This edition of NAHB's quarterly HTA update is dedicated to a timely topic: green building. Enlisting the help of two design and build industry veterans, we explore their forays into this evolving field, and share with you their experiences, from applicable lessons learned to their opinions about future developments.
Our featured builder this month, John Wesley Miller, chairman of the John Wesley Miller Companies in Tucson, Ariz. recently became the first builder to qualify for certification under the new National Green Building Standards. Our featured electronic systems contractor (ESC) is Gordon van Zuiden, CEDIA board member and president/owner of cyberManor, a company that has set the standards for incorporating sustainable technology into residential building and remodeling projects. Both the builder and ESC share valuable information on this topic intended to educate you about this growing field.
It is nearly impossible to get through a day without hearing the words “energy efficiency," “savings," or “green” on the news or even in general conversation. Unfortunately for many people, these buzz words trigger an image of clunky log cabins in the middle of nowhere
Sustainable homes and aesthetics do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts and homes of varying “green” distinctions can be found nearly anywhere throughout the US. Although the actual materials and design of the overall home account for generous portions of the blanket term of “green building,” the addition of technology components can seal the designation.
The push for green building to become mainstream may be slow-going, but green homes are on the rise as builders of all sizes adopt energy efficiency and green building practices. Production builders have most recently increased their presence in this space while many custom builders have already established a stronghold in green building techniques.
Building materials alone, though, do not encompass the field of green building. With the increasing inclusion of technology to promote energy efficiency, energy monitoring, home automation and high indoor air quality, green building for the masses is starting to take hold.
Forward-thinking builders such as NAHB member Miller and electronic systems contractors (ESCs) such as van Zuiden offer innovative solutions for building green. Both of these companies have taken varying paths toward green building, but each offers years of tried and true sustainable technology solutions.
Builder to Builder
On the construction scene since the early 1950s and a licensed general contractor since 1969, Miller has weathered many building ebbs and flows through the years, yet has stayed true to his mission to create green, energy efficient properties. Through his company, Miller and his team of nine employees create and build beautiful environmentally-conscious residential and commercial designs and remodels in Arizona, where energy-efficient technologies are paramount.
A long-time solar energy advocate and contributing builder to Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Miller has received numerous industry honors and awards for energy conservation and building quality in his more than 50 years as a builder.
Partnered with the University of Arizona's Energy Research Laboratory since 1973, Miller continues to collaborate in the development of new energy saving products and technologies, with a special dedication to the various uses for solar energy.
One of four builders selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop zero-energy use homes (Net Zero Energy Homes), John Wesley Miller Companies is at the forefront of the green building movement. Two of these homes have been completed in the Armory Park del Sol development, a nationally recognized model for green building practices. Here, Miller designed and built all-electric homes that feature photovoltaic panels linked to the power grid to offset the owners’ overall bills, tankless water heating, thermal mass concrete walls with exterior insulation and other energy-saving features. More recently, John Wesley Miller Companies was the first builder to certify under the new NAHB National Green Building Standard.
“One of the challenges of designing and building this community was to embrace the city’s historic flair while incorporating high tech green features into new residential properties,” said Miller. “Not only did we attain the unique balance of the community, but we also simultaneously proved the naysayers wrong when they assumed the home sites were going to be unsightly due to the PV (photovoltaic) panels. The community is green, high tech and aesthetically pleasing.”
John Wesley Miller Companies is especially dedicated to utilizing solar power. In Tucson, where there is an average of 196 sunny days a year, it makes sense to harness the most abundant energy source. With this in mind, Miller has worked together with the University of Arizona to further develop this technology.
“There are great strides being made in solar PV,” said Miller. “As acceptance of green building practices grow, solar companies are working toward development of more concentrated systems. Over the next five to ten years, I foresee the technology cost proportioned to efficiency price going down.”
Acknowledging the higher up-front cost of many sustainable technology systems, Miller points out the availability of state and federal tax and rebate credits for upgrades such as solar PV, solar water heating, energy efficient appliances and energy saving features.
“Each state offers its own rebates and credits,” mentioned Miller, “but many offset the cost so much that it almost doesn’t make sense not to incorporate green technologies into your building plan. Take, for example, technology such as solar PV which protects consumers from future rate hikes for electricity.”
