Category Archives: High Performance

Time To Rethink How We Value How We Build

I met with some colleagues to discuss our infill development plans for downtown Charleston yesterday at the Rarebit on King. Ideas on what to build and where to build it were being batted around over dinks and carefully placed jokes.

As we were focusing on a particular lot, the issue of appraisal values came up. Specifically, how they really don’t account for much, yet can determine how much the bank will provide you on a mortgage or construction loan.

For example, take two different buildings built at the same time, the same neighborhood, the same size, and the same finishes, but with one difference. Building A was built by a shitty builder using shitty sub-contractors doing shitty work, while Building B was built by an excellent builder using excellent sub-contractors doing excellent work.

Or, think of it a different way. Say Building A was built to the minimum standard, which is basically the local building code, while Building B was built to a much higher standard such that its operation costs were dramatically lower than Building A by hundreds of dollars.

Guess what? More than likely, a comparative appraisal of the two won’t show a difference in value. An appraiser briefly walks through a house, getting a very general idea of the condition of the building and its room count, and may ask if there are any unobservable problems. That’s it. It’s still pretty hard to find a comparison for a higher performing home in most areas these days.

So, why would you want to build a better performing home if its energy and cost saving features aren’t reflected in its valuation? (insert record scratch sound here) Well, because those energy and cost saving features add up big time over the life of the building! 

Take for example the case of Gene Myers, a builder in Denver, CO. Myers’s company has built standard three-bedroom 2,000 SF homes that are highly efficient, with HERS scores in the low 40s (that’s pretty good by the way), for sale competitively around $480,000. In that same development, they also offer similarly sized homes with photovoltaic panels to achieve net-zero energy, and those houses cost just $35,000 more than the standard houses.

But here’s the thing, they’re only $35,000 more expensive when you look at the initial cost. Factoring in operating costs dramatically changes the formula. According to Myers, the $35,000 up-charge to his customers adds $100 a month to their mortgage payment, but sis analysis shows that owners will save $300 a month in energy bills.

If I said to you, “Give me $100 and I’ll give you $300 back,” how would that sound? Sounds pretty good, right? Now, why don’t we do that the first month you live in your new home, and then let’s do that every month for as long as you own the home? A net savings of $200/ month over a 30-year mortgage is a lot!

So, homeowners, and architects, builders, real estate agents, appraisers, and lenders need to rethink how we value how we build if we’re serious about building a better preforming built environment.

Your High-End Home Isn’t a High-Performance Home Without Proper Ventilation

Ventilation is an essential component in achieving healthy indoor air quality, and if your high-end home isn’t proving that to you and your family, it could be increasing your chances of poor health for everyone who lives under its roof.

Ventilation – The catch phrase use to be that homes needed to ‘breathe’. They still do, but not in the uncontrolled manner they’ve been allowed. Buildings are now being constructed with more air-tight envelopes. This has led to the need for greater control over a home’s breathability by introducing controlled fresh outside air in addition to a home’s typical HVAC system. Controlled whole-house ventilation is a cost-effective and energy efficient way to supply fresh air throughout the living area.

Here’s why you high-end home needs to prioritize ventilation:

Removes excess humidity (we do live in the South)

One of the primary reasons for using a properly sized, well-designed ventilation system in conjunction with airtight construction is to lower humidity levels that have a negative effect in two ways. First, Significant differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures can pose a problem by causing condensation inside the structure of a building and the spaces within. When this happens in your high-end home, you can end up with high levels of mold and mildew. Second, a lower relative humidity level dramatically improves the comfort for those living in the home.

Reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies

Respiratory problems like asthma can be triggered by damp and moldy conditions. Without adequate ventilation, your airtight high-end house could be producing excessive humidity levels that promote mold spores and dust mites. In general, keeping the relative humidity below 50% considerably reduces the growth of dust mite. A whole-house ventilation system extracts the excess humidity and keeps mold and mildew from forming.

As we say in the South, it pollens instead of snows, and pollen is one of the major causes of seasonal allergies. An effective ventilation system filters out pollen and other large particles while suppling fresh air that results in improved health for seasonal allergy sufferers. Keeping the windows closed during high pollen levels helps ensure that your air conditioning system is running as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Reduce exposure to Radon gas

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is found most commonly in areas where granite and other ‘igneous’ rocks make up a large part of the geography. While not a problem here in the lowcountry and coastal areas, high-end homes in the mountains and foothills of South Carolina should take precautions against exposure to radon gas. It can be pulled into living spaces from the ground around basements and crawlspaces by air pressure differences between the interior of the house and the exterior.

Reduce the impact of chemical pollutants

We spend much of our lives inside. We also live and work in environments where there are far more chemical compounds in the air that can have negative health effects. Many of these come in the form of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. While you can’t see them, they do usually give off a smell.

VOCs are found in paints, stains, sealants, carpets, furniture, and even house cleaning products. A newly built or renovated house can have VOC levels that reach as much as 1,000 times higher than outdoor levels. When designing and planning your new home, renovation, or addition, choose finish materials that have minimal off-gas.

A whole-house, balanced ventilation system utilizing a HRV or ERV unit (preferred for hot humid climates) that introduces a constant stream of fresh filtered air to dilute and control a wide range of pollutants. Stale air is then typically exhausted through spaces like bathrooms and kitchens. To ensure your high-end home provides a high quality indoor living environment, be sure to prioritize a high-performance ventilation strategy from the outset.