Arlington Designer Homes is committed to green building for the health benefits, energy savings, and reduced environmental footprint it provides for our buyers and our community. With constantly changing regulations, technologies and products, buidling a new green home from the ground up isn't always easy - but it's always interesting!

Welcome to our behind-the-scenes blog about green building and remodeling, where you can watch a green home go up step-by-step and learn about using green building techniques for your own home. And visit our website at to learn even more about green building and remodeling.

October 17, 2010

ENERGY STAR – More than Just the Blue Logo

What is ENERGY STAR and what does it mean for the green building process?  ENERGY STAR is a US government-sponsored program designed to encourage us all to become more energy efficient. It centers on energy usage and helping consumers learn how to be more efficient consumers, with twin goals of helping people to save money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You’re probably familiar with the blue ENERGY STAR logo, which has become a fixture on appliances and electronics, ranging from computer monitors to refrigerators. This logo means that the product meets strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and US Department of Energy. (Buying these products can often help you earn a rebate on your taxes.)
But you might not know that the ENERGY STAR program does much more than just certify electronics and appliances. The program can also help you to assess the current energy efficiency of your home, recommend various energy saving measures for you to improve the energy efficiency of your home, provide you with recommendations for qualified green builders and inspectors in your area, and provides a quantitative method for measuring and certifying new homes’ energy efficiency levels.
To earn the ENERGY STAR, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes. According to program statistics, last year, families living in these homes saved more than $270 million on their utility bills, while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 370,000 vehicles.
(Arlington Designer Homes is proud to be a ENERGY STAR-recommended green builder, and to have built a number of ENERGY STAR qualified new homes.)
Many other green certification programs throughout the Unites States have embraced the ENERGY STAR program as a jumping off point, and it’s a great place to start for consumers looking to build or remodel “green”. The program has defined goals and measurable targets and is recognized and respected throughout the US.
Having just recently certified a house according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Standard at the Gold level, and having been awarded the local Arlington County Green Home Choice award, I can tell you that both these programs use the ENERGY STAR system as a basis for awarding points towards their own green certifications. ENERGY STAR works for these programs because it provides an existing national infrastructure for securing the needed items and finding local certified inspectors.
The third party certification is integral to any national building program. It helps to assure that all the people participating in the programs are actually achieving the "green-ness" that they are claiming and helps to eliminate "green-washing." To achieve ENERGY STAR certification (along with most other recognized green certifications), a builder must contract a third-party, independent inspector to inspect and measure all aspects of the home against the set ENERGY STAR criteria. When I look for a third party inspector, I make sure that they are certified through ENERGY STAR.
If you’re thinking about  building a new home or remodeling your current home, and are interested in improving your home’s energy efficiency , the ENERGY STAR website is a great place to start your research. You’ll find lots of information on products and home improvement, and can look for builders and inspectors too.

October 7, 2010

Insulation and Outsulation

We enjoy building custom homes and never build the same house twice. At the beginning of a new project, we worth with our customers to set specific goals for that house and then find the best  building products that will help us meet those goals.
In the two houses we are currently building in Falls Church, we have installed Dow SiS panels on the exterior of the house in place of more standard materials like plywood or OSB (oriented strand board). This structural foam insulation board serves three purposes. The first is that it acts as our house sheathing. It takes the place of OSB and eliminates the house wrap. The second purpose is that it serves as a drainage plane. With the SiS panels installed, there is no need to install a house wrap to drain rain and moisture -- it is installed with the sheathing. The SiS board, when properly sealed, serves as both a structural panel and house wrap. The third reason to install this product is that it provides 'outsulation'. This insulates a thermal break on the outside of the structure of the house.
Even the best-insulated houses have what are called “thermal breaks” or “thermal bridging.” This is when heat energy (hot or cold) is directly channeled outside of the building envelop by a break, such as a 2x4 stud in an external wall. A 2x4 stud has an R value (a measure of thermal resistance used to assess the efficiency of insulation – the higher the number the better) of about 4.3, which means that in relation to the rest of the wall system (which is probably around R-15), it is the weak link. The thermal break is a large area that helps heating and cooling energy escape from your home. Think about how many wooden studs there are in one 8 foot wall -- probably 8 to a wall and 36 studs in a room.  Calculate the energy loss (and increased heating/cooling costs!) throughout the house because of the thermal breaks caused by all of those studs, and you can see how putting more insulation on the outside of a stud could be beneficial.
Insulation and outsulation are important, but they are only part of the energy equation. A house is a whole system. This system includes the HVAC, the windows, the thermal envelope and the breathability of a house. More on these topics to come……..