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Connecticut Home Builders Promote Energy Savings
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Connecticut Home Builders Promote Energy Savings
BUILDERS are trying a bread-and-butter approach to promoting environmentally conscious construction, using previous buyers’ heating and cooling bills to persuade shoppers that buying new will save them money.
It’s a practical appeal to cost-conscious buyers who are likely to be far less impressed by the R value of a new home’s insulation than by a winter heating bill totaling less than $100.
“We’re promoting the energy efficiency of green because that puts green in your pocket,” said Mark Nuzzolo, a partner with his wife, D. J. Collins, in Brookside Development of Woodbridge.
The couple have been building homes that meet federal Energy Star standards for about five years, but as they built their recent five-home development in Derby, they looked for ways to shrink fuel consumption even further. After consulting with a residential energy analyst, they wrapped a layer of insulation around the outside of the spray-foam-insulated walls of the last two homes — “like a wool sweater,” Mr. Nuzzolo said — as an added guard against heat loss.
That, combined with more efficient heating, hot water and cooling systems, cut the estimated heating, hot water and cooling costs for an 1,800-square-foot home to less than $600 annually. Add electricity for lights and appliances, along with service fees, and total annual energy costs (as calculated by an independent energy rating specialist) are projected at $2,000 or so.
Potential buyers touring Brookside’s two remaining homes can compare those numbers with data from a home of a similar size built only to the state building code (roughly $3,500 annually), and for a home built 10 years ago (around $4,300). To make the comparison easy, Mr. Nuzzolo, who has his houses listed for $370,000 and $390,000, provides shoppers with a booklet full of charts and graphs.
He has saved copies of the utility bills paid by his first buyers, Robert and Kim Pasquini, to back up the claims. In a YouTube video made for the developers, the Pasquinis attested to the savings — for instance, an $80 January heating bill.
Buyers also get a one-year guarantee that if heating, hot water and cooling bills exceed $600, Brookside will reimburse them for the difference.
“We’re trying to impress upon people the cost of homeownership over time,” Mr. Nuzzolo said.
The kinds of energy-efficient building improvements put into Brookside’s homes may not be as obviously “green” as, say, a geothermal heating system, but they are the most crucial, said Gayathri Vijayakumar of Steven Winter Associates, in Norwalk, the energy analyst who worked with the Derby developers.
“It’s the buildings that have green roofs and are completely covered with solar panels that have been associated with green building,” she said, “when one of the core things to do is reduce your energy consumption. And you can do that with good building science.”
Rapid advances in building technologies and appliances have made it easier to build more energy-efficient homes, but builders are only just beginning to promote the savings for consumers, said Liz Verna, the president-elect of the Home Builders Association of Connecticut, and developer of the Willows, a 65-house development in Wallingford.
As fuel costs continue to rise, she added, homes that have lower consumption levels will become as attractive as high-mileage automobiles.
Her company, VW Homes, recently surveyed about two dozen homeowners in the Willows to find out their average gas and electric bills. (The project is about two-thirds sold.) Much to Ms. Verna’s delight, the averages totaled about $2,000 less a year than the estimated cost for homes of a similar size (2,200 to 2,800 square feet) built 10 years ago.
“Our biggest competitor right now is the resale market,” she said. “What we want to tell buyers is, $2,000 of value a year means that you could buy so much more home.”
Another developer, By Carrier Inc., of Plainville, had similar intentions when it offered gift certificates to the first 15 buyers in its age-restricted community in Cheshire in return for copies of energy bills after they had lived in their new homes for a while.
“The whole reason for us doing this was to show people the difference between buying a house that is 20 years old and buying a house that’s new,” said Johnny Carrier, the company’s vice president.
Though the effort was intended as a marketing tool, it has had the added benefit of helping the company sort out which efficiency improvements are most cost-effective and which don’t return enough energy savings to make them worth the investment, Mr. Carrier said.
Unlike Mr. Nuzzolo, he is not convinced that spending three times as much for spray-foam insulation, in preference to the fiberglass variety, is worth the reduction in energy use.
Mr. Nuzzolo won’t say how much money the spray foam and other efficiencies added to the cost of his houses. But he said his expenses had been tempered by state and federal tax credits and rebates. (Take those away, he added, “and it’s a whole different ballgame.”)
He and Ms. Collins have become fascinated with the science of energy savings, and they keep a small cross-section of a house wall in their model home to explain the insulation methods to prospective buyers. They plan to continue tinkering, looking for cost-effective ways to lower energy use even further.
“With each house, we keep learning,” Ms. Collins said. “There’s no turning back now.”
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