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Energy efficiency, Calculations and how it affects new kit home design. What are the options for insulation? Solar power and hot water heating for my new home. Landmark Home and Land Company can help with Energy efficiency to lower utility costs.
Interviewer: Hey everybody. And welcome to Episode 27 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me in the studio in his customary seat is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, Steve Tuma. Steve, how is it going today?
Steve Tuma: It’s an excellent day. I’m listening, 1993, that’s 25 years.
Interviewer: [Laughs] Yeah.
Steve Tuma: We have been helping people build houses and just all the evolution of codes, designs, financing, just different trends, it’s pretty interesting.
Interviewer: Does that number make you feel old?
Steve Tuma: No! Quarter of a century. I’m only 26 though. It’s not a big deal.
Interviewer: [Laughs] I thought for this episode, we might talk a bit about energy efficiency and how that applies to new home building projects. Are you good with that?
Steve Tuma: Yeah. Yeah, what – that’s interesting because we talked about the time that Landmark has been around. In that 25 years energy efficiency has gone berserk.
Steve Tuma: A lot of new things happening. If you go look at an older home from 25, 30 years ago, it didn’t have insulation. So it’s kind of an interesting process.
Interviewer: Well, let’s start with a thing called a little – an important thing called energy calculations. Now, what role does that process play in the designing of a new panelized home?
Steve Tuma: Well, this is really interesting because a lot of people think, “Whoa! You just put R-19 or R-21 in the wall, R-30 in the roof and get some good windows and insulate the basement or crawlspace or slab and you are ready to go.
And that would have been something of 20 or 20 – even 15, 20 years ago. In some cases, it’s still the standard. But what an energy calculation does is do the theoretical calculation to sort out how your home will perform.
So for example, if you’re building in the south where it’s warmer and moderate climate, you’re going to have different insulation needs than if you are building way up north, say in Upper Peninsula and Michigan or something like that or in Colorado in the high mountain areas where it can get colder. So what the energy calculations do is sort to make sure that your home as a unit needs a certain efficiency. And most states have standards. Whether or not they choose to enforce them is a different story. But – so what you can do is go through and say, “Hey, we want to make the home energy efficient by certain calculation methods. What happens if I increase the insulation in my roof? What happens if I increase the insulation value of my windows? What if I put insulation in my basement or crawlspace? How does it do that?” So then you can go through and make sure that your home meets or exceeds the current standards. And there’s a variety of different types. Different states have different types but they are basically put together by calculating how the foundation is insulated, how a floor is insulated, how a wall is insulated, how the roof system is insulated, how it’s vented, different details like that, what types of windows, the more sophisticated ones will deal with different climate zones, orientation of the house to the sun, elevations, different details like that. So it’s – it can get pretty intricate.
Interviewer: Well, how am I going to know if my new home is energy efficient? I mean how are those calculations even put together?
Steve Tuma: It’s basically – they go through and say, “Hey, let’s put R-21 batt insulation in the wall, R-30 or 38 or 48 in the ceiling.” So they run a theoretical calculation based on the square footage of floors, square footage of walls, square footage of roofs, types of ventilation in the roof, is it a conditioned or unconditioned space. So like in an attic, you could have an unconditioned space where you’ve insulated the ceiling of the rooms below the attic or you can have a conditioned space where you’re actually insulating the whole attic area. So there are different factors that are put in for the type of insulation. It could – and where you are putting that insulation. And then also how the insulation is applied. So like a new trend which is coming along and I find it to be very good are conditioned spaces. So like I mentioned with the crawlspace – sorry, the attic, if you just put insulation on the top – the ceiling of the room below the attic, that’s an unconditioned space. There’s just insulation there. The space in the attic is just open. It’s bound to go through fluctuation. It’s not insulated.
What a lot of people are doing now, they found it to be more efficient is that they insulate the whole attic, creating a conditioned space. So along the roof line, there’s insulation, along the ceiling of the room below, there’s insulation so there’s space. What that does is it minimizes the fluctuations because you could have a day, say where it’s 90 and sunny outside. You could have the inside of your house air conditioned at 75 and your attic can be 130. So that 130-degree temperature in your attic just seeps in your house and makes your air conditioning work a lot harder and vice versa with heating systems.
