Here is the text version of the Zero Energy Ready Home webinar, "Voice of the Builder - Southeast," presented in October 2017. Watch the webinar.

Alex Krowka:
Presentation cover slide:

Welcome to DOE Zero Energy Ready Home's training webinar series. We're excited that you can join us today for our fourth Voice of the Builder webinar, today focusing on southeastern builders. We have a treat for you today, as our presenters Luis Imery of Imery Group and Todd Usher of Addison Homes will teach you some of their tricks to building Zero Energy Ready Homes. Today's session is one in a continuing series of training webinars to support our partners in designing, building, and selling DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes. My name is Alex Krowka, and I provide coordination support for the program. I'll take a moment to cover some general notes on webinar housekeeping. All attendees will be in listen-only mode, however, we invite you to ask questions throughout the session in the questions section of the GoToWebinar program. We'll monitor them throughout the webinar, and after the presentation, we'll have some time to go over your questions that weren't answered during the webinar. This session is being recorded and will be placed on the resources page of the Zero Energy Ready Home website. Please allow some time for this, since it does take a few days to a few weeks to go through the process to be added online. We plan to notify everyone once everything is uploaded. Now I'm going to pass it over to Sam Rashkin, chief architect of the Building Technologies Office of DOE, who will give a quick intro to the program and purpose of these webinars.

Sam Rashkin:
Hey, thanks, Alex, and welcome, everyone. It's a great opportunity for us to bring you some of the best builders that we meet around the country in this series. One of my favorite things we do during our normal training courses on Zero Energy Ready Home is we always bring up one or two, at least, local builders who are doing Zero Energy Ready Home to tell their story. It's one thing to listen to outside experts telling you to build high-performance, but a completely different listening experience to hear from leading builders who are delivering a superior homeowner experience by actually committing to industry-leading performance. What this is about is to share their journey to Zero; lessons learned along the way are such an important learning opportunity for all housing industry stakeholders. Some of the questions I'll ask you to personally look out for, that we talk to the builders about presenting, are what business factors drove them to lead where others wait and watch, what technical solutions allowed them to cost-effectively meet rigorous guidelines for outstanding home performance, what marketing messages, tools, and strategies enable them to effectively engage homebuyers, what mistakes have they made that other builders need to avoid (of course, we all make mistakes), and lastly, what plans for the future do they have based on all that they've learned. So some exciting insights we hope to present you with. We're so glad that you're joining us for this short webinar, and I'm going to hand it back to Alex to introduce the speakers.

Alex Krowka:
Thanks, Sam. Our first speaker today is Luis Imery, founder and president of Imery Group. He has made a name for himself as a building science enthusiast, an effort that has won him several awards for sustainable building construction, including a recent Housing Innovation Award. With an innate desire to shape, build, and expand communities, Luis first earned a degree as a civil engineer in 1996. That strong foundation paved the way for his illustrious career as a home designer, home builder, and innovator of the entire home-building process, including development, energy performance evaluation, and as a real-estate broker. His passion for learning and acquiring immense knowledge led to an MBA from the Terry College of Business in 2003, with a concentration in real estate and entrepreneurship. From there, Luis applied his studies by developing a new strategic approach to building projects, in getting into the sustainable and home performance industry. Recognizing that the green trend was growing across industries, Luis believed there was a better way to build and develop communities. He decided to learn as much as possible about sustainable building science and started Imery Group in 2009 with a mission to promote energy-efficient custom home building and home energy rating practices. Today, Luis is a renowned expert in the field, typically building quality homes 15 years ahead of current energy code. He's also received his HERS rater VA with BPI, EarthCraft TA, and LEED for Homes designations, among others. So I present to you Luis Imery.

Luis Imery:
Thanks, Alex, and I know who I'm going to start hiring for writing my bios, too. That was an amazing introduction, so thank-you. I'm going to believe half of that -- no, no, just kidding. The point is, I'm going to keep it to to the point this industry and this high-performance training is something that has always fascinated me, especially with a civil engineering background.

First slide:
I do have an accent. I'm not from the U.S. I'm from Venezuela. And construction is very different to what is done here in the U.S. Our construction back home is very -- you know, (inaudible) is owned by California, so we have, everything is concrete. Everything is engineered. Everything is done different.

