Proud Green Home of Louisville Dazzles Local Media
The Louisville Business Journal in June featured the performance of the Proud Green Home of Louisville, a fully air-conditioned, 3,700-square-foot home that generated a June energy bill of less than $12.
Builder Sy Safi of UberGreen Spaces & Homes showed writer Bridgett Weaver theMay LG&E bill for the home was $11.71. June's was $11.69 — and both bills included the $10.75 service fee and taxes. Basically, the home produced as much energy as it used.
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Currently there is not a family living in the home, so it's hard to judge the normal, but Safi said it was designed to maintain the $0 energy bill, or very close to it, even with occupants. Safi has accomplished that by harnessing solar energy and by using ultra efficient energy systems.
This the first zero-energy home Safi's company, UberGreen Spaces & Homes, has built in Louisville. UberGreen is a subsidiary of Safi's larger building company, GCCM Construction Services LLC. Before the UberGreen subsidiary was formed, Safi said, he built one other zero-energy home in Kentucky and another in Texas.
Safi, an civil and environmental engineer, began construction of the Norton Commons home in 2016 on a speculative basis and has not found a buyer for the home, which is priced at just over $1 million. He recently started showing it to potential buyers. Safi said it's important to note that not all of his zero-energy homes will cost $1 million to build. His purpose for taking on the Norton Commons project was to test the theory of a zero-energy home.
The home follows and exceeds LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards, which is the gold standard in energy efficient, environmentally friendly home building.
Safi now is working with an affordable housing developer, River City Housing, to create an affordable zero-energy housing option that also includes energy-efficient touches, but with a much lower price tag. He thinks he can build a small, starter home (three-bed, two-bath) for closer to $200,000 that, with affordable-housing government subsidies, would sell in the $120,000 to $150,000 range.
Pat Durham, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Greater Louisville, said that the level of energy efficiency attained at the UberGreen home in Norton Commons is far outside of what most builders would aim for.
He recognizes that the home goes even beyond LEED standards and said, "LEED is not the norm by any stretch," he said. "I would call it a product for people who are passionate about the environment and about energy efficiency."
Durham agreed that a home like the one Safi's team built will have a significantly lower energy bill than a similar home. But he said the cost savings per month will take a while to catch up to the extra cost of the specialty construction.
Safi has used the Norton Commons home as an opportunity to perfect the model and to debut UberGreen Spaces & Homes.
He started his zero-energy home venture by training with the Cleveland Clinic to learn what might affect people's health from inside their homes.
"Our health is affected by the spaces we're in," Safi said. "The (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has done studies that show air quality inside is three to five times worse than outside air. We spend more than 90 percent of our time indoors."
He talked to medical professionals about what could be harmful to people that is considered normal in our homes: paint, glue used to build houses, finishes on wood and fabric on the furniture.
"All of these things have a lot of toxins and volatile organic compounds, and they off-gas into our indoor area, and that's what we're breathing," he said. "So I thought, 'how do we address that?' "
At Norton Commons, he started from the ground up.
It's a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a kitchen, hundreds of square feet of living space, a three-car garage and laundry room. It also has an unfinished basement that is set up to be made into a two-bedroom mother-in-law suite.
First, he chose to build the longest side of the house facing south, for optimal use of sunshine and energy.
The house has solar panels on the roof to collect and harness more power from the sun. The large windows also help people live healthier lifestyles by syncing their circadian rhythm (internal sleep clock) to the sun. Whatever excess energy is collected from the solar panels is sold back to LG&E and KU Energy LLC, which is why the energy bill is capable of zeroing out.
Underneath the Norton Commons home, Safi laid a ground foundation that is more than a foot thick. It protects the interior of the house from taking on the earth's temperature, and it helps keep out dust, allergens and other toxins.
He built the walls the same way. Instead of the industry standard 3- to 5-inch thick walls, he decided to put in exterior walls that are 12 to 17 inches thick. He said he did climate research on the area to determine that this thickness would allow the homeowner optimum temperature control throughout the whole home. He built the roof in the same way — with extreme thickness — and chose a lighter color roof to reflect the sunlight on top of the house.
The goal is to negate of any type of energy transfer that would happen though the walls, foundation or roof.
Next, he considered the windows. He didn't want to go with the typical U.S. standard of double-paned windows. Rather he uses triple-pane, double-sealed windows produced by a German company.
"Nothing is getting through these," he said, as he opened a window in the house.
Because of the tight build, the house can hold a single temperature the whole way through — from the basement to the third floor. Safi said that's abnormal because in most houses, the basement is very cool and the top floor is hotter than the rest of the house.
Once he ensured that the shell of the house was completely protected from outside influences, he needed to figure out how to keep the inside toxin-free. During the build, his team worked with toxin-free materials — right down to the light green paint on the walls.
Besides the materials, he chose a heating and cooling system from Sweden because it came with an option for a double HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration system. Every ounce of air brought into the house goes through that system, which cleans it before sending it into the home. It also has an outtake to send bad air out. Similarly, all water used in the home (even for showers) is filtered on its way into the house. He even buried water tanks under a patio to catch runoff water, which will be used for irrigation.
Safi said what sets him apart from other energy-efficient LEED builders is the ground-up model. He said many contractors will adopt some aspects of energy efficiency — such as an energy-efficient HVAC system or windows — but he doesn't know of any other local builders that are building an entire structure with that in mind.
The Norton Commons home's $1 million-plus price tag is less to do with the way the house is made and more to do with the extras built in, he said. The house is an "ultra luxury" option, he explained, with 2,000 square feet of outdoor space and luxury finishes as well a three-car garage adding to the cost.
Even so, both Safi and Durham agree that there are big savings on the energy bills.
"With a 30-year mortgage, the energy savings will pay for at least half the cost of this home," Safi said.
But those savings take a long time to show through for the homeowner, Durham said, so sometimes it's hard to get people on board if they are absorbing the extra costs.
Safi said after feeling it out during the Norton Commons build, he thinks he can build homes with all of the energy savings and health benefits for the same or a very similar cost as other homes that don't include those zero energy/green home touches.
"Our goal is to be able to allow people from all income levels to have a home like this," Safi said. "It doesn’t have to be luxurious. It just has to perform this way."
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Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Cost of Ownership, Energy Recovery & Heat Recovery, Energy Star, Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Heating & Cooling, Indoor Air Quality, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF, Lumber and Structured Panels, Proud Green Home of Louisville, Radiant Heat, Solar Power, Sustainable Communities, Thermal Envelope, Ventilation, Water Heaters, Water Saving Devices