The hidden costs of remodeling or custom building are often not found in roof tiles, dry wall, or even the cost of labor. Many times, the homeowner only realizes them after they tear open their first energy bill.
As green home builders in Austin, TX, Soledad has seen firsthand how much simple energy upgrades can save homeowners in the long run. But how can a consumer distinguish between “green” as a buzzword and the products that can truly save you money and reduce your environmental impact?
The most common standard for green practices is the Energy Star rating. Developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, this rating measures the energy efficiency of products and construction projects. According to the E.P.A., an Energy Star-certified home uses an average of 30% less energy every year, and reduces greenhouse gases by 3,700 lbs.
The most important element in the energy equation is the air conditioning unit – as could easily be guessed by anyone who has lived in Austin for very long. According to the National Weather Service, there were 20 days last year in which the temperature in Austin met or exceeded 100 °F, and there were 119 days in which it exceeded 90 °F.
A homeowner in the market for energy-efficient air conditioning should be sure to inquire about a unit’s SEER rating, an equation used by the D.O.E. to determine a device’s total cooling capacity versus how much energy it takes in. Energy efficiency is such an important factor in cooling units that public utilities have been known to offer hundreds of dollars in rebates to residents who will upgrade.
The federal government mandates that any air conditioning unit on the market have a SEER rating of at least 13. To achieve an Energy Star rating, a unit must have a rating of at least 14.5. That small jump can have astounding effects on the costs of cooling. For example, the EPA estimates that if a resident of Austin uses an Energy Star-certified central air conditioner instead of a conventional unit, they will in one year save $1,409 on energy costs – even after one factors in the fact that the better unit has a higher selling price.
Of course, searching for a higher SEER rating will at some point have limiting returns – buying a unit with a rating of 18 will cost much more, and will not necessarily save you money in the long run. Smart installation and insulation are what carry a project all the way to Energy Star certification. Whatever type of insulation you select, it’s important to pay attention to the product’s R-value, which measures resistance to heat flow. Proper installation with minimal gaps is just as important as the type of material you use.
Air sealing is another important step to energy efficiency – and the construction period is the ideal time to address it. Otherwise, it may be hard to reach critical areas that are causing problems. The average home contains about half a mile of gaps in walls, windows, doors, and holes such as pipes. Sealing off certain spaces in your home can not only result in lower energy use, but also can help reduce your family’s exposure to outside allergens and noise. Another consideration is the ductwork that carries heated and cooled air from the unit to each part of your house – in a typical house, about 20% of air is lost because of leaks or poor connections in ducts.
Working in the very green city of Austin, Soledad has had the privilege to build homes that meet Energy Star standards – and many that vastly exceed them. In 2009, we worked with award-winning architect Steve Zagorski to build an empty nester home that received a 5-star rating from the Austin Energy Green Building Program and was selected for the 2009 Cool Home Tour. All of our homes are built to a minimum of 4-stars, regardless of whether they are rated or not.
Building green and saving money on energy means finding the right balance between installation, insulation, A/C needs, and personal taste. Our Managing Partner Marc Molak is recognized as a Certified Green Professional by the National Association of Home Builders, and he’s also Green Boots Certified by Austin Energy. Living and working in the 78704, 78703, 78746 or 78731 Austin, TX zip codes? Call us today to learn more about our green philosophy, and how we can help you reduce your environmental impact – and save money in the long run.