HERS Ratings And Insulation With Dave Mikels From Graber Insealators

HERS Ratings And Insulation With Dave Mikels From Graber Insealators

Greg:    Welcome to this edition of the Louisville Custom Home Builder Podcast Series, brought to you by Louisville’s leading luxury construction team, Artisan Signature Homes. I’m Greg, your host, and for today’s episode, we are joined by Louisville’s best known, and most accomplished custom and luxury home builder, Jason Black, as well as a return guest. I think we’re talking home insulation again today. Glad to have you both with us.

Jason:    It’s good to be here, and glad to have Dave Michaels back with us from Grabers. He’s going to join us, and we’re going to talk little energy efficiency. He’s going to educate us a little bit more today.

Greg:    Dave, I was hoping to go back a little bit, and get a little 101 education if that’s all right with you? Maybe talk about why a homeowner … Why should I care about insulation? Really, what’s in it for me? We talked about sound a little bit last time. We talked about … I don’t think we really got to energy rating right? Why don’t we go there if that’s all right?

Dave:    Sure. I’ll tell you something that’s really occurred in the last 10 years, if you will, that’s been interesting in the energy efficiency world, is that when the Energy Star Program first came out, they tied some tax credits to that. You could … if you built a house to an Energy Star Performance level, you could get a tax credit back. During the process of that, what they realized is that they wanted to have these third party verifiers to make sure that the builders were building their homes to the standards that Energy Star has set forth. This term energy rater, or building analyst, you started to hear a lot more about, and a lot of programs came out on how to train these guys. They’re out in the market now, and I’ll tell you what we love about it, is that just like when you go to buy a car you’re always looking for the miles per gallon sticker on the side of the window… when you get a HERS rating, HERS is H-E-R-S, stands for Home Energy Rating System … When you get a HERS rating on a house, you’re basically getting a miles per gallon sticker. As a homeowner, you can learn a lot about the house, just by looking for that number. It tells you a lot.

Jason:    Does everyone have to do that now Dave?

Dave:    Not today. That is going to become code at some point. In some states where they’ve already adopted the newest energy code, then every permit that gets pulled, you have to have that test done. In Kentucky, we’re only, today, inspecting to the 2009 energy code. Until we adopt the newest energy code, we don’t have to do it.

Jason:    Greg, I think if you remember, we had Eric George on a few weeks back that we talked about, and he is our energy rater. We do choose to rate our home. We like that third party verification. Just making sure we are exceeding the standard. It does help, and Dave’s a part of that.

Greg:    Question Jason, for you, is if you build a contract home, my understanding is you give them a sheet of paper somewhere in the process that says, “Here’s where your test ended. Here’s where your HERS rating is.” If you have a spec home up, and I’m coming in. I’m curious, at the car lot Dave, you were talking about there’s that sticker on the window. If I’m a consumer, I haven’t seen any of these stickers in the window of a house that says HERS ratings. Is that something that you would provide? How does that work for a consumer that’s not building their house, but buying one that’s already built?

Jason:    Absolutely we would provide it. Unfortunately, not everybody does it that way. The public is probably not quite aware of it just yet. That’s why we’re talking about it, and trying to educate our customers and buyers too.

Greg:    This is reason 45 that we do the podcast right?

Jason:    That’s right. Why you should build with Artisan right here, is our HERS rating. We’re doing a lot of homes with the combination of geothermal heating and cooling, and using the spray foam insulation. Those two pieces right there, aren’t the whole piece of the puzzle, but man we can really drive that HERS rating down using that combination.

Greg:    I’d like to hear more about what we can expect with a HERS rating, but I’m curious, do you all think we’re going get to a point where, when a house is for sale, that that’ll just be a part of the marketing, or part of the listing on the MLS? The HERS rating for this is? That’ll just be a question that people ask in five or ten years?

Dave:    It’s very interesting that you just say that, that literally about six months ago, there was just a change made to the MLS. That’s the green portion of the MLS, where there’s four new categories that you can list a house by. One of them is geothermal, one of them is foam, one of them solar, and then one of them is this HERS rating. What will happen is that now in Louisville Kentucky, if you want to see the homes that are for sale that have a HERS rating to them, they can be sorted that way on the MLS. It’s just now beginning.

Jason:    Stay tuned for that.

Greg:    Why don’t you let us know what a HERS rating number is? What can I expect? What’s a good score? What’s a bad score? If people don’t remember, I think Eric George talked about it a little bit, but what should I be looking for? Is this a one to ten scale? Is it a one to hundred scale? The basics.

Dave:    It’s a one to a hundred scale. Basically a hundred is a house built to today’s code. If a house has a hundred on it, it means they’ve built to the code minimums. Every percentage point below a hundred you get, you’re getting that much closer to net zero. A house that has a zero score, means that it’s a net zero house. There’s no energy being used at all.

Greg:    That’s where we want to go.

Dave:    Honestly, that’s where there is a lot of people heading that direction. In Louisville, Kentucky, we’re spoiled with very cheap power, and so it’s not been a big driving force in this area. A lot of parts of the country you wouldn’t believe how much net zero constructions truly happening.

