them are environmentally friendly.
  • Reed
    Reed Member Posts: 56

    Right on Joe!
  • S Ebels
    S Ebels Member Posts: 2,322
    I agree

    But I'm here to wager that within 10 years that will change. They'll be asking and bragging about how little their utilities cost instead of the 10GPM shower head.
  • S Ebels
    S Ebels Member Posts: 2,322
    And that, my friend.........

    That's exactly the issue that Dr Suzuki was speaking to at the Viessmann meeting. His contention is that looking at an investment in a more environmentaly friendly structure, heating system, vehicle or whatever from a purely ROI perspective is obsolete. Those types of calulations are based on the theory that cheap energy will always be available, which we begin to see now, is deeply flawed thinking. The investment has to be considered from a long term point of view, not solely from one individuals position. In his way of thinking, each of us should invest in goods and services that benefit not only the purchaser, but all who may inhabit that home for example, in the future.

    I think I had most of his thoughts regarding long term thinking written down on the first GW thread. Maybe you can find them in the archives if you're interested.

    All that being said, I understand your quandry. The difference in costs between a run of the mill job or product (be it a house or a boiler installation) can be substantial. Personally, I think that in the near future, people will be asking about energy costs before they ask about fancy kitchens in a home.

  • Nothing serious is going to change until energy costs are factored into mortgage application calculations and real estate value assessments.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,546

    I love your style man. Totally agree with you on buying the old too. Quality of lumber is NOT what it use to be. Nor is the construction practices. When talking a truly energy efficient dwelling across the board in america, what percentile would anyone think that number is.....I would guess 5% maybe even high.

    I think a different train of thought need be focused on, and that is free energy as we all know. If it is free, and you can harvest enough for the least efficient home then why bother with going efficient. I only say this because of the multitude of unefficient dwellings plaguing the lands of America. Sorry folks but we are behind the eight ball already, kinda like deciding to impose impact fees when there are only a hand full of lots left to build on.

    Don't take me wrong I believe in an efficient home......But the real money is going to be outfitting the multitude of unefficient homes with a low cost solution to harvest btus, and kilowatts from a free source of energy....Sun, Wind,Waves,Geothermal.

    Think of the opportunity to have a solution to the homeowners who can't afford the natural resources that normally keep the unefficient dwellings of America operating. There won't be other choices in the not to distant future. The ones who can offer a viable off grid, cost effective choice will be the winners in the end of this Dino doo doo extraviganza.

  • Mike T., Swampeast MO
    Mike T., Swampeast MO Member Posts: 6,928


    My real preference is for old homes with good lumber and standing iron radiators--that's what I have now and plan to live in until I die just for it to serve future generations.

    BUT, it can be a true challenge and extremely expensive to get the shell into a reasonably efficient condition without causing problems--old homes DID "breathe" and much of what we do takes away their lung capacity...

    We're currently in a "romantic" period of home design. "Romantic" design is characterized by a very irregular footprint--such adds not only to cost of construction but leads to homes that are "difficult" to heat. Old homes of such romance, like Queen Ann and "Victorian" still have the "difficult to heat" aspect that made them quite undesirable during the last energy crisis. The balloon framing used for most of these homes makes them particularly challenging to insulate.

    I suspect that home design is going to flip soon--from romantic to practical. Such flips are common and are almost always preceeded by war or crisis.

  • 1solarguy
    1solarguy Member Posts: 18

    In my climate NH, I think the houses that have windows facing south will be more valuable.
    I built my house from the hemlocks and hardwoods on site, milled with my port. bandsaw mill. When I installed the fiberglass batts I carefully fluffed them up and made sure they filled the cavity completely.Full six inch wall studs. Saltbox design, aligned to the south. Windows on So. wall.
    Went with solar electric.totally off-grid. Scrounged 80's solar DHW panels hooked up to two 55 gal unplugged elec hot water heater tanks w/external hx's.
    Wood heat(only),cut my own. Next project is a 1000 gallon tank to be installed in my cellar floor to store heat from the Tarm gasifier I scored lightly used. This project is slowing down with the increasing cost of copper. Was gonna go with radiant floor heat until I found out what an energy hog it is.
    This kind of house is totally do-able.I've been at it since '95.
  • Tony_23
    Tony_23 Member Posts: 1,033
    Excuse me, did I hear you right ?

    Did you say radiant floor heat is an energy HOG ?

    That is so untrue I can't hardly even believe you said it.
    WHERE did you get your info ?

    BTW, a Tarm is a good score, new or used :)

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  • Rollie Peck
    Rollie Peck Member Posts: 47
    Energy efficient new home?

    I would look for an existing small house on a small lot with good solar access that was trashed by the previous owners or undesirable for other reasons and fix it up. If it had masonry walls, so much the better. I'd gut it, put lots of insulation on the outside of the walls and stucco the inside using a deeply textured pattern for better sound quality. Install hydronically heated floors connected to a water based solar collector and a large storage tank. Hire my cousin who is an architect to do it up right. Do other energy efficient things discussed here on the wall.

    Rollie Peck

  • steve gates
    steve gates Member Posts: 329

    when house hunting in Phoenix back in 89' some homeowners laid out their utiliy bills. Made a lasting impression. Maybe it should be law.
  • 1solarguy
    1solarguy Member Posts: 18

    I have solar electric and the cost of running circ's constantly is prohibitive
  • Tony_23
    Tony_23 Member Posts: 1,033

    I'll buy that. They are coming out with new circs that use a phenomenally minute amount of electric. I think one is branded Wilo ? The other one may be Grundfos, but I can't remember for sure.

