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2010-04-14 / Front Page

Going for zero

Locals try to build Virginia’s most energy efficient home
By Katherine Houstoun
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Builder Mark Waring (from left), Diane Lewis and her husband, Randy Thomas, broke ground on what they hope will become the state’s first zero-energy home last week. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Builder Mark Waring (from left), Diane Lewis and her husband, Randy Thomas, broke ground on what they hope will become the state’s first zero-energy home last week. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Some people embrace sustainable living by making small changes like switching to energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. Others, like Diane Lewis and Randy Thomas, are a bit more ambitious. The couple is attempting to build a zero-energy home – a feat that has yet to be achieved in Virginia – in Chesterfield’s Stone Harbor neighborhood.

“A zero-energy home would mean that all of the energy that is used in the home in a year’s time is offset by the energy produced by the home,” explains Lewis, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. Home energy ratings are determined using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index, established by the Residential Energy Services Network. The index runs from zero to 100, with a net-zero energy home having a score of 0.

A rendering of the zero-energy home being built by Diane Lewis and Randy Thomas Photo courtesy of Diane Lewis A rendering of the zero-energy home being built by Diane Lewis and Randy Thomas Photo courtesy of Diane Lewis The couple has been working with Mark Waring of Bain-Waring Builders and Earth- Craft Homes, a green building program that serves as a blueprint for environmentally-friendly homes, to make their dream a reality. While Waring has been building high-performance homes for 20 years – his company was the first in the state to be EarthCraft-certified – this is his most ambitious project to date.

“A zero-energy home is pretty uncommon,” he says. “Nationwide, I’d guess there are 10 or 15 projects that were done that truly are zero energy.”

Of the 531 EarthCraft-certified homes across the state, the lowest HERS rating belongs to a Prince George home with an index of 21. “This is above and beyond,” says K.C. McGurren, the executive director of EarthCraft Virginia.

The house’s energy efficiency begins with its structural design. The shell of the house will be made extra tight with dense sprayed cellulose insulation and outside protective sheathing, as well as a conditioned crawl space that prevents air and moisture from creeping inside the house. The home will also feature low-emissivity windows, low-VOC paints, tankless water heaters, dual-flush toilets, lowflow showerheads, EnergyStar appliances, a geothermal furnace and photovoltaic solar panels, which will link into the local power grid.

“On sunny days, the electric meter will turn in the opposite direction, hopefully, and we will be sending electricity to Dominion Power,” says Lewis. While she and her husband anticipate saving money on utilities down the road, they are paying more upfront for their energy-efficient home.

“The basic high-performance home usually runs about $2 to $3 a square foot more [than a traditionally built home],” says Waring. “On top of that, the [geothermal and solar] systems that we’re adding are going to add about $45,000 to $50,000,” though the couple has taken advantage of state and federal tax credits to offset some of those costs.

Lewis and Thomas broke ground on the property last week and believe the added expense is worth it. “We want to show it can be done,” says Lewis. “There is a lot of talk about the role of generativity in aging, and this is probably an expression of that, as both an example for others to follow and as a ‘gift’ to our future.”

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