Articles

St Jude Dream Home

Epic Custom Homes is the proud builder of the Tulsa area St Jude Dream Home. Epic has been involved in building seven dream homes over the years.
The support of the community has been tremendous. Together with our partners Epic has been able to help raise over $6,000,000.


stjudetrip-widestjudetrip-const

 

 

 

 

 

Each year we get to go to Memphis to visit the hospital. Visits like that are a reminder to us on why we are involved. One of my favorite areas of the hospital is the ABC wall. This is a wall where kids expressed their feelings about cancer and the ongoing struggle they face every day. The gallery below are photos of the kid’s artwork on that wall.

What Is An Energy Star Builder?

There is a huge misconception builders have on what it takes to be an Energy Star Builder.

There is a great deal of confusing information about what it means to be an Energy Star Builder.  Using Energy Star appliances doesn’t make a builder an Energy Star builder.  Using full foam insulation and expensive heating and air equipment doesn’t make an home an Energy Star Home.

Energy Star is a government-sponsored (Environmental Protection Agency) program created to incentivize and educate the public, manufacturers and builders about the benefits and importance of energy conservation.  There are programs for a number of industries.  Appliance manufacturers can be part of the Energy Star program and build and test the appliances they manufacture to meet or exceed certain baseline standards set by Energy Star.  This is why you see the Energy Star logo on appliances at your local home store.  Those appliances bearing this logo exceed this baseline and a manufacturer’s participation helps to differentiate their appliances as more efficient.

Like appliance manufacturers there is a program for site built homebuilders.   There are a number of requirements to meet the standards, but in general to earn an Energy Star rating, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the EPA and be verified by a qualified Energy Star Professional.  These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and many include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–50% more efficient than standard homes (ref www.energystar.gov).  If you’re spending an average of $300 per month now on energy for your residence and it is not an Energy Star home, then a comparable Energy Star home would likely save you over $1000 per year!

This is real money not just some ploy to save on carbon emissions.  It does that as well, but the bottom line is that energy conservation saves you money.  At today’s low interest rates the extra dollars saved allow for more house.  An extra $100 per month buys about $15000 more home in total dollars.  As a home grows in size, so does it energy use and the impact that Energy Star can have on your home purchasing power.

The sad thing is that to get these savings doesn’t cost $50,000.  Often times 20% efficiency can be gained with the same products already being used.  By adding an Energy Star design and inspection consultant to the building team, the builder and homebuyer get a number of benefits.   The most important of these benefits is the knowledge these experts bring regarding design of the insulation process and their inspections to ensure the installation is proper and complete.  Since many homes (especially those with two stories) have the insulation improperly installed, this inspection process can identify major areas of concern and get them rectified before the sheetrock hides the issues.   It’s just good to have another set of eyes to review the work, especially a set of expert eyes, as even the best builders can’t catch everything.

By adding better insulation, more efficient lighting, better attic ventilation techniques and equipment, and using more efficient air conditioning equipment, the gains can be much greater than 20% and still be far less in net ownership costs to the buyer.  In the end Energy Star just makes sense.  If you are considering building or buying a new home and the home is not going to be built to these standards then you will pay for it with real money in the long run and you will lose all the other benefits that come with a better constructed home.

Proper Sizing of HVAC Systems

Proper Sizing of Heating and Cooling equipment is essential to indoor air quality, comfort and energy conservation.  What does this mean?

First let’s get a few acronyms out of the way. A unit of energy is commonly referred to or defined in terms of British Thermal Units, or BTU’s. Another common term used to define the systems that maintain a home’s living space temperature is Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning, or HVAC. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to why size matters.

For every 12,000 BTU’s needed to maintain your home’s indoor temperature, you need 1 ton of air conditioning (AC). So, if you live in a home that has one AC unit that is 5 tons, then theoretically an HVAC professional calculated that your home needed 60,000 BTU’s to maintain comfort. The million-dollar question is whether that professional took the time to really calculate the load, or did they simply use a rule of thumb approach. Worse yet, did they upsize your unit by one or even two tons to give you some “extra capacity” to ensure you would be able to stay cool. Since every ton more typically costs about $1500, extra capacity equals extra profit.

