New Tradition Homes raises the bar on energy efficient building

Clark County homebuilder New Tradition Homes has partnered with Washington State University’s Energy Program to build and monitor four highly energy efficient homes in Orchards.

The goal of the project is to evaluate overall energy efficiency and indoor air quality of homes built to the Energy Star Homes Northwest Program standards. The research will focus on thermal and moisture issues associated with crawlspaces in homes, as well as placing furnaces and ductwork in “conditioned” zones of the homes.

The two entities were a match made through Consul, a private California-based organization that funds studies of energy efficiency and high performance homebuilding.

Homes in the Northwest are typically built with foundations that include foundation vents. The space underneath the home is unheated, and often subject to moisture, mold and insects.

In homes with “conditioned crawlspaces,” such as the ones that will be built in Serena Estates, the foundation is enclosed. A concrete slab is poured over drainage materials. Air within the foundation, which is built without foundation vents, is intentionally heated or cooled, and insulation is provided at the walls instead of in the floor.

New Tradition Homes started building certified Earth Advantage homes in February 2005, which are more energy efficient and “environmentally friendly.” Building Science Team Leader Steve Tapio said customer demand for more efficient homes is pushing the company’s direction, as well as a mandate from owner Kelly Helms beginning about two years ago to “do the right thing.” The company started bringing in green building and high performance home building consultants. The efforts culminated in the Earth Advantage partnership last year, increasing their homes’ average efficiency by about 15 percent.

The company built almost 500 homes in 2005 in Clark County and Tri Cities, the vast majority of which are Earth Advantage.

Homes to be tested in this project are anticipated to use between 30 percent and 50 percent less energy than homes built to Washington State Energy Code standards.

Monitors will be placed throughout the homes to collect research data. The homes will be monitored by WSU researchers from Spokane and Olympia from the day after construction completes through two heating seasons.

Of the four homes, two will serve as “control homes” to establish benchmarks. The first control home will feature a standard crawlspace, attic and duct system. The second control home will incorporate a duct design that is entirely within the conditioned area of the home, but still with a vented crawlspace.

The two “test homes” will have enclosed conditioned crawlspaces with variations on placement of ducting. Web sensors throughout the homes will constantly monitor conditions such as temperature, humidity, radon emissions and energy consumption.

In addition to evaluating the efficiency associated with sealed crawlspaces, additional energy saving building methods are being employed in the new homes. The overall goal is to increase efficiency by 50 percent, which would then allow the home builder to qualify for a $2,000 tax credit.

All four homes should be ready for occupancy by this summer. The research project is being undertaken in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, Building America Program and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. – Jessica Swanson

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