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October 27, 2016

Understanding Your Energy Efficient Home Options in Stapleton

Confused about the various levels of energy efficient Stapleton homes & what they all mean?  You’re not the only one, there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Hopefully this post will help you make sense of the energy efficiency options in the neighborhood.

This energy efficiency information affects not only Stapleton home buyers but also eventual Stapleton home sellers who may have energy efficient upgrades to market when they list their home for sale.

Why does building energy efficient homes matter?

Is this all about saving the environment or is there more to it?  (Playing a little devil’s advocate here…don’t jump on me!)

Building energy efficient homes is largely about lowering energy bills, but it’s also about reducing moisture problems, eliminating uneven room by room temperature, graduating from outdated technologies, reducing respiratory health issues, decreasing construction defects and improving owner’s return on investment.  So no matter where you fall regarding being a good stewart of our environment, there are plenty of reasons to care about more efficient homes.

Before I dive in further I should set the context.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a class all morning today taught by Sandra Adomatis, a nationally recognized expert on energy efficiency and “green” building.  (More info on Sandra here)  In this post I’ll share a quick overview of what I learned, focusing on the items that I think are most important to you as Stapleton homeowners (or potential Stapleton buyers!).

Energy efficiency home definitions:

You can’t talk about this topic without first providing some definitions so we’re speaking the same language.  Understanding these terms will help you when you’re talking with builders as well.  Here are the basics:

“HERS index” or “HERS rating”:  The “HERS index” is a rating system for home efficiency.  It’s a way to measure efficiency so one home can be compared to another.  If you’re playing a game of who’s more energy efficient it’s the scoreboard.  The scale is from 0 to 150 and the lower your score the more efficient your home is.  According to RESNET, who certifies the HERS index, the average resale home home has a HERS score of 130 and a new home just built to code is on average 100.  (here is a video on HERS if you want to lear more)

“Green built home”:  A green home is a home built in a way that conserves energy or water, improves indoor air quality, uses sustainable, recycled or used materials, and produces less waste in the construction process.  The exact definitions can vary based on the different certifying entities that exist so I’m going to avoid discussing this term as much as I will the following ones which have more widely accepted definitions.

“Zero energy home” or “Net zero energy home”:  These two are synonyms.  They mean that a home is built in a way that the energy produced by the home is roughly the same as the energy used by the home on an annual basis.  That means you have no energy bills other than the energy company’s set fees which can’t be offset.  This is accomplished through a combination of upgraded construction techniques (more insulation, better windows, more efficient HVAC system, etc) and a solar array.  These homes typically have HERS ratings of 0-10, which is amazing!  Most homes in Stapleton do not meet this standard.  I believe Thrive Home Builders ZEN collection was the first series that was all zero energy homes.  (Kudos to Thrive Homes Builders, they have consistently been ahead of the curve in terms of energy efficiency home building.  They’ve been recognized multiple times not only on a state-wide level but even a nation-wide level for their accomplishments)  Zero energy homes are healthier and more comfortable homes than typical homes due to the advanced construction techniques and emphasis on healthy products used in the construction process.

“Zero energy ready home”:  This is a home built in a way so that all the owner needs to do to get it to become a “zero energy home” (see definition above) is add the solar array.  The construction of the home is elevated well above code minimums so it’s ready to become a zero energy home if the owner chooses to make it one.  Again, most homes in Stapleton do not meet this requirement.  These homes typically have HERS ratings of 40-55.  Like, “zero energy homes”, these homes are also healthier and more comfortable homes than typical homes due to the advanced construction techniques and emphasis on healthy products used in the construction process.

“Energy Star home”:  A home that is built to meet the EPA’s guidelines for energy efficiency which is superior to regular “code built” homes.  All the homes in Stapleton must be Energy Star homes at a minimum.  I am not sure on this but I think these homes typically have HERS ratings of 55-75.

“Code built home”:  A home that is built to code minimum, with no extra emphasis on energy efficiency.  Typically a code built new home will have a HERS rating of roughly 100.

So as you can see there are quite a few different levels of energy efficiency among homes.  The good news is for Stapleton all of our homes are built to energy star level or above.  So they are all much more efficient than most homes in other areas.

What is offered now in Stapleton?