Next slide:
Here in the U.S. one of the biggest culture shocks in that is that residential construction is very -- let's say for a lack of a better word, unregulated. Anybody can build a home, but that doesn't mean that it's the right home. It's not the right way of building a home. So in my experience working here in the U.S. after getting my degree is I found out that real estate development and housing, that development, there's a strong connection. So as we've been working through to get to that point where we can actually develop neighborhoods where we incorporate an amazing experience both in the community you live in and the home that people live in. And that's a little bit of what Alex was recapping on the way we're kind of going through different phases, and the background that we have. We are a small company -- very, you know, let's say on the construction side (inaudible) oriented, custom home, builder. We do have a consulting business because we wanted to, in order to bring legitimacy into our construction, we said, OK, we need to be the experts on this thing called high performance. OK. So we have building science on staffing and trained in the building science aspect of building better homes. And we're doing consulting for this type of communities that are generally called low-impact developments. Alright.

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So for us it was, you know, when we were exploring -- I'm a product of the 2009 downturn in the economy; we were doing master-planned communities, things like that. I worked for somebody else. And when I found myself out, you know, back in the real world, I said, well, there has to be a better way of doing this. And through the years by listening to people like -- industry leaders like Sam, and other organizations out there and some inspirational speakers. Everything changes, I guess, once you as a company realize why you do what you do, OK? If you find that thing that makes you get up at night and go to work and do what you do, you'll find that everything changes. You have to be patient. If you're patient, OK? So in our case, we found that we truly believed that everybody deserves the opportunity to own and live in the most healthy, durable, and efficient, comfortable home that one can afford. That's important, "one can afford," because there's an association at least in the Southeast, specifically in Georgia that well, high-performance home is something that is going to cost more, I cannot afford it, let me just go ahead and forget about it and not call this custom builder but the other one, and so on and so forth. That's not necessarily true if you know how to position your value proposition, because there are so many things that go into building a house, where if you manage your budget, you can -- I'm sure you'll find a way to deliver the value that you're looking for your client without necessarily adding cost to their budget. And that's the key -- their budget. It's not that it's going to cost them more if you build a house to somebody that it's their budget, then there's the cost conversation. It just doesn't happen. OK? So that's been our approach in this interested market, interesting marketing to where they're aware people are not really buying homes with a label. They're going -- it's all about the branding and what you bring to the table. And then the additional stuff that you do is just increase your value proposition, that that necessarily impact the bottom line. OK?

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So we found out that this is, how do we market Zero Energy Ready Homes? In the past, at the beginning, we used to be hard-core green builders. And that would be our message: We are eco-friendly; we're sustainable. You need to -- nobody can build the homes that we're building. We started doing spec homes, and you know, our homes would be ENERGY STAR®, EarthCraft, and so on. And that was before DOE's program. And we weren't being successful at it. Because people don't buy green; they buy the benefits, OK? So two and a half years ago as a company we found that out the hard way, and we rebranded, and we change our value proposition to focus on the benefits of what it is building a DOE Zero Energy Ready Home, or any other home that follows third-party verification and high-performance standards. So we speak and talk about healthier homes, how more durable, comfortable, efficient home. And at least in our market, (audio lost) labels, also we have that our client committed to working with those. Because we found that that would typically confuse the buyer, OK? And they would start asking questions and they would revert to their association that having something that is high performance and things like that, they would pay more for it. OK? So on the marketing end, what's worked with referrals is, build your brand, be honest, and believe in what you do. Be legitimate in the sense that customers with the access, and Sam has repeated this many times, are your largest disrupters in the market, because they can go online and find everything out. So you better know your thing, and be an expert. And if you're not, have your consultant or your in-house staff that can get back to that client fairly quickly and say, listen, let's go ahead and check this out. Alex, there's a video here; for time purpose, do I just skip that? That's just our proposition on -- it's a minute-and-a-half video that shows how we present ourselves. Should we just leave it for later?

Alex Krowka:
No, go ahead and play it. That's fine.

Luis Imery:
If it's ... let's see if it goes ... Are you guys still with me?

Alex Krowka:
We are.

Luis Imery:
Alright.

Video:
At Imery Group, we believe that everybody should have the opportunity to own the most durable, healthy, comfortable, and efficient home that one can afford. Right now, perhaps, you're getting ready to make the largest investment of your life, your new home. And if you're building, there's really one opportunity to get everything just right. And that is when your home is under construction. At Imery Group, we understand how buildings work and specialize in knowing precisely how to combine building techniques in a way to, 1) achieve your goals, and 2) stay within your budget. If this type of attention to details and personal touch is important to you, well, you're in the right place. We would love to become your partner and together help you navigate the home-building process from planning to move-in day. I'm Luis Imery, owner of Imery Group, and I would love to help you build the most healthy, durable, and efficient dream home.

