EcoHome checks in with Don Ferrier, who has built sustainable houses in the Fort Worth, Texas, area for more than two decades and recently completed his first zero-energy project, a two-bedroom wind-powered dwelling dubbed the Zero-Energy Casita.

What do your customers want most in a green home?
This varies. We see two predominant customer groups: baby boomers and young families. The baby boomers are looking for wise investments to incorporate into their home. For many, they are looking at retirement right around the corner and living on a fixed income amidst volatile energy prices, so energy efficiency is typically at the top of their list of priorities.

For the other group--young couples just starting families--their main motivation for building green is usually because they feel that it is the “right thing to do.” They strongly believe in raising their budding family in an environment that is true to their core values, such as consuming less and using local resources, and smart design is a big part of this.

How do you strike a balance between clients’ hopes for a sustainable, energy-efficient home and the realities of their budget?
This is a challenge for each project. We carefully discuss in depth with each client not only what they want to build, but why. We often find that in the “why” lies the balance between what their heart wants and what their wallet is comfortable in spending. It really is an exploration process that can vary greatly with each customer.

What led you to explore building a net-zero home?
Clients have been discussing the possibilities of net-zero projects with us for more than 10 years, but often the road led to what I talked about above: They just weren’t comfortable with the upfront cost. On this project the owner decided that it would be a wise investment that he was willing and able to make.

Was it more time-consuming and expensive?
Slightly. We invested in energy modeling to be sure we could achieve a true net-zero: Our building science team entered the project’s energy data into a computer program to determine how each product or aspect of the home affects its energy efficiency, such as how and where the sun comes through a window. They gave us a report with the estimated energy consumption and we worked that number up or down by choosing different items, say an 8 ¼-inch SIPs roof panel compared to a 10 ¼-inch SIPs roof panel. It compared the added cost to the added energy efficiency so we could make educated choices.

The total price of the Casita came to $312,000 not including the land. Beyond the energy-efficient upgrades such as a $15,500 3.7-kw wind turbine, this project incorporated a lot of reclaimed materials, such as salvaged barn beams, siding, and wood floors, which elevated the cost.

Are your homes third-party certified?
We had our first home Energy Star-certified in 2000 and we’re still Energy Star certifying our homes, along with LEED, the NAHB’s National Green Building Standard, Green Built Texas, and the DOE’s Builders Challenge. Having our projects third-party certified provides hard data that our homes are constructed and perform as promised and helps differentiate us from other builders who simply claim to be building green, but have no independent party proving it. In addition, certification provides our homeowners with a marketing tool that they can use to differentiate their homes from other standard homes, which comes in handy when reselling.

What are some of your favorite green building products?
--Structural insulated panels. In an extremely energy-efficient home, SIPs give us our biggest bang for the buck by providing great air tightness and insulation, key ingredients to a high-performance home.
--Daikin air source heat pump. One of the most efficient heat pumps on the market. I love that we can have up to five blowers with five individual thermostats operating off of one compressor. The fans and compressor are all infinitely variable speed, and I love that it’s so compact and quiet.
--Solar hot water systems. With the federal tax credits they are achievable for more of our clients’ budgets and are a great investment when you compare the upfront cost versus ROI.
--Scored, stained, and sealed concrete floors. These provide a clean, durable, attractive, and low-cost flooring option. They are also a great thermal mass; when incorporated in conjunction to passive solar design, they assist in keeping the home cool during the summer and warmer in the winter. The floors will never have to be removed and replaced like other flooring options, which diverts future landfill waste.
--Wind generation. We have been conducting serious research on wind-generation options since 2004 and are excited about having installed our first unit, from Skystream, on the Zero-Energy Casita. We worked with the provider and installer to seek out proven performance data for our area and confirmed the data with homeowners who had installed the system on their homes. We believe it is a viable renewable energy alternative and look forward to incorporating it into more projects.
--Sherwin Williams Harmony paint. A great paint with no to low VOCs.
--Higher-efficiency Energy Star appliances. They operate great and consume a fraction of the energy of standard appliances on the market today.
--Lighting from the Energy Star Advanced Lighting Package. The fixtures in this package are attractive and at the same time significantly lower energy consumption.
--Galvalume metal roofs. In our climate, the DOE states that a Galvalume roof will reflect 73% of the sun’s heat, further reducing the energy load.

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