Well if you have a conditioned attic, you don’t end up with 120 or 130-degree attic that’s heating your house. And what also the benefits of it are where do you want the duct-work because if you have ductwork, this is interesting, most people don’t think of this but if you have – say, you had a ranch home, a one story home with a furnace on the main level, it would be typical to run ducts in your attic across the house and then drop the duct down.
Well, think about what’s happening. You’re taking it from a 75-degree area, running the ducts through a 130-degree area where it’s heating the air that you just cooled and then you’re dropping the cooler air back into it. So there is a big amount of heat loss because you are taking your ducts through a heated attic and then back down into the conditioned house. So the idea is by conditioning the attic space, you end up taking – you don’t have the fluctuation of going say, 57 degrees to 130, maybe go 75 to 80 or 90 and then across and then drops back down so that you’re not getting in a sense robbed of the air that you just paid to cool.
Steve Tuma: So that same theory also works in crawlspaces where if ductwork goes underneath the house and across. So they have actually found that it’s very efficient to keep to those areas at a moderate temperature instead of the extremes that can happen.
So yeah, so that’s an around about theory on it but you asked how did they do the calculations. It literally gets into how you’re going to insulate each wall, the floor, the roof, the windows, how tightly do these windows fit, how tightly do the doors closed. A lot of the places they have blower door test where they actually check for the heat transfer. And then it’s also in the design of your furnace, your hot water heater, different situations like that.
Steve Tuma: So it can get pretty complex. The key to it is to get an understanding of it but we can help customers work for what makes sense for the energy efficiency codes but also what makes sense for comfort in the home and affordability towards your utility bill.
Interviewer: Right. Well, I want to talk about something which seems like it would play into this very much, that’s the actual wall thickness. Like what is the benefit of a 6-inch exterior wall as opposed to a 4-inch wall?
Steve Tuma: That has got a couple of answers to it. The main one is for structural purposes as a 6-inch is stronger than a 4-inch wall. In some cases like earthquake or hurricanes, that house really would not pass the structural codes unless it has got a 6-inch wall. Pretty much most people now are building with 6-inch walls. You get in some area of moderate climates where it’s just – it’s typical to go with a 4-inch wall. It’s just more customary. That doesn’t mean that they can’t take advantage of the better insulation. But ultimately, the 6-inch wall which is really 5 and a half inches deep, you can put more insulation in it.
Steve Tuma: And different types of insulation will then minimize the heat or cool transfer from inside to the outside of the home.
Interviewer: Right. Well, while we are on that subject, can you run us through the different types of insulation and really how does one even choose between all these various types?
Steve Tuma: Well, there are a lot of different types of insulation. I’ll run through the main ones, which are batt insulation, blown-in insulation, and then rigid foam insulation.
So batt insulation is what everyone has kind of seen and it’s rolled, it’s fiberglass, it could be a bright pink color, it could be a yellow color. And that’s an insulation that comes in big rolls, a roll that you put into the house. It’s affordable and it will give generally an R-19 or an R-21 value in a 6-inch wall, the 5.5 of a 6-inch wall. So it’s affordable. It does a decent job. Then there’s the blown-in insulations, closed cell and open cell. Open cell, you get about an R-3.3 in one inch. Closed cell, you get about 6.5, an R-6.5 in an inch. So for easy math, if you have a 6-inch wall, you can get up to say an R-30, R-36 in that same wall. It costs a little more but the insulation value goes from say, about R-19 to R-20 to R-36. That’s pretty huge. And in climates where you’ve got big fluctuations or extremes in temperature, it makes a lot of sense.
Now, those foams cost more but I think the long term benefit is definitely there. They also help with iron filtration. Window is likely to blow through it.
The other one that’s very common is rigid insulation, kind of rigid foam. It’s like a 1-inch foam that comes in a 4×8 sheet that gets attached to the exterior of the home. And generally, they come in sheets of an R-5 or an R-10, and those can be used to take care of thermal bridging issues to cover over the studs and the walls so that – because if you look at a wall, a 2×6 wall, 16 inches on center, you’ve got insulation between the studs but the actual stud itself doesn’t have as much of an R factor. So depending upon the extreme situation or design, you may need to add some rigid foam. It’s pretty rare but occasionally people do it. So those are the main common types of insulation, the batt insulation, the blown-in insulation, or like a rigid foam insulation.