Luis Imery:
So that video was the outcome of two, three years of thinking on how to rebrand and position ourselves and focus on giving your client the most amazing customer experience. And that's what is going to set you apart. If you position yourself like you know what you're doing, you're going to give them white-glove treatment and all that, you know, it will increase your sales. Now, bear in mind for the audience that I'm a custom builder; I'm not a production builder or semi-custom at the moment. So all our jobs are sold before we start, OK? That will change perhaps next year, but don't forget that.

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How did we get where we are? Well, we always tried to be the first in doing anything in the market. If you're building your company and you want to be in this, so in 2010 we started to do things and give media something interesting to write about. Because if you're doing what somebody else is doing, you know, you're not going to get picked up by your local newspaper, or the community and so on. So we tried to, in our markets, look if somebody had done X, so if no one had done it, we went and did it. We started having what we called in 2010 pre-drywall open houses. This would be events that we would host through a construction process, right before putting drywall, because that's pretty much where everything happens, the magic happens, in these type of homes, OK? We invited builders, raters, Realtors, homeowners in the same community, so it was open to everybody. Then we would follow up with an open house, because it's not only performance-size for the techie guys, but it's also a nice deal for home. And we've always been active on social media and doing PR campaigns. And also entering that special house. Not every home is, you know, worthy of an award, but in your portfolio, try to look for that house that you think has a good chance to enter to any housing award. That could be DOE, your local home-builders' association entries, or your local green program, and so forth. So always try to put something out there. That way you have that longevity in the online media, where if it's at your name or something, you're always going to show up in that first page in Google. Alright? So we've done a lot of that.

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And then some bit of marketing is a barrier that we have. They say, well, it costs more, it costs -- you know, can be daunting in different styles. Well, you can see here as an example that you can have very similar homes in terms of square footage and they cost almost double each other. So that's why you can do DOE Zero Energy Ready at any project. It just needs to be, form that partnership with your client, and trust relationship, and say, hey, listen, tell me what's important, let's work together, and let's not exceed that budget that we have. And we drop the cost per square footage out of our vocabulary many years ago. As Sam would say, when you get that question, it's like, OK, how much do you pay for (inaudible) on the car that you're driving? So it shifts apples and oranges, basically.

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So as challenges, what we've done and what we found out in industry challenges for the type of high-performance home in our area is buyer demand. You know, the buyers are not -- the general public is not asking hey, we want a DOE Zero Energy Ready Home, or our dream home or anything. They just don't know. They understand maybe ENERGY STAR, but they see appliances and they think that it's an efficient house, so there is a lot of that happening. But there's a lot of efforts at Department of Energy, local green organizations, the utility companies to start going through that no doubt to find skillful labor that understand the high-performance homes require a little bit of more care. It's not different. It's basically doing the right thing right the first time. And following manufacturers' recommendations. It truly is. It's paying attention to those details. At least here in Atlanta, labor shortages all over the place; it's difficult to get -- a roofing contractor is very difficult. If in the in-house staff having qualified and we were talking about this before we started, qualified and knowledgeable construction managers, is challenging. OK? Then to have consistency, for us, custom builder. We're not building many homes where the same (inaudible) you can move from one (inaudible) to the other. You have a lot of stuff in (inaudible) and wait times, so you're constantly looking at that. And then finding the right -- you know, high performance is a combination of many things. But the things that you really need to focus is finding the right HVAC partner, and envelope expert. That could be your HERS rater, it could be your consultant, it could be you as a builder yourself, if you want to go through the training, or if you have expertise on that. But those are the key things.

And then on the technical side of things is HVAC design, as an example. There's always a good-better-best option for any house. Again, when you're managing a project, how do you balance all that? But even finding a good HVAC contractor if you don't have an HVAC designer in your team, finding an HVAC contractor that does Manual J, D, and S is a challenge. And other technical issues that we've experiencing lately is when you build homes super-tight and super-well-insulated, then you really need to pay attention to controlling indoor humidity. We found we had a little issues in crawlspacing attics on homes that are built to this high standard. To the point that it won't run. That we finished recently the mini-split systems. They didn't kick in at all. Twenty minutes in a seven-day cycle, so obviously we're not being able to remove humidity as efficient as we would want, and so on and so forth. Basically, heat gains or heat loss, however you want to see that, they're virtually nonexisting in this house. And then fresh air, makeup air. When you build this size, make sure that you have a good fresh air strategy. And there are many available. And makeup air, when you turn that kitchen vent hood, you don't want to depressurize that house.