Greg:    Okay, but the lower the number, the more …

Dave:    That’s right. If you get a house with a score of a 70, that means that house is 30% better than a house built to code.

Jason:    Okay, and so Dave, our typical Norton Commons house was spray foam, and geothermal. What score is a homeowner going to expect?

Dave:    Most of those get below 50. I’ve seen a lot of them even in the high 30s that you can get.

Jason:    Right there, that’s 50% better than a house that’s normally built to code. How does that … You wonder why? That really is going to impact the end user with utility bills and comfort. It’s a great way to build a house.

Graber Insealators Installing Foam InsulationGreg:    I’m curious, for Homearama, will people be in a house long enough to really appreciate how comfortable the house is, and the doors going to be open and shut? Are they going to stop and think about how quiet, or how … We had talked about sound the last time. Is that really a fair test, or should they come out for a private showing? How does that work?

Jason:    Honestly, it’s probably not. What happens when you … We’re going to have … This is … There’s 26 furnished houses. There’s probably going to be 40, 50,000 people coming through these houses. The front door is going to be literally opened for two weeks straight. It’s probably not going to feel as comfortable as it should. Somebody really wants to get a sense, then they should live in one of my houses.

Greg:    There we go. It’s just sort of an all around comfort right? We’re not talking … It’s humidity levels, it’s sound levels, it’s temperature levels, it’s just sort of an entire comfort right? From… this is what I’m picking up from past conversation.

Jason:    Yeah, it’s complete package.

Dave:    That’s a really great point. So many people think that your comfort in your house is based on the temperature on your thermostat, and that’s just one piece. The humidity piece is huge, and so if you … When you have these HERS ratings done, what they’re doing is they’re also making sure that the right size HVAC system is in the house so that you can control that humidity as well as temperature.

Greg:    That’s a component of the HERS rating?

Dave:    It’s a part of the HERS rating. That’s right.

Jason:    There’s other components that we won’t get too bogged down into.

Greg:    Sorry.

Jason:    LED lighting, and what type of windows you’re using. There are other factors that can drive that number down. Solar is another portion of it. Dave’s portion … I guess maybe we can expand on the insulation of the HERS rating, and how that can drive the number down.

Dave:    The HERS rating itself, they do two inspections. They do a visual inspection that’s done after insulation, before drywall, so that they can make sure that the insulation envelope is in place. Actually, this brings up an interesting point. We just did a house for you about a month ago, that was the first time I’d ever done this in 20 years of in the foam insulation business, we did a blower door test on a house that didn’t even have drywall on it yet, for one of his clients that really wanted to see how this worked. On a Saturday morning, we set up blower door equipment, and we tested a house at the insulation stage to see where every possible hole could be in that house. That’s going to be a tight one.

Jason:    It was … We have a customer who actually, he rates and does commercial work, and he was bringing some of that knowledge he’s learned in the commercial world, and he wanted his house to be super energy efficient. It was a neat test for us to really see. What did you learn by doing that Dave?

Dave:    In most cases, when these houses get blower door tested, it’s at the very end. The drywall’s all in place, and basically anything that you have wrong at that point, it’s tough to go back and fix without getting destructive in a house a lot of times. It was neat to see the difference of, “Hey, there’s a little bitty hole here and there, and we can hit them now before the drywall’s up.”

Jason:    As part of this HERS rating that we do it as a two step process. We do have … After Dave is done with his insulation, I’m done with my framing, we have somebody else independent of Dave and myself, that comes in and just basically pokes holes and looks for any area that we possibly could’ve missed. Like Dave said, once the drywall’s up, it’s tough to find those. Having an energy rater come in, it really helps be that extra set of eyes on the project.

Dave:    As an insulation contractor, we’ve really come to appreciate these guys because at the end of the day, if I have a problem on a house, it’s something we didn’t get right, I want to know it so I can fix it. Like Jason said, it’s a great way to get an extra set of eyes.

Greg:    Okay, so when you do the test, the blower door test, you can actually figure out where there might be a small leak, and you can go back and correct it?

Dave:    Yeah, it’s pretty neat with the technology that’s out today. These thermal image cameras, they show heat difference. As long as there’s a 15 degree difference in temperature between inside and outside, literally every leak in your house, we can find it.

Jason:    When we tested this house, we obviously didn’t have the heating and cooling up and going, and it was cold outside, so we actually heated the entire house up with portable heaters to get that heat difference from the inside and the outside.

Dave:    Yeah, it was a neat experience.

Jason:    Good stuff. Anything else … You talked about the codes changing, and adopting the 2012 code. What’s the horizon look like that, that will be adopted?

Dave:    It’s coming. In fact, all the northern states, for the last two years, they’ve now had to blower door test every house, and get those HERS rating done for … Same with a lot of southern states. In Louisville, Kentucky, we’ve got a … The state of Kentucky itself, we’ve got a good Home Builders Association group that really tries to keep houses in the affordable housing range. They’ve done a good job of trying to fight a lot of unnecessary codes. As a whole, Kentucky is slower to adopt practices that happen on a national level if it means adding cost to the house. In this one case, because of the fact that our energy is so cheap in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s not necessarily been a hot button. We’re paying seven or eight cents a kilowatt, however in California they pay 35 cents a kilowatt hour.