Interviewer: It’s also – there’s so much to know and I’m really glad that Landmark is around [Laughs] to help out. There’s so much to know and there are so many aspects of things.
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s the thing about it is we can review these details, the energy calculations with you so understand what’s going on because some customers know what they want and other customers want to do like a cost benefit thing, go through and analyze and say, “Hey, this is going to cost me $2,000 more but what is it going to mean?” If insulation is going to cost you a little bit more for better insulation and you live there for 10, 15 years, I would think you would get your money back very quickly.
Interviewer: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve been running into people who are really talking about hot water systems and installing hot water systems in their new homes and some of them in their old homes. Is hot water system considered a part of the energy efficiency? Does that play into it at all?
Steve Tuma: Yes, it is. That’s a good question because most people think of energy efficiency of good windows and good insulation. But energy efficiency is also the fuel usage.
Generally, as far as energy calculations are done, gas or propane are more efficient than regular electric but some areas, they only have electric. Other areas, there are options. But in the extreme areas, the gas, natural gas or propane heaters are generally preferred.
But as far as the different options of how you heat the water, generally, you can do it with solar but if we are talking about something that’s run by fuel, the water tank is certain good and certain bad. The bad about it is say, you have a 50-gallon tank, you’re always warming 50 gallons.
Interviewer: Right, yeah.
Steve Tuma: Even if you don’t use it. So if you run away for the weekend, you’re heating 50 gallons. It’s sitting there all day. But I’ll come back to that because there’s a good side to that. The instant or kind of on-demand, so you turn the faucet on, it heats the water. You turn the faucet off, it doesn’t heat the water. For areas like California and other places that are making the energy guidelines a little more stringent, it’s almost a requirement to use instant hot water heaters. So that’s the benefit. I would say the trend is towards instant hot water heaters that are generally run by a gas, a fuel, and they work pretty well. So yes, it is consuming fuel to change the temperature. So it’s part of the energy efficiency.
Interviewer: On the past, I don’t want to be the dead horse here so to speak but we have been talking in the last couple of episodes about solar power but I think it’s important here. Could you explain how solar affects my energy usage?
Steve Tuma: Yeah. There are a couple of ways to do it. And one of them is we kind of just talked about the hot water. And I said hey there is good to hot water tanks.” And it’s solar because there’s photovoltaic in solar where it creates electric and then there are solar systems that heat water for your in-house usage. So during the day, it’s heating water and storing it in a tank, an insulated tank, so that you have the heated water at night. That’s where a hot water heater tank can be good on a solar system. But basically, the energy efficiency of solar if you are working in an area where you have to plug into electric, through your utility company if required, but the solar can be an extra source of power so that you don’t have to go through and then rely on the utility companies. So it’s very important then on how that’s all put together and to make sure it’s designed properly to make sure that the house has enough power to make it happen. In some cases, depending on the – your availability of direct sun, it might not be able to power the whole house but you are doing your best to cover it. A lot of places are pushing for solar to – or the house to be able to create its own power. So solar is becoming a very important component of that and that can affect your site plan, the orientation of the house on the land, and it can also affect the design of your home.
Interviewer: So it sounds like what you are saying is that solar design is something I should really be factoring into my overall home design if I’m wishing for a real efficiency.
Steve Tuma: Oh yes. Yeah. To really do it right, the solar panels have to be oriented to get the sun or be able to move to follow the sun. So we kind of review the sun on another podcast but basically, if you have a situation where the planes of your roof aren’t oriented towards the best sun, they are not going to be as efficient or provide as much electric as they possibly could. So what that might do is change the orientation of the house or change the roof design so that we can go through and make sure we get the maximum exposure to the sun. Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to get an ugly house. It doesn’t mean that someone is going to come in and say, “Hey, you have to do this. You’re going to live in an ugly house so that your solar panels work.” There are ways to design a house so it’s very attractive you can take advantage of the solar and make sure that everything works effectively. You still get the attractive home with the solar advantages.
Interviewer: And it would also seem to me that something else I think we’ve probably touched on very little in the past but not just the type of windows you put in your house but I guess the placement of those windows. That’s something that you should take into consideration I’m imagining when you’re in the design process.