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Business lessons learned. I would say that for custom homes, if you start with a budget in mind, as I've been saying, and you work closely with a green rater, there's no additional cost on a big picture perspective. Yes, it will cost more to build if you do like stick and mortar. But if you're meeting your client's budget, then you're fine. But if you're at production builder and you're bidding with other individuals out there, based on some internal costs that we've seen, you could look at 3, 5 percent cost increment. But then again, your product is different than the other one, and budget is a factor. Some intangible things such as less call-backs, have your customers, so what value does that have? Is that enough? Is that 3 percent extra cost? And production builders, especially largers, you know, this is true of that very first home. Then it becomes a standard, and you have the bargaining power to stick with your partners that do insulation and provide services to your homes, and then you can negotiate maybe better deals.

Next slide:
Then our take on high-performance homes. As I mentioned earlier, we believe they would not exist if trades and team would simply follow manufacturers' recommended installation practices. And just regular energy codes. Unfortunately, it's a very fragmented industry, and that does not happen, OK? And no doubt that following a program such as Zero Energy Ready adds a layer of quality assurance for you, the builder, because you have consultants and people that come and are an extra set of eyes that, their goal is not to fail you but to help you build that better house. And catch things before it's too late.

Next slide:
And with that, that's our experience with building Zero Energy Ready Homes. And we've been fortunate that we've received several awards since 2014 for different homes, different projects, different styles. And with that, Alex, I'm done.

Alex Krowka:
Perfect. Thank-you so much, Luis. That was a great presentation. Before I switch it over to our next presenter, Todd, I'm going to do a quick poll for the audience to kind of figure out who we have on this webinar. So I'm going to launch this poll, read Todd's bio, and then switch it over to Todd.

Poll question slide:
So if everyone could just answer this while I read this bio, that'd be great. Todd Usher built Addison Homes on a solid green foundation. Clemson University graduate who worked eight years in the chemical industry while renovating houses on the side. He determined that a personal commitment to sustainable principles complemented by well-defined processes and procedures could form the cornerstone of a residential construction firm. In 2002, Addison Homes became the only company in South Carolina to certify 100 percent of its homes to high-performance standards such as ENERGY STAR and EarthCraft, and most recently, U.S. Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home. For the past years working within a somewhat conservative Southern culture, Addison Homes has emerged as one of the region's most recognized companies in high-performance building. As a first builder in the U.S. to earn NAHB's Master Certified Green Professional designation, Todd freely shares his expertise with the building industry. He serves on the industry advisory board for Clemson University's Department of Construction, Science, and Management, where he encourages the next generation of builders to pursue residential green building. Todd is also a frequent guest speaker in courses within the sustainability science major at Birman University and volunteers on several boards, including Trees Greenville and the National Association of Home Builders, where he is the education chair for the South Carolina Home Builders Association. Todd's advocacy on behalf of sustainable design and construction has been recognized with multiple awards, including USGBC, South Carolina's chapter, Leadership in Green Building Award, NAHB's Green Advocacy Award, and Master Certified Green Professional of the Year. Addison Homes projects have garnered honors such as DOE's Housing Innovation Award, EarthCraft House Project of the Year, South Carolina Pinnacle Award, and several Southern Home and Garden Bridge Awards for green building. My God, Todd, you are one accomplished builder! So I'm going to (laughs) ... so it looks like on our webinar, we have about 12 percent builders, 12 percent raters, 7 percent developers, 28 percent consultants, and 42 percent others. Here are those results.

Poll results slide:
Todd, I'm going to make you the presenter right now. You should see a little pop-up come up. Just say yes to it, and you'll be sharing your screen.

Todd Usher:
Sounds great, Alex. Sounds great. Thank-you very much. I'm looking for the pop-up.

Alex Krowka:
Let's see here ... Let's try that one more time here.

Todd Usher:
Here we go. I think I've gotten ...

Alex Krowka:
Yep, it looks like we're seeing your desktop. Now we've got it. Perfect.

Todd Usher:
You got it. Excellent, excellent. Well, I'm very curious who the 43 percent is. I don't know if folks care to share, but if you answered "other" in that 43 percent, shoot Alex a note on the chat and let him know what your profession is. I'm very curious on that. So thanks, Alex. I appreciate the intro. Thanks for your good reading on that.

Next slide:
And welcome to my portion of the presentation for this webinar.

Next slide:
So as Alex mentioned, I was in the chemical industry prior to getting into homebuilding. And my background because of that is quite different than many builders in the market today. It was kind of a crooked path to get into homebuilding, but something that I found a passion for. And quite frankly, coming out of a very regulated, process-driven industry like chemical manufacturing where you could blow up a plant if you do things in the wrong order, residential construction was quite eye-opening. I know Luis mentioned that there's no or very little regulation. I think that's an understatement. Much is done in the field, and much is done the way it's always been done, without regard for quality systems, quality practices, or process-driven approach. So when we started Addison Homes back in 2002, 2003, one of the fortunate opportunities I had was to sit in on a regional green-building program builder training seminar, which for me was very much the a-ha moment and the light bulb that came on with, this is our quality system. So today, Addison Homes embraces the quality best practices of the programs that you see on your screen here, starting years ago with ENERGY STAR, evolving from ENERGY STAR to now the Zero Energy Ready Home program. And even getting into some European standards such as Active House, which you see in the lower right there.