As of the time I’m writing this post Stapleton’s builders are starting to sell homes in Beeler Park, Stapleton’s newest neighborhood.  Forest City, Stapleton’s developer, is always looking for ways to up the quality on the homes built in the neighborhood.  So, for the first time, they are requiring that all of their builders build 10% of their new homes in this area as “zero energy ready homes”.

Keep in mind the definition I provided above; this means the homes are built with superior construction techniques so that the owner only needs to add a solar array to make the home a “zero energy home” where they essentially offset all their energy usage.  They are also healthier and more comfortable than typical homes.

If buyers choose not to pay for the option to have a zero energy ready home they will still have a home that meets Energy Star requirements.

A few things to note about a few of our builders and their offerings in Beeler Park.  Thrive Home Builders offers zero energy homes in their ZEN 2.0 collection that is coming out soon.  No only are they energy efficient many of them have 4 beds up and they’re totally redesigned!  They look amazing.  KB Home is actually giving away their zero energy ready option right now for a limited time on their single family home series so you can check out their newest series in this post.

Should I purchase the energy efficiency options for my new Stapleton home?

At the risk of sounding like an attorney (no offense attorneys!)…it depends.  It would be nice to say that energy efficiency options are always a no brainer but I don’t think that’s the case.

I think you need to look at it on a case by case basis and take into account your personal situation as well as the price of the upgrade in question.

First, how long will it take you to recoup the cost of the upgrade in the form of decreased energy bills?  If the option you are considering is $20,000 and it will save you $200 per month in energy bills then it will take you 8.3 years to recoup your investment.  (Math:  $20,000/$200 per month savings = 8.3 years to get your money back).  Do you plan to be in the home 8.3 years or more?  If so maybe it’s worth it.  If you plan to leave in 5 years then maybe you pass on that option.

The other part of the equation though is how much do you value the fact that the home will be healthier and more comfortable?  How much do you value lowering the impact of your home on the environment?  I can’t answer that for you…just giving you things to consider.

In general, if you’re building the long term “the kids are going to college from this house” type of home then these options start to make more sense compared to the buyer who is just looking to crash somewhere for a few years then move on.

Other Things you Should Know about Energy Efficient Homes:

There are some of my take aways from the class today that I think you could find valuable.

  • Energy efficient homes are still relatively new so the industry (Realtors, lenders, appraisers) as well as the consumer marketplace are largely uneducated about the topic.  This is important to know because the trend of building more energy efficient is only going to grow and it’s important we learn our way around these homes and the various definitions.
  • When you are buying or selling an energy efficient home you should use a Realtor who is knowledgeable about these upgrades.  For example, if you’re selling your home and you have energy upgrades you need an agent that will market them well to buyers and will make also insure the lender and the appraiser are aware of the upgrades as well.  If your agent doesn’t manage the information and insure the lender and appraiser are aware of the upgrades and competent in valuing them it could be an issue.
  • Zero energy and zero energy ready homes are not just good at saving you money each month on your bills, they are also healthier and more comfortable homes.  Because the homes are built so tight to be efficient they had to focus on improving indoor air quality through filtration systems and using materials that are “low voc” (meaning less off gassing).  This can be huge for families who are affected by allergies or who are sensitive to voc materials like paint and carpeting.
  • Leased solar arrays are NOT valued by appraisers, they are treated like personal property and excluded from the appraised value.  “Owned” solar arrays are considered real estate and should be valued by appraisers.  Leased solar arrays can sometimes cause problems when selling a home because the buyer has to take over the lease and they may not want to.
  • We should consider energy costs when comparing homes.  In the past we’ve always compared homes by comparing the monthly costs of ownership, which includes principal, interest, taxes and insurance.  Why don’t we also factor in energy costs when we compare homes?  It’s a monthly cost like all those other items so why not bring it into the equation when making our decision.  If you’re comparing a 100 year old Park Hill home (they’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong) to a new “zero energy ready” Stapleton home that monthly cost difference is going to be hundreds of dollars.

Well thats the scoop on energy efficient homes in Stapleton for now.  If you have questions, comments or more info to add on this topic please be sure to email me at joe@focus-realtors.com or comment below.  If you’d like help buying or selling a home in Stapleton, new or resale, I’m here and happy to help.

Thanks to Forest City for bringing in a great speaker and educating those of us in the industry on this important topic.

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