It’s a lot more of a hot button in places where the cost of electricity’s bigger. It’s definitely coming. From what we’re hearing in the next year or two, we’re going to be moving to the 2012 energy code.

Greg:    Will that be strictly for new homes, new construction, or is there going to be some kind of regulation do you know that says when existing homes hit the market, you need to retroactively do a test and figure out where you are?

Dave:    No, the only time in existing home’s that occurs is when you’re actually doing a remodeling project. If you tear into an existing house at all, and do a remodeling project, now you have to bring it up to the current code in the process. In the existing homes, I think that’s what’s going to really start setting apart the new homes from the existing homes, is these HERS scores. That’s going to really matter to people.

Jason:    Dave, one thing that we haven’t touched on is, I guess … I would love to spray foam … every house. I think it’s the best way to insulate a house is to spray foam the walls, attic, everything. If maybe the budget doesn’t allow, but somebody wants to do some type of spray foam in their house to help with their rating, where would you recommend they do that?

Dave:    We do this a lot too. We call them Hybrid Packages. There’s definitely a bigger ROI in spray foam in certain parts of the house than others. Like any house, all hot air rises, and so getting the attic right is a big deal. Whether we’re spraying the roof deck, or doing the flat ceilings, getting foam in the attic is by far the biggest return on investment.

Jason:    If you did that, then how would you insulate the rest of the house?

Dave:    We like to use … There’s blown fiberglass, or say those products that you can use on the outside walls that basically just makes … Like I was saying in my last podcast, when you can remove the installer error out of the equation, you can get a lot better insulation job. As you’re using any of these blown products, it does a lot better job filling all the cracks and crevices than just the regular pre-fabricated fiberglass bat.

Jason:    It’s been nice over the years. It seems like as construction costs continue to rise … Maybe I’m misled here, but it seems like the price of foam has been … Become more affordable to do an entire house. It used to be, we only used to do our super high end houses all in foam, and now we’re doing a fair amount of our homes all foam. How is that possible? Is the price coming down?

Dave:    They are, It’s one of the few industries I can say that I’ve ever been a part of where in the last five years, we’ve seen some dramatic material cost reductions, and what’s happened there … We like Icynene as a manufacturer. It’s the premium spray foam in our mind, and they used to be the only one out there that really had a good foam product. Now that foam is becoming more popular, DOW, and DuPont, and Bayer, and all the big chemical companies have jumped in and come up with their own version of a foam. What it’s done, like any competition, is it’s driven down cost. The other thing that’s happened is that the technology and the equipment has gotten a lot better.

We’ve gotten better equipment, which means we can put it on faster. I’ve got multiple rigs now that we have two hoses coming out of the same truck. We can have two guys spraying foam on the same job, at the same time.

Jason:    I can remember when we first started it. It would probably take a week or more maybe, to insulate one of our houses. We’ve had instances where you’ve come in, and one or two days you foamed a whole house, and I’m like, “Whoa. I’m not ready for drywall yet.”

Dave:    Exactly. It’s been a combination of the manufacturing cost has come down in the product, and we’ve gotten a lot better at putting it on. When those two things come together, then your cost can go down.

Greg:    Jason, have you found that customers are coming to you and demanding it, or it’s just a decision you make on your … Is the market caught up in saying, “I want foam insulation?”

Jason:    I do. I have several customers per year that come to me and say, “You know what? I want an entire foam house. My buddy did it, and he said this is the way to do it.” We educate them a little bit on the different ways to insulate. Yeah it is. The demand is coming. Not everybody is on there yet, but … As we build spec homes and other houses, we are choosing to do more foam insulation.

Greg:    I’m willing to venture that at this year’s Homearama, you get more people than maybe you expect, who want to peek into the guts of the house. Talk about insulation, or geothermal, or some of these topics that you bring up. I think it’s an education process, and when people find out what’s available, and how affordable a lot of it is, I think the conversation might be started.

Jason:    I know it’ll be a great opportunity for folks to meet myself, and Dave will be working the show as well. We can actually … People can touch and feel what we’ve been talking about.

Dave:    I’ve really learned to give a great analogy that really brings this home in the investments that we make today in energy efficiency, and that’s that when you buy a printer at your home or office, you have two choices. You can buy the inkjet printer or the laser printer. The inkjet printer’s only 50 bucks, but the ink cartridges are 50 dollars apiece, and you need them every 500 pages. The laser printer, it’s 500 dollars, the toner cartridges are 100 dollars, but you get 5,000 pages. I think that’s what happens with these houses. You make the investment up front, and the long term, the cost to operate that house is so much less. You get the comfort along the way.

Jason:    Well said. I think we might wrap it at that. Dave, how can somebody get ahold of you if they want to know more about insulation for their project?

Dave:    Our office number is (502) 266-8868, and of course we’re all over the web at healthyfoam.net.

Jason:    Well thanks again for joining us guys.