Next slide:
Marketing has been a key for our business. You know, I think I tell most folks that we spend a disproportionate amount of time educating our clients on the, really, thought process and elements behind building a better home. And that home being a high-performance home. And when most folks understand the very small differences that we employ with constructing our homes and planning the building our homes, it becomes a logical choice. It's not necessarily because they're driven to be green and save the planet. It's not necessarily driven because they want the absolute lowest energy bills. It's the culmination of all of those attributes that come together. So here I'm showing some of the marketing tools that we used over the years. Big focus for us in the market right now is health. And this ad that is on the left side of the page, we used about eight years ago in a parade of homes. And we were pushing the health aspect then, but have had numbers of case studies where we've seen the results through customer testimonials on the true benefits of health and indoor air quality in our homes. On the top right, we also use an educational-based email newsletter that we send out twice a month. And for us, this email newsletter has really become a cornerstone of keeping in contact with our perspective clients, our Realtors in the market, anyone who has interest in what we do. And I think a key for communicating the value of what we do and how we build is being focused on education and information. We're in a time in society and with technology where information is key. It's readily available. So we feel like being an authoritative source on the latest and greatest information on high- performance building sets us apart from the rest of the market. And our educational newsletter is a key element of that. We have about a thousand subscribers on the newsletter. That ebbs and flows, but it's not uncommon for us to have someone that follows us on our newsletter for three, four, five years, and gives us a call and says, I'm ready to build. So it's been a great differentiator for us. And then in the bottom right corner, we survey our clients. So we do customer satisfaction surveys, and then we market, based on those surveys and based on the results of those surveys. We're very proud of our track record there, and we want to continuously improve our process to ensure that our clients not only see the value and appreciate the value of what we're doing for them, but that we're doing it in the right way and ending up with very happy clients at the end of the day.

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And then I think one of the best illustrations of a marketing tool: This is a utility bill that one of our clients forwarded us with her name removed and said, you know, you're welcome to use my utility bill in your marketing, but I just want to tell you how excited I am with my house. This particular houses was around 2,100 square feet and on a crawlspace here in Greenville, South Carolina, and had a 5 kilowatt solar array on it. This particular month, you can see that her total usage net was 4 kilowatt hours, so the base rate from the utility was $8.70. And she gets another 77 cents or so in utility bill. So what we find that some of our best marketing and advertising is word of mouth from our existing customers. And I just don't think that today you can get away with PR and marketing without having that testimonial component to kind of back up what you're touting.

Next slide:
So our technical strategies have really evolved from a very basic approach 15 years ago to a pretty process-driven approach today. You know, as technology has evolved, design has kind of come along with new technology. We now design our homes in 3D that gives huge benefits to our customers in being able to visualize the house before we actually go in the field and build it. We also talk in our office quite frequently about our goal is to build a house on paper at least six times before we go out in the field to build it. So in many cases we're building homes that may be custom or semi-custom that we're building for the very first time. So we don't have the benefit of experience in building that house before. So we want to make sure that we are absolutely as efficient as we possibly can and that we address as many opportunities to avoid surprises on the front end of the project. So 3D design helps us tremendously in that respect. It also helps our customers visualize what they're getting so hopefully the expectations are set and match up well between what we're going to build and what they expect we're going to build.

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And then that same technology rolls into the structural side. So kind of behind the scenes we're using 3D models with our truss designer and structural engineer to analyze the truss layout to ensure that we can position and run our ductwork, and our plumbing and any other mechanicals through the house without having issues or anything in the way in terms of obstructions. ... just really is something they love. So we often talk about engineers being some of our best clients but also being some of our most difficult clients, because they love getting into the details.

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The design continues into our mechanical systems. We cannot build a high-performance home without designing our duct layout and designing our mechanical system to match the load requirements of the house.

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And then we go into construction. So when we get out into the field, we've built the house on paper six to seven times plus, and it really should be routine for us. So when we go to implement our strategies, it's all been thought through multiple times. The plans are accurate, the details are accurate, and the only challenge, like Luis said, is getting labor to show up in this market. So this is the picture of a slab foundation. We're in climate zone 3. We do perimeter R-5 insulation around our stem walls for our slabs.

