Louisville's Proud, Green Made in America Home
Deep in the heart of Louisville, Ky.’s tony East End a new home is under construction. To the untutored eye it resembles its traditional neighbors, but once you get under its surface startling changes emerge. Its outer basement panels are thickly insulated, the attic is lined with insulation so as to never get too warm and, most key, virtually all the parts in the home were made in America.
Its builder, Vince Kimbel, the head of Louisville building company Kimbel Homes, stands in the 4800 square foot home’s saw-dusted kitchen. Kimbel says there are, at most, a dozen other made in America homes in the entire nation, but none of them, he says, are also going to be as green as this one. “I’m known for being a trendsetter,” says Kimbel, 43. “I built the first Energy Star compliant home in Louisville in 1999. Now it’s more commonplace, and I’m looking for a different niche. To differentiate myself, encourage change, and do the right thing.”
The home has four bedrooms, three and a half baths, and sits on a half-acre.
There are two things going on at the house. One is it’s made in America mandate, and the second is its energy efficiency. Kimbel said that when the home is finished this November it should have a HERS index rating of 42 to 45, extremely thrifty. (HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System. The way it works is that the smaller the HERS number the more efficient your home is. The index can even go negative, which means the home produces more energy than it uses.) This means it should cost about $60 per month to heat and cool this fairly large home.
How does Kimbel plan to achieve this low number? He walked me through the home’s bowels to show me its twin geothermal heat pump and water heaters. They are brand new General Electric Geospring units, made in Louisville, hard to get more local than that. Kimbel said the units work in tandem so that as one is running it pre-heats the water in the other. They are so efficient the total cost of hot water will average $6 to $10 per month.
He then walks me down to the finished basement, which has a marble-esque domestic flooring epoxy. Then we walk to the attic—which is accessed through a nifty secret door—to examine what’s going on there. One big difference in this home, he says, is that the roof line is fully insulated, unlike most traditional homes. The insulation is made by a domestic firm called Demilec USA.
“Most homes there’s a 130 degree hotbox above the house,” he says. “We insulate the roof line, and the attic never gets above 80 degrees. I don’t know why they build most attics any other way.”
The windows are from Andersen, another domestic maker. Okay, the Andersen windows are virtually all domestically made but for some of the tools, which comes from overseas. Kimbel contacted Andersen to change that.
Of course, there are challenges along the way. One thorn in Kimbel’s side: drywall screws. To buy domestic would cost 10 times more, $250 for a box of 1000, versus $25 for Chinese. To save the client money he bought the cheaper screws. It’s also virtually impossible to buy domestic electrical components—such as switches and plugs, so those too have been imported.
Ceiling fans are another challenge. There is one domestic maker, Lexington, Ky.’s Big Ass Fan Co., but their styling leans more contemporary, which would be wrong for this traditional-looking home.
Overall, though, it’s been relatively easy to find domestic versions of most parts of the home, such as tiles, deck boards, and insulation.
What about the cost of building green? Kimbel said that due to discounts from vendors the home’s build cost is comparable to what it would be with traditional materials. But even without these discounts it would have cost at most 5-10% more. He didn't disclose the cost, but its safe to this is likely a more high-end build.
When the home is done Kimbel expects a fair amount of local media coverage. He also says the process has made him passionate about educating the public about domestic products. “I’m trying to effect change,” he says. “Our goal is that every store will have a made in America aisle.”