High-efficiency standards with low-embodied carbon for safe, healthy living with comfort in mind
There are a lot of labels used to describe the energy efficiency of buildings. We can start a list with LEED-certified, net-zero, net-zero ready, and HERS index, and add more to it. It is confusing, and if the readers sometimes get confused about the labels that are used to describe buildings, we really cannot blame them.
Let’s make things simple. There is one certification that is the toughest of them all. That is called “Living Building Challenge” (LBC). If builders want to get that certification for a project, they need to be ready to provide satisfactory answers to questions that go rather far beyond a blower-door test rating and the R-rating of a window. They have to be able to answer a question such as, “This two-by-four – where did the tree grow that it was cut from?” And no, this is not some sort of joke.
A few years ago, we got wind of the fact that Wright Builders, a company based in Northampton, Massachusetts, was actually building two buildings with the hope of getting them certified as Living Buildings. Assigned to look into that, I was curious about the fact that they were doing two at once. So I called the International Living Future Institute, which does the LBC certification, to find out how many organizations had done that. They had only certified about 25 buildings worldwide at that point, and they were clearly very surprised that one builder would have two buildings under development at the same time, looking for their certification. This was covered in the February 2018, issue of Green Energy Times, in the article, “Green River Commons,” (http://bit.ly/GRCommons).
There is a reason why we should consider this. Modern construction for efficiency is not the same as construction was in the past. An expert carpenter of 1950 would need considerable additional education to work on today’s high-efficiency projects. The same is true of architects and engineers. There was a time when a house on the south side of a suburban street might have a picture window facing north, creating a heating drain. That time is fading into memory.
Building the high-efficiency buildings many people want today is not something that happens by accident. But as skills have been developed among the builders, the cost of such buildings has become ever more affordable by people of ordinary means. This is where things get exciting.
Wright Builders, which demonstrated unsurpassed ability when it built the Hitchcock Center and the Kern Center, two LBC-certified buildings at Hampshire College, has been working on using that experience to develop a high-efficiency lineup of buildings called EarthKind Homes. All of these homes are built to high efficiency standards with low embodied carbon, they are designed to be places for safe, healthy living with comfort in mind. They have the features we might expect in high-efficiency homes, including double walls, triple glazing, and heat pumps. All take 10-kilowatt solar systems, and all will be net-zero consumers of electricity when solar is installed.
There are three EarthKind Homes designs at present. So Inclined is a 1,368 square foot model with a single sloped roof, three bedrooms, and 1.75 baths. Cape Promise, with 1,462 square feet of floor area, is a single-floor Cape Cod design. The True Story design has two floors for 1,760 square feet, with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, basement, and a large garage.
According to Wright Builders, all three designs are “especially geared for households earning about 125% of the local median income.” It is hard to know precisely what that means for any specific household. For example, median income is not the same as average income, and we suspect average income is considerably higher than median in this area. Also, people who are interested in building homes probably will have higher than average income. The advice we would give to anyone who is considering building a home is that they ask about EarthKind Homes.
Seth Lawrence-Slavas, Wright Builders’ Vice President of Project Development, told us that the experience of building two Living Buildings and over ninety LEED certified buildings translated directly into an ability to design EarthKind Homes to be as affordable as possible. This means Wright Builders can reach a wider range of people looking to build a combustion-free, energy efficient, healthy and comfortable home. For example, when Wright Builders did its early work in this area, it was necessary to be certain that contractors understood what the challenges were and how the work had to be done. “Ten years ago, this was a specialty building,” Lawrence-Slavas said. “Now our contractors understand that physical details matter.”
We, at Green Energy Times, see this as a big step toward a better future.
EarthKind Homes’ website is www.earthkindhomes.com.