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This is a photo of a sealed -- what will be a sealed, conditioned crawlspace. In our market, we're building on slab foundations, crawlspace foundations, and basement foundations.

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This is one of our basement foundations. We frequently use precast, preinsulated, basement walls. This is a product called Superior Walls. We have a lifetime waterproof warranty to our clients that we feel very strongly about. When a manufacturer is willing to stand behind a product for life, they tend to be on our priority list.

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When we get to our wall assemblies, our current assembly for exterior walls is 2-by-4 studs with R-13 fiberglass unfaced batts installed to a grade 1.

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And then exterior insulation, R-5 foamboard insulation, over half-inch OSB. We're using half-inch OSB for structural sheathing, and R-5 exterior insulation to wrap the house. And in our climate zone, we feel like this wall assembly gives us the best bang for the buck and gives our clients the most benefit for their dollar. Couple of benefits we've seen, adding exterior insulation years ago, you get fewer nail pops, drywall cracks. We have far greater comfort in the house and consistency in temperatures. And the house is much quieter than a home simply sheathed with OSB and house wrap.

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Our ductworks. Following the DOE Zero Energy Ready guidelines, we have to have our ducts inside conditioned space. So on the left picture here, this is a conditioned crawlspace. We have a 20 mil membrane that lines the floor, goes up the piers, up the walls. And we insulate the perimeter foundation. And our heating and cooling systems are frequently installed in that conditioned space. We supply a small amount of conditioned air into that space to control humidity, moisture, and to temper that area. And we typically put our access to the conditioned crawlspace inside the house, not through the foundation wall. And the reason for that is years ago I felt like the only way to remind our clients that the space under their house in a conditioned crawlspace was no different than the space in the living room, was to put the access in the house. And it's turned out to be a very popular area for storage and even a place to go in an emergency like a tornado or a storm. And then on the right you see air handler and ductwork in an attic that's been spray-foamed. We typically avoid spray foam these days.

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What we've found on this next slide, a little difficult to make out, but what you're looking at is an insulated room, if you will, in the attic of a slab-on-grade house. This is our duct chase, that is insulated with foam board on the outside, on the attic side, and insulated with fiberglass batts and air-sealed on the inside. So we're keeping our ductwork inside conditioned space. We're using very short duct runs for our branch runs, and we're throwing that air across the room. And then our heating and cooling unit, the air handler, is in a mechanical room in the attic that's also air-sealed and insulated and airtight, insulated door. So we've learned ways to kind of work around our traditional constraints and get our ductwork and air handler inside conditioned space without having to spray-foam an entire attic. It would be very expensive and not necessarily perform any better.

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Indoor air quality is key, and what we've found, as I mentioned earlier, over the years the tighter we're building our homes and the better we're controlling fresh air and filtration, the better responses we're having from our homeowners. In this case, this is our go-to air filter / purifier. It's a Lennox Pure Air System. It's a MERV 16 filter, typically once-a-year change-out, with a PCO purification system, a photocatalytic oxidation purification system, kind of a layman's version of a commercial PCO purification. And if you Google that, you can find more information about PCO purification. It's essentially an oxidation purification process that does not generate design. So the harmful off-gassing from the actual purifier itself.

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And then what we have been doing quite frequently, and the recent two years, is installing renewables. South Carolina has become a very good state for installing solar and renewable energy. We of course benefit from the 30 percent federal tax credit, and we have a state tax credit at 25 percent, as well as net metering at a one-for-one rate. So we're more interested in adding renewables. And in this particular case, you're looking at a picture of a house that has solar shingles on the roof, versus solar panels mounted on a racking system.

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And then one of the elements that we've found has been extremely popular was somewhat of an experiment for us. We certified a model home in one of our communities to a program called Active House, which started in Denmark and is proliferated somewhat through Europe. We were the second house in North America to certify to Active House with this particular home. And one of the unique requirements of Active House is natural daylighting. So we have to have certain levels of natural daylighting that we have to model through daylighting analysis in order for the house to meet Active House standards. So in this case, you're looking at the living room / kitchen / dining area, where we have two large 4-by-4 venting solar skylights in the ceiling. And then we've flared the ceiling out wide to bring lots of natural light in from outside.

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And that wraps up my presentation. I guess, Alex, we're going to have a chance now for questions here at the end?

Alex Krowka:
Yes, sir, we are. So thank-you so much for that. That was fantastic, as expected. So yea, I'm going to go through a couple of questions that we've gotten here. If anyone is now thinking of some, feel free to type them in. And then we'll wrap up at the end with some closing thoughts from Sam Rashkin. So the first question is, it was for Luis: Have you looked at continuously insulated concrete masonry units for any of your homes?

