Under construction in the Nevada desert, the New American Home will show off a range of sustainable building products, including a weather-sensitive irrigation system, tankless water heaters, hydronic air handlers, and intelligent fireplaces.
Under construction in the Nevada desert, the New American Home will show off a range of sustainable building products, including a weather-sensitive irrigation system, tankless water heaters, hydronic air handlers, and intelligent fireplaces.

With energy-saving technology including solar hot water, PV panels, and closed-cell spray foam insulation, the New American Home 2014 is expected to achieve the highest level of certification from the National Green Building Standard (NGBS). Other anticipated certifications include Energy Star, DOE Challenge Home, EPA Indoor airPLUS, DOE Build America, Southern Nevada Green Building Partnership, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority Water Smart Home program. BUILDER talks with Drew Smith, the green rater for the New American Home, on the opportunities and challenges of certifying the sprawling high-performance project. Smith is president and owner of Two Trails Green Building Consulting in Sarasota, Fla.

What is your role with the New American Home?
Two Trails is the green building consultant for the project as well as the energy rater, LEED for Homes green rater, and the NGBS Home Innovation Research Labs green rater. What this means is that we are the third-party verifier for each of the certifying agencies. We determine if the builder has achieved the goals he set out to during the planning stage. We inspect the project to make sure that subcontractors apply the proper building techniques and that the correct materials are used in accordance with each of the certifications the home is trying to achieve.

Two Trails president Drew Smith
Two Trails president Drew Smith

Why is an energy consultant important to the success of the project?
An energy consultant is able to assist with the design of the home by using energy modeling to help determine the proper overhangs, window sizes, and all other energy-related components prior to the completion of the design. This allows for much more energy efficiency features being designed into the project at very little to no additional costs. Being involved early on in the planning process helps us to maximize our contribution. Think of it as if you were making a meal: If you skip a spice or two it will taste OK, but if you forget a main ingredient, the dish is not recoverable. The same thing happens when you are planning for energy efficiency: As any good cook knows, there are endless possibilities for achieving the end result. The same is true for energy efficiency.

We can take a project beyond specifications many times by applying our knowledge of technologies and building science to the unique situation. We are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiencies through technological advancements or through proper installation, maintenance, and operation of systems within the residential environment.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the New American Home in its quest for NGBS certification?
The home is targeted to receive Emerald level NGBS certification. That in itself is a challenge due to the required stringency at that level. It demands a great deal of paperwork and follow up to be sure all targeted points are achieved.

To achieve certification everybody must have the same goal; that means educating suppliers and subcontractors as to the specific techniques that need to be followed during the building process. Education is the key because the building science behind home construction essentially has remained solid, but new technologies call for changing how materials are applied and how home builders plan for incorporating new building sciences to a project.

New technologies now exist to make a home a high-performance home, a home that saves money, while providing a healthier indoor environment for everybody who lives and visits that home.

Can such a large house be energy efficient, too?
Absolutely.  It’s all about using the right products and advanced planning to reduce the carbon footprint by making the home efficient. This allows a large home to become much more effective in how it uses natural resources than a smaller home that does not apply the correct techniques. It really is about moving forward and seeing that the home building industry is changing along with new technologies and new manufacturing techniques being applied to the building blocks of home building.

How does an energy consultant work with the construction team to ensure best practices are followed?
An energy consultant is the go-to guy for all materials selections relating to the energy efficiency of the home. The energy consultant is also involved in weekly phone calls as well as site visits to ensure all practices are being followed. We are the experts that help to make sure the entire team understands their individual goals to meeting the requirements for achieving a certification. But the key is our experience in the construction industry. We know how to build because we came from that field. We understand the building process and have hands-on knowledge.

Just as important, we know how to make a project not only energy efficient but overall green. Energy efficiency is only one aspect of achieving the NGBS certification. All aspects of the build process and systems inside the home and outside need to work together to create a healthy, efficient, and sustainable home environment.