Energy adviser: Efficient homes recognized

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Our city and county are among the national leaders in building more efficient and sustainable homes. And, there are awards to prove it. At a recent event hosted by the Building Industry Association, Mike Luzier said the area was ahead of most of the country because it adopted voluntary compliance for the National Green Building Standard early. Luzier is president and CEO of Home Innovation, a company that certifies homes meeting this standard. The county adopted the voluntary standard in 2010 and the city this year.

A point-rating setup ranks builders at one of the six levels of green building the standard defines. This allows them to pick construction practices that work best in their markets and for the customers they want to attract. Using voluntary compliance, the building industry hopes to achieve net-zero energy use for new homes by 2030.

“Voluntary compliance is more flexible and adapts to consumer demand quicker than government mandates,” said Mark LaLiberte, owner of Construction Instruction, a building-science consulting firm. “It’s also a market driver, because builders create exactly the homes local buyers demand and are willing to pay for.”

For consumers, high-performance homes are more durable and comfortable while saving water and energy and lowering maintenance costs. They’re healthier also, because their ventilation removes indoor pollution and decreases moisture.

Using new building techniques, they keep out moisture better.

“All windows are leaky,” said LaLiberte. “With just minor changes in construction, we can direct leaks outside a wall where they won’t cause damage.” Older construction techniques often let leaks seep into walls, where moisture collects undetected and causes damage.

LaLiberte made an argument for more and better communication among all the subcontractors, as well as between product manufacturers and builders.

“In the past, everybody just did their job and that’s all,” he said. “Today, we all must do the best possible job and that means understanding the science of building homes better and how each part affects the whole.” In building science, a home’s efficiency depends on its parts preserving that balance.

Take sizing a heating system, for example. Determining the right size means several subcontractors must interact, especially the window, insulation and HVAC teams. All three affect the system size. The window and insulation teams must understand how what they install influences the heating and cooling system. To make this easier, manufacturers now label windows with a U-factor declaring the insulation their window offers. Knowing this and the R-value for the insulation in the walls and attic, the HVAC installer can calculate the exact size of system needed to comfortably and efficiently heat and cool a home.

Before manufacturers used these labels, the HVAC subcontractor made a “best guess.” Guessing wrong meant installing an undersized heating system that would run constantly, or putting in an oversized one that would cycle off and on too often. Both used more energy than necessary and failed sooner. Proper sizing of a heating system means the homeowner won’t pay for wasted energy, can use the system for its full lifespan and will ultimately live in a more comfortable home.

The two Home Innovation awards for advancing the NGBS standard that Luzier presented demonstrate the commitment to green building locally.

“We only give a few out each year,” he said. Tim Leavitt, mayor of Vancouver, received one for the city’s adoption of the standard. The second went to the BIA Green Building Council for promoting green building, its builder-outreach efforts and supporting NGBS adoption by the county.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.