Luis Imery:
Oh, ICF, insulated concrete forms, we have. In general, at the beginning, being somewhat pioneers in this, we found ourselves chasing a lot of rabbit holes, if you would, on nonconventional construction techniques that were -- they're always going to cost more. OK? And what we did as a strategy to be more efficient is that when we capture a client we said we'd take them through our process which is very -- in the start, set up that budget with a very accurate let's say soft estimate framework. And we set up the job with conventional, off-the-shelf products that are assembled the right way. And that would tell us if we have room to explore other venues. Meaning that if the budget was $400,000 and we have a very high-performance home with advanced framing techniques and all that, and it comes up $450,000, then it's the client that we can say, hey, client, do you want us to do ICF blocks? Do you want us to look at insulated concrete panels? Do you want to do area concrete panels? You know, if we're talking about the building shelf. So I've looked at that. I've looked at framing. Metal framing and different things. But it always comes down to, where can I give those stake -- give them those core benefits of the house, and stay within budget? So long answer, I've looked at them, never used them, because I've never had the opportunity to use them, even though that I have some manufacturers say, hey, take the blocks, use them for free, but by the time I do my apples-to-apples comparison on home performance, I find that I'm paying a premium, that it's not within my client's budget.

Alex Krowka:
Got it. And Todd, do you want to add anything more to that? I believe you touched on it for a second.

Todd Usher:
Yea, you know, we certainly try to be open-minded and fairly innovative with materials and processes that we use. In our market we've never used insulated concrete forms. One of the big concerns is termites. And one of the second big concerns is waterproofing. So what we found in our market is our waterproofing contractor will not warrant their waterproofing applied to insulated concrete forms because of fear and concern of puncturing the waterproofing membrane during backfill. So we've had fantastic success with the precast, pre-insulated Superior Wall product. And we really don't see a whole lot of reason to go outside of that. One, as Luis said, it's more expensive. And two, we've got proven processes and approaches that work quite well to build homes to this level of performance.

Alex Krowka:
Got it; thank-you. And then when we did our poll, you had asked what other types of attendees we have, and so I'm just going to touch on that real quick. We have HVAC consultants, architects, equipment manufacturers, people from nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity. We have some students on the line, as well as university faculty. So it definitely runs the gamut, which is exciting to see.

Todd Usher:
That's great, great.

Alex Krowka:
Now going to another question here: Todd, I think this was more geared toward your presentation: What type of 3D software do you use?

Todd Usher:
For our architectural CAD drawings, we use a product called Chief Architect. And we have found that it has plenty of capability for residential and light commercial CAD drawing. We've not ventured into the world of AutoCAD and Reddit. Chief Architect is very easy to use and very powerful. On the engineering side, our truss manufacturer / engineer uses MiTek components, and the MiTek software is something that most of these truss manufacturers get as part of purchasing connectors from MiTek. So it's a hugely powerful tool and one that we use on every single project after we go through truss design and structural engineering, to review all of the elements that might be a factor in how we build the house.

Alex Krowka:
Got it. And Luis, I don't remember if you touched on this, but do you use any 3D modeling software?

Luis Imery:
We don't at the moment. We piggyback out of our lumber supplier for all the structural components. And we do all the (inaudible) design, so we do an overlay, but here in the office we don't merge files together. But we look and say, OK, we have (inaudible) this much, and yea, we can (inaudible). But no, we're not there yet.

Alex Krowka:
Got it; thank-you. And this question is for both of you: Can you touch on what type of HVAC systems you've used and tend to install?

Luis Imery:
Alright, I'll give it a try here, Todd. In general, we've found in terms of value, cost benefit, we found that ducted mini-split systems are a good choice for us. So in general try to, when we're doing that estimate that I mentioned for our clients, try to set it up with ducted mini-splits. And then when we come down to a bottom-line number, we figure that we need to scale down from that type of technology, that is mini-splits, and go with a more conventional heat pump system. Or if the client wants a particular technology, let's say geothermal or anything like that, we certainly -- whatever the client wants, we make sure that we put it in but that it's done the right way. We did mini-splits; we've been doing mini-splits since 2010. It's been wonderful. We use Unico's high-velocity system in one job, due to structural constraints, to run duct work. And we've done regular heat pumps.

