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Named Builder Advocate of the Year in the 2008 NAHB National Green Building Awards and a long-recognized green building leader, Ferrier continues to look for ways to make his custom homes, remodeling projects and commercial jobs greener and more energy-efficient, combining an eye for affordability and marketing savvy to keep his business humming.
The new Emerald home is designed to be “the last home the owners will ever live in,” Ferrier said. They wanted to make sure that their energy bills would be low as they headed toward retirement, which is the primary motivator Ferrier has found among his baby boomer customers.
The home is wired for photovoltaic panels that the owners can install if the price comes down enough, which would make it a true zero-energy home.
Like all homes built to the National Green Building Standard, the latest Ferrier project meets specific benchmarks in site design; energy, water and resource efficiency; indoor environmental quality and home owner education.
Most of all, it was a team project from beginning to end, with Ferrier making sure that everyone involved in developing and building the home understood that sustainability was the primary purpose of the undertaking.
Ferrier described several aspects of his way of building green that brought the project to the Emerald level.
Living room and loft overlook
Ferrier walked the site before construction began, creating an inventory of the natural resources on the lot and coordinating with the owners to mark and protect the trees they wanted to keep. They fenced off sensitive areas to make sure trucks didn’t meander off the appropriate paths.
Ferrier erected a sign that served as both a marketing tool and a promise that 80% of the construction waste would be recycled. “It’s right up front-and-center to remind the subcontractors and everybody,” he said. In the end, only about “a pickup load-and-a-half” went to the landfill; the rest was recycled or reused onsite.
He also made adjustments to the orientation of the home as planned.
“The designer originally wanted to orient the home to the southwest to take advantage of a slightly better view,” Ferrier said, but after talking about the downside of such a plan, including more exposure to the hot summer sun, the clients agreed to adjust the plan slightly so the home pointed closer to the south.
In addition to strategically placed shade trees on the west side of the home, the design includes west awnings and overhangs, and the home’s garage also helps block sun from the west.
Energy Efficiency Starts With SIPs
Ferrier is a big proponent of structural insulated panels (SIPs) and uses them frequently for walls and roofs. The technician who performed the Home Energy Rating test that Ferrier needed for his various certification programs told him it was “tighter than any home they ever tested,” at 1.6 air changes an hour at 50 Pascals of pressure, Ferrier said. (In addition to the standard, the home’s certifications include the LEED-H program and the home is enrolled in the Department of Energy’s Builders Challenge, Energy Star and Green Built Texas.)
“If the sub makes a penetration, they are responsible to flash it and seal it. The plumber, the electrician, the AC — everybody takes ownership of what they do here,” Ferrier said.
“I say to them, ‘I know you aren’t used to doing this and some other builders don’t ask you, but we have an increasingly larger number of clients who want us to build these kind of homes, so if you want more subcontracts, you need to be part of the team,’” he said.
“You have to pay attention to details. If the subcontractors are on board, that’s better than coming around behind them,” to fix it, he said. “If we see a ray of daylight, we caulk it or seal it.”
The expectation that subs will take responsibility “is a company philosophy. We want partners that are truly partners,” Ferrier said.
After looking at research concluding that flex ducts can decrease the overall efficiency of an air-conditioning system by 12% to 15%, Ferrier said he decided to try something new to improve the home’s energy efficiency by substituting smooth steel ducts for flexible ones. “The dimples in flex ducts create turbulence so it doesn’t get the air out as quickly or as efficiently,” he said.
In With the Good Air and Out With the Bad
There are no VOCs or formaldehyde in any of the home’s paint or custom-made cabinets, an example of what Ferrier calls “the great care we take to control what items go into a house — the carpets, the pads, the flooring — so we aren’t spewing contaminants."
An energy recovery ventilator (ERV) keeps the air from getting stale by bringing in fresh air and double-filtering it, and by keeping the home’s pressure slightly on the positive side so the air tends to go out of the home, rather than be drawn into it. “We control the indoor air quality better that way; it’s a sanctuary to get away from pollutants and pollen that can contribute to allergic reactions."
