Ted L. Clifton looks like a stereotypical green builder. He has a long, white beard, wears denim jeans and comfortable cotton shirts, builds custom homes with photovoltaic roof panels, and is vice president of Built Green Washington. But Clifton isn’t altruistic; he believes in sustainable building, but the builder/remodeler told about 100 people attending the NAHB Green Building Conference in Dallas that he builds green to make a profit.

The owner of Coupeville, Wash.-based Clifton View Homes said there also is a good living to be made turning existing homes into high-performance remodels. “We make good money doing this,” said Clifton, noting that 75% of the U.S. housing stock was built between World War II and 1995.

Besides, many folks want to stay in their existing homes instead of moving to new, more energy-efficient ones mainly because their dwellings are close to jobs, shops, and good schools.

Unfortunately, these homes are sorely energy inefficient. Clifton noted that the typical house built 40-plus years ago includes 2x4 wall construction with R-11 insulation and single-pane aluminum windows. If the family is lucky, there is R-19 insulation under the floors and in the ceilings.

“The average 1960s home uses two to three times the energy of today’s [new] homes,” said Clifton, who won a gold EnergyValue Housing Award this year from the NAHB Research Center and the Department of Energy.

Clifton provided the following guidelines for boosting the efficiency of existing homes:

Step One: Perform an Energy Audit
The first step to making an existing dwelling energy efficient is to conduct an energy audit, Clifton said. He mentioned two free energy modeling software programs pros can utilize to analyze the home’s total heat loss: the Department of Energy’s Rescheck and Washington State University’s Component Performance Analysis.

In addition, pros should conduct a blower-door test to figure out where the worst leaks are and collect a year’s worth of utility bills from the homeowner.

“If you don’t measure it, you can’t measure it,” said Clifton, who has worked in every aspect of construction--from carpentry to electrical to home design--for more than 30 years.

Once you’ve collected and reviewed the data, determine the cost effectiveness of various upgrades and create good-better-best plans for the homeowner. You will need to show the value of each option over time, such as lower utility bills and resale prices of existing homes with similar upgrades. 

Step 2: Bid the Job Correctly
Although he did not discuss specific percentages, Clifton said that pros should not shy away from paying themselves well. “You have to build in plenty of margin,” he said. “You are going to perform a great service for your customers who are going to live more comfortably in a healthier home.”

Step 3: Begin the Major Work
Outside the House
For homes with vinyl or aluminum siding, Clifton highly recommended applying Premier Building Systems’ Insul-Lam right over the cladding and then residing. Insul-Lam panels, which Clifton called “half a SIP,” feature OSB on one side laminated to 3 1/2-inch EPS foam for a 15.4 R-value. The product goes on with 5 1/2-inch screws “in a couple of minutes,” he said, adding that it is easy to cut holes for the windows and doors.

After the panels are up, seal them together with spray foam and seal the gaps between the panels and the existing siding. The window sills have to be extended because the wall now is 8 inches thick instead 4 inches, the presenter said.

Over the Insul-Lam, apply a paper suitable for the climate, preferably one with a rainscreen, and properly flash all windows and doors. The new siding and trim also must be properly flashed and adequate drainage provided.

As for windows, he suggested replacing all the windows with low-E, argon-filled units.