Todd Usher:
Good deal, and from our standpoint at Addison, we are typically using heat pumps in our climate zone. Almost exclusively variable speed compressors. So whether that is a traditional heat pump split system, ducted split system with a variable speed compressor -- which tends to be the top-of-the-line products on most of the traditional American manufacturers, Trane, Lennox, Carrier -- or we've ventured into the multisplit and variable refrigerant flow systems with multiple heads, be those ducted or wall-mount cassettes. But typically we're in the ducted realm. One of the interesting things we found when you build a high-performance home is the sizing, the load calculations. The equipment needed is far less and smaller in size than a typical code-built home. So it's rare that we will have multiple systems on our houses. And our houses range, you know, typically anywhere from 2,000 square feet to 5,000-plus square feet. And we're typically doing that 5,000-square-foot house with a single split system and possibly zoning the ductwork, zoning air flow instead of refrigerant.

Alex Krowka:
Got it; thank-you. I think we're going to do one more question here and in the interest of time. Unfortunately we're not able to get to everyone's, however, you're more than welcome to send me your questions, and I'll get them answered for you, or send them to Todd and/or Luis. So we'll end on this last one: If you guys could just share what you've learned about how to manage dehumidification.

Luis Imery:
Yes, until recently I would manage it or try to manage it, I guess, with precisely the RF technology that is within the ducted or ductless mini-split systems. However, in the last year or so, as I was mentioning, the homes, the building envelope and infiltration rate in there -- we're getting, I guess, better at doing that, and those systems are invariably running. So now as the standard, we are incorporating, whether it's a stand-alone or a whole-house dehumidifier in our system.

Todd Usher:
And we have -- I've talked about dehumidification as a concern for a number of years. The variable refrigerant flow systems, what we have found, do a fantastic job at dehumidification when there is a load, even a small load. You know, when we're in the shoulder months, like we are right now, the concern is that we may be ventilating and bringing in relatively humid outdoor air, and we don't have a call for cooling or heating, to have any effect on dehumidification. We've not had any issues with our homes, but I think as we get tighter than one and a half air changes per hour, if that is the direction that we go, that will be a bigger concern. The one area of particular concern to me is when we're building homes for people that may not be from the U.S. and may have different tolerances for indoor comfort. So we've built homes for families from India who are here, and I've noticed that they tend to keep the thermostat up in the high 70s range, if not 80 degrees. And of course, that compromises the dehumidification capacity of the system when it's in cooling mode. But overall, we're finding that the variable speed compressors are doing a very, very good job at dehumidification. I think that we will too, like Luis, begin to look at stand-alone dehumidification as perhaps a standard incorporated into our ventilation strategy.

Alex Krowka:
Great; thank-you. That's a lot of great information that you guys have shared. We've got people with questions rolling in, so I think people are really engaged with what you guys are talking about. So thank-you very much. Sam Rashkin, do you have any closing thoughts that you'd like to share with our audience, before we let everyone get to their trick-or-treating?

Sam Rashkin:
Oddly enough, I always do have a few thoughts to chime in. A couple things I want to just highlight. When Todd shows a utility bill that's $9 -- effectively zero -- and you realize a typical monthly utility bill is $250, I hope people realize that's almost $50,000 of buying power that you're adding to the house by virtue of the reduction in the utility bill monthly expense. And that's a lot of buying power to take a house to zero energy performance. The other point I want to mention is I hope everyone heard how much expertise and how much competency that Luis and Todd are getting every year they build these homes, and how much they learn, and how much they're able to apply to the product. And the big question for builders who aren't at this level yet is how much do they keep falling behind. And the industry is going here because the consumer experience in these homes is so superior. It's just the great feeling of having no or incredibly low utility bills. It's the other factors that Luis and Todd talk about, particularly wellness is a huge preference in the marketplace today. Comfort always is very important. The idea of owning a house that will stand the test of time and appreciate at a higher value because it meets future expectations. There's so much experience that you're hearing as I listen to Todd and Luis, and I go, builders have to figure out that eventually this is such an important skill set they have to add to their own product. And so I hope people understand that there's a lot to learn here from these builders, and that these builder webinars hopefully are as useful to you as we believe they are. And I also like to ask all of you to continue to kind of look at this program as a vehicle to manage your risks, to take your product to the next level, and to appreciate the leadership that these kinds of builders bring to the industry. It's so important that we take housing up, because even code-built homes have lots of additional challenges they didn't use to have five or 10 years ago. So thank-you, everyone, for coming. These webinars are a real treat for us, to bring in some really special Voice of the Builder perspectives. I hope to see you at the next webinar.

Alex Krowka:
Alright, thank-you, Sam, and thank-you, everyone, for attending. Again, we will post a recording of this webinar on the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home resources page, and I will notify everyone within the next few weeks, of that happening. So thank-you again, and I hope everyone has a happy Halloween. Bye.