Home performance can now have one of dozens of labels attached to it, or it can actually perform above expectations and beyond certification level.

And that’s exactly what the reNEWable Living Home intends to do. CR Herro, vice president, environmental affairs at Meritage Homes, never stops imaging the future. His passion for better home performance is driving the 2018 BUILDER Concept Home.

When planning the reNEWable Living Home, Herro and his team worked on six target areas, that you can also see on this downloadable infographic, showing these six target areas and other high performance upgrades from the project.

1. Better Thermal Envelope

The thermal envelope of any home has five essential components: doors, roof, slab, walls and windows. Each one has to be treated with care and attention to get a tight seal from outside elements and to regulate temperature and air exchanges to ultimately maintain a comfortable living environment.

First, the windows have to be low E with thermal breaks. They need to be sealed well so that they don’t allow movement back and forth. Energy can only move in three ways – convection, conduction, radiation. Convection is energy loss and gain from leaky parts of the house. It’s important that the windows have minimal air gaps. With the new wall system that the reNEWable Living Home uses, with composite concrete walls, it’s a much tighter built, with precision cuts for the windows. Finally, radiation is the most significant but least controlled. And the low E coatings on the glaze will retain heat in the winter and reflect heat in the summer.

Then there are the walls. In the case of the reNEWable Living Home, Meritage Homes is trying something that has never been done before in a Meritage house – HercuWall, a composite concrete panelized wall. The 36 airtight walls for this project were manufactured in a factory, with a higher level of precision and quality.

“This wall will eventually replace what we are doing now because it’s a superior form of construction,” says Herro.

Another obvious opening to the envelope is the doors. Doors have to be insulated, air tight, and re-establish a strong air seal after opening to manage uncontrolled energy loss, especially in climates like the Orlando market where the reNEWable Living Home is located.

These well performing areas of the reNEWable Living Home are supported by an insulated slab. For this home, insulation was added below the slab to eliminate exposure to the heat or cold of the ground. And, as an added benefit, this type of slab is also stronger. This process and the benefits from an insulated slab are explored here.

The higher performing envelope is topped off with attic insulation. Herro chose polyurethane to create a better air seal and to prevent the heat from the surface of the roof from penetrating the attic, instead of being loose and on the ceiling. This type of insulation “renews” the home with more comfort not only because it reduces the heat load, but it also seals the home from bugs and dust.

2. Better Appliances

The right appliances are a great way to please the home buyer because of convenience features, but also because they offer energy savings between 30 and 50%. Plus, it’s easy for a builder and, more importantly the home buyer, to understand because it’s quantified through programs like Energy Star, so it’s an easy entry to cost savings.

“These certifications are emblematic of the future,” Herro says. “Energy Star is an example of the right way to do energy efficiency, because all Energy Star appliances work as well as conventional appliances, but also offer the benefits of energy efficacy. It delivers a better overall product.”

3. Water Savings

With the reNEWable Living Home, the focus of water savings will meet US EPA criteria, which is a holistic approach to include all water usage at the home – from appliances to fixtures and irrigation. This home will exceed expectations and go beyond the basic water savings of even a LEED certified home, achieving an entire suite of best practices established by the EPA.

As another layer of water savings, Meritage is reducing the use of hot water as an often overlooked way to reduce overall operating costs. There are three main benefits from reducing hot water. First, reducing hot water use reduces waste so the home owner isn’t dumping money down the drain. Second, the lower water use, means a lower water bill. Third, reducing the water bill also reduces the sewer bill. So, hot water efficiency is a triple saver from energy, water and disposal.

The home also has smart, energy efficient appliances and faucets that will manage the hot water flow and reduce the use, plus a graywater system that recycles shower water to flush the toilets, which is one of the largest uses of water in the home.

4. Behavioral/Automation

The evolution of energy efficiency in the home is keeping pace with the rapid advancement of home technology. Programmable thermostats and light switches now can allow homeowners to choose how the home consumes energy. Smart thermostats and appliances have the intelligence to not run when the home isn’t occupied to save energy.

“One of the challenges of achieving reductions in waste has been how complicated it has been to program a thermostat or to use a manual to get the functionality to work,” Herro says. “With the evolution in automation, it’s becoming so simple that everyone can get the benefit from it.”

And, recently the automated components are becoming more intelligent, so that they can now anticipate behavior and work automatically. Plus, the added ability of voice commands makes operating them more convenient and leads to more energy savings.

5.      Renewable energy

The reNEWable Living Home was built with solar roof tiles that feed into a battery. Herro says that the renewable energy can be the easiest, and, at the same time, the most complex to capture. He suggests thinking about these three rules to select renewable product options:

  1. Reduce – do everything you can to reduce waste. Always reduce before you renew – once that is accomplished, solar energy offers a very cost effective addition all the way to zero.
  2. Renew – Choose an appropriate renewable energy source. Any credible renewable energy program should be able to demonstrate that the cost of it in the mortgage is less than the value that it adds.
  3. Keep functionality in mind. A renewable source should not compromise the buyer’s lifestyle or behavior. Plus, the cost versus benefit has to be in check. Renewable energy, like the roof tiles in this home, have no removable parts, so they produce more benefit than they are displacing costs.

The complexity of renewable energy also comes from the fact that it comes from the sun, which is only available to produce energy at certain times of the day. But, energy is consumed after the sun goes down, and after solar energy is being produced. In the reNEWable Living Home, a battery will store the energy without any compromise to the energy that is being saved.  
6. Cohabitation Synergy

The final energy performance guide for the reNEWable Living Home is unexpected and it’s about who, or how many people, live there. The energy savings and cost savings are the most important criteria for a multigenerational home buyer. The more people in the home, the lower the square foot per person for all of the energy use.

“A normal extended family would live in three homes with separate maintenance costs and separate energy demands,” Herro says. “Simply by combining three houses into one, you get synergies. But beyond that there is the synergy of the family unit and support, that truly allow people to have an enhanced lifestyle through their human interaction instead of electronics. They don’t have to send messages, you have face to face human interaction. There is more carpooling, the dishwasher is full when you run it, and meals can be prepared in bulk.”

These best practices from the reNEWable Living Home and more will be tracked at www.builderonline.com/renewable and program results will be published in January 2018.