Subdivision targets ENERGY STAR® qualification for all its homes
'I'm not a zealot... but I think we all need to do our part'
Nathan Stone chuckles as he tries to describe his company's market niche.
"We do everything from residential construction, to tilt-up warehouses, office buildings, shopping malls and a hotel," says Stone, co-owner of Odessa Group. "Being diverse allowed us to grow even in slow economic times. Plus, I enjoy variety."
One place the company focuses on is continuous learning, and improving their practices.
"We're always wanting to improve how we build, and obviously part of that is being more environmentally sustainable. That's how we came upon the ENERGY STAR program."
'Achievable' building standard improves home energy performance by 20%
"We thought ENERGY STAR would be a good goal," he says. "Even though it's about 20% more efficient than building to code, we thought it could be achievable without a lot of extra cost. I think most better-quality builders are already building slightly better than code. This just means looking at the areas that you can tweak in order to improve."
Odessa is now targeting ENERGY STAR qualification for all the homes in its new subdivision development, Harrison Highlands, with four homes registered so far. Stone says achieving ENERGY STAR wasn't hard, but it took some attention to detail.
To improve air tightness, the company incorporated mid-construction air leakage testing on several homes. Working with sub-trades and in-house carpenters, Stone set up "an hour or two" of additional caulking and spray-foaming routines that are now part of the company's standard process.
"Now, when the insulators come in, they go through in the same amount of time, but we're achieving a 50-75% drop in air changes per hour. It wasn't difficult; it just took a little time and energy to work out."
Other improvements included extra insulation under slab, including a heat recovery ventilator or HRV (fresh-air ventilation system) and switching to all-LED lighting.
Builder expects additional ENERGY STAR cost to drop to zero
Stone says he studied the anticipated costs of bringing a home to the ENERGY STAR standard. This included the HRV, which Odessa had not previously used but which helps satisfy both ENERGY STAR and the updated B.C. Building code ventilation requirements.
His initial estimate for the upgrade was $4,100. However, he expects that cost to drop to zero over time, as follows:
- Code changes: Stone says some of the items he adopted for ENERGY STAR are now required under the B.C. Building Code, making them cost-neutral.
- Economies of scale: Odessa's energy advisor only needs to model each of the company's five plans once, meaning this cost is eliminated for subsequent builds.
- Customer goodwill and marketing value: although intangible, Stone expects the value of the ENERGY STAR brand to pay off.
- BC Hydro incentive: "The New Home program rebate gives us $2,000 back per house. That offsets the lion's share of the added cost," says Stone.
Stone says improved energy efficiency has brought a positive response from homebuyers, particularly because the company doesn't expect to charge extra for it.
"This just becomes our standard product; we're not trying to sell on this option," he says.
"So we talk to them about the options they do want — the upgraded appliances and the granite countertops — and then we say, oh by the way, your home is going to be ENERGY STAR labelled. ENERGY STAR is a very well-recognized brand, so that puts it over the top."
Stone says the key market for Harrison Highlands is people entering their retirement years, interested in both the purchase price and the operating costs of their home. "Pushing the envelope on energy efficiency at the sake of people not being able to afford it isn't a laudable goal in my opinion."
For Stone, continually improving his company's building practices is rewarding both personally and profitably, a way to feel good about his work and find new opportunities to satisfy buyers. He also hopes Odessa's work to adopt ENERGY STAR will inspire others.
"Those who specialize in the high efficiency niche market are often only building one or two homes a year," he says.
By contrast, Odessa plans to build 40 or more homes next year. "If we can demonstrate on a larger scale that we can voluntarily make all of our homes 20% more efficient without extra cost, then maybe the big guys that are doing several hundred units a year will say, 'We could do that too.'
"I'm not a zealot on environmental causes, but that being said, I think we all need to do our part."