It was during the “black mold” scare over a decade ago when our family moved into our 1940 Colonial Revival home in old University Park. We bought it from the original owner, whose favorite color was blue. That light blue shag carpet covered up gorgeous old-growth oak floors begging to be refinished and the faded blue paint covered plaster walls that I’m sure could tell stories. My wife and I often comment about how young these families seem that are filling up the vintage homes on our tree-lined street. We’re the old family now with too many dented teenagers’ cars parked out front.
But the boys were only aged 8, 6, 5 and 1 when we moved in. We discovered leaky, crushed air ducts lying in the dirt under the house, providing great comfort to whatever critters found their way in. Worried about allergies, we replaced all the rigid ducts (with mastic, not duct tape) and added 8 inch pleated filters into our air conditioning systems. Cutting edge at the time. Open Doors. I didn’t know anything about air changes per hour back then, but if a big ACH number was desirable then we had nothing to worry about (though in reality a low ACH of 3-5 is the current target!). We always wanted a welcoming home for kids, neighbors and friends and our open door policy became quite literal. We frequently echoed our parents’ cliché about not “air conditioning the whole neighborhood”. I can’t even count the number of times that kind neighbors returned our escaped and roaming Labrador Retrievers. Fresh air? We had plenty to spare.
Nowadays, good builders and remodelers have come a long way in combining the tried and true methods of their forebears with today’s building science advances. You’re likely to hear discussions of sealed building envelopes, HERS performance scores, ERVs, effective R-values, window U-values, thermal bridges, make-up air, and the like.
New Codes Peak into the Future. Every three years (2015 the latest), the updated energy codes are racing towards Zero Energy Ready homes and HERS scores down in the low 40’s. These new codes give us a pretty clear picture of what is heading our way in terms of energy efficient homes. Where building codes used to be about structural and safety issues, they are now as much about energy efficiency and performance.
There were actually over 10,000 zero energy homes built in the US in 2014! With a zero energy home, your net energy bill for the year is nothing (you actually sell energy back into the grid during sunny times). Of course it takes solar panels to get the last 30 or so HERS points to reach zero, but the efficiency gains since 2006 have been truly amazing.
There sure is a lot to be said about good building practices. Not only will a high-performing house provide energy efficiency, savings and durability (the economic benefits), but you and your kids will live in a much healthier, safer and more comfortable home. That should make us all breathe a whole lot easier!
Build to Last, Dave Reichert and the Davis-Hawn Team