Home Performance and Pretty? Can I Have Both? Quickly?

Have you ever “day dreamed” or fantasized, “What if life circumstances changed & you re-located across the country and got to choose a new place to live?” I know that if you’re reading this blog, you’re at least somewhat of a Home Performance Geek like me. And I know that only a few of us in this industry actually live in our “Home Performance Dream Home”…. So a little day dreaming and “What If?” thinking is in order for most of us.

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Pretty, You Bet! Home Performance? Not So Much.

A couple months ago this Home Performance Day Dream began to come true for me. Son in Law got a job inPurcellville Virginia, so Luelle and I are “following the grandbabies” 3000 miles across the country into a whole new Climate Zone.

At first it was easy, I found a realtor who found a lot that borders on Open Space. That, plus all the “Energy Options” was all I wanted in our new home …. I’ll let my wife pick everything else and the production builder promised to be done in 120 days, maybe less. Sound pretty normal for an Energy Geek Guy?

Then I ran into the reality that maybe “Production Building” and “Home Performance” may not go together too well…

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The builder’s website reveals “Last Century” framing details. 2×4 @ 16″ OC, double top plate, bulky corners. It would be so easy to do so much better, from a Home Performance point of view.

The builder has won design awards and offers a lot of pretty house for the money. My wife was sold, and I was going along… until the construction details started being revealed. The standard home was being built to the same standards that I used in 1980. 2×4 walls with no rigid insulation, R-30 ceilings, No sealing of shell or ducts, no treatment of band joists, not even all dual pane windows, Ouch! I could see that I was headed for an identity crisis.

Obviously if I want my perfect Home Performance Dream House, I’ll have to build it myself, And that’s probably what will happen over the next couple of years. But I want to move into something in 120 days. So I’m considering my options and asking for as much Home Performance as I can get from the production builder. They were adamant, no 2×6’s. Rigid Insulation, They are thinking about it. I guess no one’s ever asked for it before.

The way I see it, there are 3 areas of Energy improvement that can be done to a pretty production home:

1. The items the production builder will allow you to upgrade and pay extra for

2. The things that you or someone you hire can do on nights and weekends, additional sealing etc.

3. The things you just have to change after you move in.

So that’s where I am, negotiating for as much of #1 as I can get. And then as much of # 2 as they will allow. And wondering if I have a “breaking point” An amount of last century’s building standards that I just cant live with and still be me.

Have you ever been in this place before? Please Comment. Any tips on negotiating with a production builder who has systems in place that are working for him….?   I’ll let you know how this develops.

PS I found this Top 10 List of ways to improve a new house by Martin Holladay.   Would you agree?   What would you add?

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  1. Sam Bagwell

    I haven’t been in that situation before, but I know from being a builder that you probably can’t do #2 until you close on the house. I don’t know if you are locked into that builder because of the lot, but I would get another builder. There are now many builders in almost every area than build green houses. Even if it is not certified (such as Energy Star), you need to at least get the air barrier and insulation done properly.

  2. daverobinson

    Thanks Sam. I think you’re right and I’ve started the search. It seems like the people back there (Virginia) are just not as motivated because of their cheap power and relatively milder (than Maine) weather. The good builders listed with high buyer satisfaction on JD Powers dont build locally. The ones that do have a horrible rating and tons of BBB complaints. I’m building my Top 10 list and will see if the builder will go for most of it. I’m going to post on that soon, but I agree with your top 2… insulation and air barrier. They use House Wrap so I think if I could get them to seal it right, add an inch of foam and foam the rim areas and seal the attic drywall and the floor…. It wouldn’t be too bad. We’ll see.

  3. Graham Wright

    If I had a chance to build new I would go for Passive House. There are a couple of consultants out that way. David Peabody is an architect who was in my P/H class, and Adam Cohen has a design/build firm out of Roanoke. They are going to get where you are coming from.

    Adam Cohen
    Structures Design/Build, LLC

    Peabody Architects
    P.O. Box 2550, Alexandria, VA 22301

  4. Sundong

    Without the dishwasher is fine. Anybody can wash dishes by hand and air dry them. But, without a clothes dryer is tough because no one wants to wear crunchy clothes. I would suggest to hang the clothes and let it air dry for 80-90%. Then toss them in the dryer to dry the remaining 10-20% to remove the crunchyness and wrinkles. Therefore, the clothes dryer is still necessary.


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