Steve Tuma: Exactly.
Interviewer: Yeah. I would think that would be pretty smart too.
Steve Tuma: It’s the placement of the windows. Yeah, let’s get into that for a minute because it’s the placement of the windows to allow sun to come in but it’s also the placement of the window around overhangs too if you want to be protected from the sun. Like a porch in an old style farmhouse, it would let the breeze through but not necessarily the direct light. And then there are also situations where the location of the window can let light pass through to a thermal mass, say like a cement floor that could grab the heat during the day and then release it at night. So this is something where there could be a lot of involved work to do it. But we can help with it. We can make it happen. We don’t expect our customers to be solar geniuses. We can help with the design element for their particular lot, for their particular house. And this could be something if they choose to do it because they think it’s a good thing to do or if it’s something that’s mandated by their municipality or their building department. We can go through and get these design elements put together so that we end up with a house that is comfortable, affordable, and energy efficient.
A lot of people always look at the cost of the house as what it cost to buy it. There is really a reality of what it cost to maintain and live in it. So if you can have it and make it more comfortable and save on your utility bill, it’s pretty interesting. This just brings something up. I’m going to steal an extra couple of minutes here, is we have been doing a lot of design, the HVAC system design, the Manuals S, D, J that get into the heat loss calculations, the sizing of the furnace, and then the duct layout. A lot of old-time contractors are saying, “I need to put 80,000 or 100,000 BTU furnace in this house. Why you are telling me it’s only 60?” And the problem is they are old-time contractors. They do a good job. But they remember the codes of 20 years ago when insulation wasn’t as good and it wasn’t mandated. So back then when you had very little or limited insulation in a house, you needed a bigger furnace to heat the house because the house was losing heat. Now with a better insulation, you can use a smaller furnace, which therefore ends up using less fuel.
Steve Tuma: It’s all kind of tied into it. So this energy efficiency situation is you can get pretty deep. It’s not just insulation like people talk about. It’s your hot water, it’s your heating, it’s your cooling, it’s also your comfort and your enjoyment of the home.
Interviewer: There’s such a vast amount of knowledge on all these subjects that you have. Whenever I talk to you, I’m always kind of blown away by how much you actually know. You’ve probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know about home building. But it’s the deep down sort of core of all of this is when you talk, you talk with a passion. And I know that you pass it on to the customers and information you – and the help that you try to give each and every potential customer at Landmark. And I’m imagining that customer service is pretty important for you guys.
Steve Tuma: It’s what it’s all about. The reality is, there are a lot of people who can draw plans up, that can help you build your house, but we happen to really, really enjoy it. And I think when someone enjoys their job, they do it better. It’s a better product. It sounds weird but enjoying your job, working with the customer that’s in tuned of what they want to build, the house will be better just because you are thinking it through. You are working it out. You are making it happen. And yeah, we are constantly working helping customers. If they call in in the morning, at night, on weekends, we do whatever we can to help them out and keep it going. And we are also proactive in making it happen for them.
Interviewer: Fantastic. Well, we are about out of time here on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. But before we go, I want to give Steve a chance to let people know just how to get in touch with everybody over there at Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Tuma: The easiest way customers can look at it right now, just look at the web page and see what they can learn as at our web page at LHLC.com, it’s kind of the initials of Landmark Home Land Company, LHLC.com, we’ve got floor plans on there, videos, these podcast, different details to give people an idea of how we help. You can also call 800-830-9788 and Mike will answer the phone and he can work with you on the preliminary phases. That’s a key to it. We answer the phone. If for some reason you get a voicemail, we will call you back right away and get you taken care of. Communication is very important to us. You can also check social marketing out Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and you can email us – you can email me at Landmark@LHLC.com and we constantly watch our emails to take care of customers and make sure everything flows smoothly.
Interviewer: Awesome. And I just want to say that I would encourage our listeners to if you’ve only heard a few of these podcasts, go back and they are archived and you can find them and listen through all of the podcasts at your leisure and there’s so much information on there. I think it would be a worthwhile thing to do. So anyway, for Steve Tuma and myself, I want to thank everybody for listening and we will see you next time.
Steve Tuma: Thank you.