June 24, 2008

Building It Energy Efficient

By Crystal R. Reid, The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.

Jun. 22--The sparkling mosaic of blue glass tiles in Doreen Riedman's bathroom holds a secret: Many of them are recycled.

Another bathroom and a hallway are illuminated by natural light streaming through sun-tubes in the ceiling. And the home, perched on a bluff overlooking the river, is heated by the earth's energy, with an underground, geothermal system.

The up-front costs, Riedman said, were more significant than a traditional furnace -- about $15,000 to $20,000 more -- but with heating bills only getting to $40 or $50 for the large home in the winter months, pay-off is expected in less than eight years.

"It is a significant investment," Riedman noted, saying it's more beneficial if the homeowners are in the home for a significant period of time.

Her family went into designing their energy-efficient home knowing exactly what they wanted; Riedman, director of the state homebuilders association, did a lot of research and found a builder willing to work with them and do what they wanted.

Energy-efficiency of all kinds is the new standard in home building in the nation; most states have guidelines or certifications for building truly energy-efficient or even green homes. Nationally, builders can achieve Energy-Star ratings or voluntarily follow the International Energy Code.

Overall, cost is the overriding reason for complying to energy-saving standards, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

North Dakota's residential energy code, however, is a little outdated. Last updated in 1993, Bill Huether, manager of the Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said a couple of standards need to be revisited. The governor's Empower ND commission, he said, is working to bring that code up to date.

He added that the state tax department has been open to programs to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency in residential building, but the two departments have yet to come together to put pen to paper.

Despite the lack of a modern, energy-efficient building code for residences, Riedman said most builders build good homes to compensate for the state's wild weather.

"Truly, North Dakota has always been building to energy-efficient standards because of our climate,"she said. "We've always been doing good windows."

Rather than simply hope all builders are building energy-efficient homes, Huether said he'd like to see a statewide code so that no new homes slip through the energy cracks.

Kevin Seidel, owner of SSSConstruction, said he's built nine homes with Energy Star ratings.

"I feel in North Dakota, the more you do, the better the bills are for energy," he said. "It's a no-brainer."

Seidel said energy-efficient features are becoming more of a demand even in standard homes; features such as 2x6 frames instead of 2x4, geothermal heat, heavier insulation, double-pane, quality windows. Windows, he said, are the most consistent requests; in fact, he suggests investing in good windows up-front to save on energy bills later.

"You lose more energy in the windows and doors than you do in the ceiling," Seidel said.

Riedman agreed. A sunroom in their home was built with less-efficient windows than other parts of the house, and the difference is apparent.

The family moved into their home in 2007 and have been satisfied with the energy-efficient decisions they made, she said.

But those decisions don't need to be confined to larger, more expensive homes, Seidel added. He's built competitively priced, energy-efficient homes in the first-time homebuyer range.

"It isn't that terribly much more for what you get," he said.


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