A study done by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the large utility provider found that 53% of air conditioning units examined were a full ton oversized. So, over half the time the HVAC professional put in too much and the buyer paid for it. The cost factor is one problem, but it’s more than that.

When AC units are oversized, they run in shorter cycles, as it doesn’t take as long for the unit to cool the home until the thermostat turns the unit back off. This is known as Short Cycling. The problem with short cycle times is that one of the primary jobs of the AC unit is to dehumidify the home.   Air conditioners are very inefficient when they first start operation. It is far better for the air conditioner to run longer cycles than shorter ones. The efficiency of the typical air conditioner increases the longer it runs.

The ability of the air conditioner to remove moisture (latent capacity) is lowest at the beginning of the air conditioner cycle. The moisture removed from the indoor air is dependent upon the indoor coil temperature being below the dew-point temperature of the air. The moisture then wets the indoor coil and, should the unit run long enough, will begin to flow off the coil and be removed out of the condensate drain.

For short cycles, the coil does not have time to operate at the low temperature and when the unit stops, the moisture on the coil evaporates back into the indoor air. Thus, in humid climates, a properly sized air conditioner will do a far better job of removing moisture from the air than oversized units. An oversized air conditioner cannot remove enough moisture from the air and a home can become cold and clammy.

In addition, mold needs water to grow. Humidity provides water in the air and the more humidity you have in a home the more mold can prosper. When a home is over 65% relative humidity or above mold has an environment to grow. As the humidity rises the environment only improves for mold growth. So, not having an AC unit run for longer cycles is more than just about energy or comfort. It’s also about health.

Given all that we know about indoor air quality and comfort, it’s amazing that the problem of over sizing AC equipment is so pervasive.   The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) have published the standard for performing load calculations, known as Manual J. When you consider that every house built is unique and that every choice in the house affect efficiency and BTU load, you can imagine how challenging such a calculation can be. As a result, it’s not surprising how many contractors use the rule of thumb approach. There are a number of software programs that have been created to make this potentially complicated process much easier for HVAC contractors. However, as demonstrated in the PG&E study, these tools are all too often not used and the homeowner pays the price in energy costs, installation costs, comfort and health.

This problem only grows as standard construction requirements of our building codes continue to emphasize more efficient structures. Today the wall and ceiling insulation minimums and minimum efficiency ratings on HVAC equipment have all been increased. In just the last 10 years the increases in the building codes alone have stepped up minimum efficiency ratings of AC units by 30%. Add to this the emphasis in the market place and the tax credits for programs like Energy Star, and the problem only grows further, unless those builders and HVAC contractors are keeping up with their expertise on how to size their equipment.

In our homes we use third party engineers to calculate our loads. Since they are separate from our HVAC contractors, there is no conflict of interest. That’s a good way to go. In fact we recently had a quote come in a full 2 tons more than required. It was a Geothermal home with full foam insulation and a number of other upgrades. We told all of this to the contractor but still the quote was 2 tons high. Since it was a Geothermal HVAC system (which are about 2 to 3 times more in upfront cost than standard equipment), the savings to the customer of proper sizing was $8,000 in upfront installation cost. Since the quoted unit was 6 tons and the actual requirement was 4 tons, the savings long-term on monthly operation is also significant.

A little knowledge goes along way. If you are considering building a new home, ask the right questions. It isn’t just about how pretty the finish is. If you are going to make one of the largest investments of your life, shouldn’t it be more than just pretty? Shouldn’t it operate as good as it looks?

About Epic

Building a custom home can be one of the most challenging endeavors one can embark upon. But with Epic, you’re not alone.

At Epic our approach to home building is different than most home builders. Before you commit to anything, we sit down with them and figure out the details.  A home is a complex project and it is necessary to plan ahead to avoid financial surprises that can crop up at closing.  An Epic home not only fits the style of it’s clients but also achieves economic goals by using advanced energy star and green building techniques.  Many builders can build a pretty house but very few have the knowledge and certifications to build a home that performs well and can lower the cost of ownership.

You will find that we will shoot straight, and will not bait and switch by constantly hitting you with change orders.  If we do our job correctly, there shouldn’t be any surprises, and you will complete your home with a house you can be proud of and a builder relationship that is positive.