Ferrier is also a fan of the high-end Daikin heat pump, with infinitely variable fans, infinitely variable speed compressor and up to five thermostats.
All the home’s water fixtures are Energy Star-rated and ultra low-flow, but what makes the home most water-efficient is a 30,000-gallon rainwater catchment system, which is the primary water source. The system includes a five-step filtration process and while it’s more expensive in the short run, Ferrier said the clients will get their money back because of the comparatively high price of water in rural areas near Dallas-Fort Worth.
The home owners also took advantage of federal tax credits to have Ferrier install a solar water heater. Ferrier said he fills out the necessary forms for his clients when they are eligible for rebates and incentives so that they will be more likely to take advantage of them.
Return on investment is important, Ferrier said, but it’s more important to some demographic groups than others. Aging baby boomers, who are looking for energy efficiency to hold down expenses during retirement, are content with paybacks of even 15 years, but younger buyers want more “all-around” green and a faster return, with a lower budget, he said.
“Every single client that comes to me has a list of what their hearts want and what dreams to fulfill,” he said, "and usually they want more than they can afford or are comfortable in spending. One of the key things we do with clients that differentiates us from the competition is that we are very careful about how we manage that balance between green, energy-efficient features and affordability. If it doesn't get built then no one wins.”
“As we move forward together,” Ferrier tells his clients, “I will be the marshal of your budget, so instead of having that hiccup at the end when you see the bottom line for the choices you’ve made, every choice goes through this green and affordable filter” to keep the project on budget, or at least buildable.
Affordable Zero-Energy Homes the Next Big Challenge
Ferrier said the biggest challenge facing leading green builders today is to figure out how to build an affordable zero-energy home. “The cost of PV is coming down and cost of wind is coming down, but it’s oh, so slow,” he said.
In the meantime, Ferrier is happy to meet the challenges of today’s clients. “We had our second best year ever last year, and we’re off to our best start this year,” he said.
“We are very excited about the future and very grateful that we happened to be in the right spot at the right time when this whole green thing became cool,” Ferrier said, relating the story of meeting a fellow attendee at a Leadership Trust Conference he attended in 1999.
He hadn’t heard the term “green building” much, even though he had long applied the principles of sustainable construction to his own business practices. “Someone asked me if I was a green builder and I said hmm, I guess I am.”
For information on green building resources available from NAHB, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
“The National Green Building Standard,” available through BuilderBooks.com, provides “green” practices that can be incorporated into multifamily and single-family new home construction, home remodeling and additions and site development.
The standard covers lot design, resource, energy and water efficiency; indoor environment quality; and owner education.
Currently the first and only ANSI-approved green building rating system, the National Green Building Standard is the benchmark for green homes.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here.
The "National Green Building Standard Commentary," available through BuilderBooks.com and a companion to the ANSI approved "National Green Building Standard," that provides valuable insight to the intention and implementations of the practices and provisions found in the green building standard.
The "Commentary" is a useful resource for any designer or builder using the ICC 700-2008 as a rating system for developing or renovating residential properties of all types to reduce their relative impact.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.
More Than 5,000 People Have Earned Their Certified Green Professional (CGP) Designation
The Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation teaches builders, remodelers and other industry professionals techniques for incorporating green building principles into homes using cost-effective and affordable options.
Earning the CGP demonstrates to clients and peers your commitment to the best and latest in green building practices and techniques. More than 5,400 people have earned the CGP designation to date.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org/CGPinfo.
“Build Green and Save: Protecting the Earth and Your Bottom Line,” available through BuilderBooks.com, is a comprehensive, easy-to-read reference that shows builders how to identify and select green building materials; implement green construction techniques; explain the benefits of green housing and offer affordable green building solutions to consumers; and use resources wisely and reduce water and energy consumption.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.
For answers to questions about National Green Building Certification by the NAHB Research Center, certification to the standard or the guideline sunset, complete and submit the Contact Us form on the NAHBGreen website.