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  • CC.Rob
    CC.Rob Member Posts: 128

    Just to clarify, I didn't say ROI would be the only factor, but it would be important. Nor would I necessarily constrain myself to assuming cheap energy, in which case the ROI time becomes shorter and thus ever more attractive to go with more efficiency/environmental-friendliness. At some point it's conceivable that ROI time approaches zero. Then the decision is easy....

    The bottom line is that there are a lot of things competing for my money, and given that it's a fixed resource, decisions have to be made. Unfortunately, some of them come out on the self-interest side of the equation, rather than the good of society, future benefits, etc.

    I would also say that the better does not always equal costs more. I could have paid more for some recent house work, but found a guy who would work with me, who used some better techniques that the other contractors almost certainly would not have (based on seeing a lot of their other jobs). And he just so happened to charge less.
  • CC.Rob
    CC.Rob Member Posts: 128

    Case in point. A couple friends and I are trying to reduce our total household energy consumption by at least 10%/yr. So far, we've picked a lot of the "low-hanging fruit" (the simple stuff with big payoff, like addressing insulation, infiltration, etc.). It's pretty fun. Every month we swap spreadsheets on gas, electric, fuel, etc.

    One condition of our recent addition was that it be at least energy-use neutral. Although we've had only one light winter so far, I'm pretty sure we're going to be negative for energy use -- got rid of a crappy inefficient attic eave and replaced it with a well-built, energy efficient small room with a very efficient attic over. That something like that can be done is pretty cool, I think. Or at least it shows how poorly done the house was initially....
  • Constantin
    Constantin Member Posts: 3,796
    I don't think it's even that much...

    ... the incremental cost of good insulation and thick walls is very low, as far as I can tell from my invoices. Corbond/Icynene insulation in the walls to R28, R48 under the roof ran about $4/ft2 of living space. The 2x6 vs. 2x4 wall construction is marginally more expensive on the materials side, labor is similar.

    Thick windows are pretty pricey. On the other hand, windows are also relatively easy to replace later on. Many windows these days only last 10-15 years, so you can defer the three-pane, R8 windows... Thicker walls, they are harder to implement after the fact.

    In my mind, the delta is so low that any interested homeowner can justify the thicker insulation once you account for the operational savings that the reduced heat loss/gain entails. Besides, there are other benefits, such as smaller ductwork, fewer radiators, smaller heating/cooling plant, etc. The system has to be looked at as a whole, not just in the context of the marginal cost of the insulation.

    Even low-income housing with tight budgets can be built inexpensively yet well. Building Science Corp. has had it's hand in getting these kinds of projects out there, tailored to various climates, etc. A lot of the quality of a home is dependent on the quality of the installer. Materials are just that, materials. It is a master craftsman that makes them come together in a coherent, quality fashion to make your home the castle it deserves to be.
  • J Matthers_2
    J Matthers_2 Member Posts: 140

    I did build the most efficient house I could. SIP, radiant with Warmboard, Geothermal Heat Pump with back up mod/con boiler. I choose not to give anything up but my free time and put in lots of sweat equity. I think the real answer is to educate the consumers so they can make the decision. So many have no idea what is available. That starts with open minded, progressive builders that are willing to try new products and ideas. There are so many out there that would never think of building anything but a stick framed house or put anything in it but a forced air system. I know a lot is driven by costs, however, most people I know take out a mortgage for a new house, usually for 30 years. Any up front cost (amortized over 30 years) for a more efficient envelope, built with new products that need less maintenance over the years, that is heated and cooled with more efficient equipment will cost you far less in the long run and is a great financial decision.

    Our seriously confused government could help by leading the way. On one hand they will offer tax credits and rebates for “Energy Star” building, solar installations and geothermal installations (which is good) but don’t require these innovations in the new and retrofitted government buildings. Our Local, State and Federal governments should all spec. energy efficient and environmentally friendly building techniques in every new or retrofitted government building. What’s that? It costs more to build it that way and our taxes will go up? Yes, that is true. But who do you think is going to be paying for that natural gas and electricity that will be used in those buildings. Our taxes will go up anyway to pay those increased costs…for years.

    Thanks. I feel better now!
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,676
    energy consultants

    i'm heading in this direction; my web site was just revamped to reflect this.


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    Gary Wilson
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    Northampton, MA
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  • Ron Schroeder
    Ron Schroeder Member Posts: 998
    Saving energy is cheaper.

    When my mother had a retirement home built a while ago, I had the builder double the R value of everything but stay with conventional construction. The walls were of course thicker but the larger studs allowed 24" on center framing instead of 16" on center framing so the total amount of wood was about the same. The insulation batts were twice the R value, the foam sheathing was twice the thickness, the foundation insulation thickness was twice too. Raised heel roof trusses were used and twice the depth of attic insulation was blown in.

    The mortgage was $8 more a month than the identical but conventional house next door but my mother's utility bills were $42 LESS a month even thou she kept the house at 72 degrees all the time while the neighbor kept the house below 67 in the winter and set the thermostat for 80 degrees for A/C.

    Both houses had the same solar exposure, same roof and wall color, same A/C, same hot water heater, same furnace etc.
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