“Over the years, I have seen a greater acceptance of green building practices and truly believe that builders who do not utilize green practices going forward will be put out of business by those who do,” stated Miller.
Today, John Wesley Miller Companies completes an average of 30 new home and renovation projects per year, with a strong emphasis on green building practices and green technologies.
ESC to Builder
As the founder and president of cyberManor in Los Gatos, Calif., van Zuiden created his company in 1999 armed with 15 years of experience in the sale and support of personal computer and networking products to corporate accounts. Upon its inception, cyberManor became one of the first ESCs in the nation dedicated to utilizing IP-based technologies for the home. The company completes an average of 60 projects per year, ranging in price from $5k-$400k.
Entrenched in the industry through his affiliation with CEDIA’s Board of Directors and acting as the co-dean of CEDIA’s Electronic Systems Design curricula, van Zuiden advocates for the continued education of ESCs, and in turn, builders, about available and emerging home technologies and installation trends lending themselves toward sustainable technology. In fact, van Zuiden worked closely with CEDIA’s Sustainable Lifestyles Action Team in developing a checklist of professional offerings available to earn points toward green building certification.
“Many builders are familiar with green building standards such as NAHB’s National Green Building Standard,” said van Zuiden. “However, they may be unaware of the fact that utilizing sustainable technologies in the process can gain valuable points toward their ultimate goal of green certification.”
Communication between builders and ESCs is vital when determining which technology systems will enhance a green building project. Surprisingly enough, systems such as video conferencing, audio-visual components, and security systems could help a project gain necessary points toward the total goal of certification. Other systems, such as energy management, lighting control, and indoor environmental quality seem more obvious, but still should be discussed early and often in the planning stage.
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits related to incorporating energy management and energy monitoring systems into their homes; it is advantageous for builders and ESCs alike to take advantage of their affinity. Because most consumers have no idea how much energy they are using until the monthly electric bill arrives, there is a desire to gain a visual breakdown of their use.
“Builders should use energy efficiency and monitoring as a springboard to discussing home technologies with their customers,” commented van Zuiden. “In this economy, consumers are interested understanding where there money is being spent, specifically in terms of energy usage.”
Another possible energy saving system that is an easy introduction into sustainable home technology is lighting control. Advanced lighting control systems enhance lifestyle by adding convenience, flexibility, security, energy savings and longer light bulb life. For maximum energy efficiency, van Zuiden recommends a home automation/management system.
“The more systems that are tied together, the easier it is to determine where the greatest energy usage is occurring,” commented van Zuiden. “Through a home automation solution that integrates everything from security, lighting, HVAC, audio/video, intercom, and Internet, consumers have the entire energy usage picture and are able to adjust individual systems accordingly to take advantage of optimum usage.”
When it comes to installing home technology solutions, it is important to make a distinction between an electrician and an electronic systems contractor in terms of education and the ability to program a system and train the end user. Electricians are high volume technicians who can pull wire for electrical service to the home. ESCs work with low voltage, integrated systems, many of which have to be programmed to work together.
“All integrated sustainable technology solutions require advanced knowledge of the field including programming experience,” said van Zuiden, “and builders should seek out licensed, certified electronic systems contractors to complete the design and installation process.”
To this end, a great resource for builders to identify highly skilled, licensed and certified ESCs is CEDIA’s ESC Finder Service. Each member profile acts as a measurement tool for builders to determine if the ESC meets the needs of the project. Recently incorporated into the service is a section distinguishing EPA-certified remodelers who have complied with the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rules through CEDIA’s online and hands-on training courses.
Van Zuiden advises that if there is a chance that technologies may be added later in the building process, it is imperative that there be a structured wiring system in place to provide a physical infrastructure for future systems in the home.
There are many opportunities to incorporate sustainable technology into your building plans. Whether you embrace solar PV and solar water heating, energy management, energy monitoring, lighting control or whole home automation, it is important for builders and ESCs to work together to achieve maximum success in green building.
CEDIA is an international trade association of companies that specialize in designing and installing electronic systems for the home. The association was founded in September 1989 and has more than 3,500 member companies worldwide. CEDIA members are established and insured businesses with bonafide qualifications and experience in this specialized field. For more information on CEDIA, visit the association's website at www.cedia.org.
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