Constructing a Better Way of Life

When the modern-day trend to “go green” began years ago, some people speculated that is all it was – a trend, which would pass with time. Today, however, virtually every U.S. industry has jumped on the bandwagon to foster environmental protection and/or energy efficiency in some fashion, which has not only solidified its staying power, but has forced individuals to think critically about the way they live.

The homebuilding industry in particular has made major strides to advance the movement. In fact, over one million homes in the U.S. have been built in accordance with strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the agency’s Energy Star program.

“America has taken to the idea of living with less impact to the environment, which often starts in how we live in our homes,” explains Brian Fleis of Monarch Homes of Brevard, LLC. “The homebuilding industry has always been at the forefront of incorporating changes in consumer demand and improved ways to build. The green trend began as ‘something different’ and became a focus for energy and water savings, which helped change building codes.”

Capron Ridge, A New Standard in Innovation Fleis, an environmental engineer and the son of Edward Fleis, who was the president of JERJEF Construction for 16 years, manages the Satellite Beach company, which touts R-30 insulation, low VOC interior paints and natural gas Energy Star-certified appliances among others as standard features on all new construction.

Currently, Monarch Homes primarily builds in Capron Ridge, a 650-home residential community in Viera gunning to be approved by the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC) as the first green-certified community in Brevard County. The family’s development company, Fleis Group, LLC, also is the developer of Capron Ridge, which is home to a 25-acre Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) sanctuary that protects and conserves the area’s natural habitat.

In order to achieve certification, the developer must meet certain criteria, including the creation of green roadways and pathways, allowing for conservation-focused amenities, and putting forth covenants and deed restrictions encouraging green building practices. “The environmental protection and restoration done to create Capron Ridge greatly enhances a home’s connection to nature, which may be the essence of green building,” explains Fleis.

Solar Solutions

It’s also in Capron Ridge where Lifestyle Homes built its first net-zero energy (model) home as part of the builder’s SunSmart Energy Initiative. “SunSmart is a new approach to energy-efficient building,” says Larry Hufford, who co-founded the West Melbourne company in 1984. “Current building codes require that new homes are more energy efficient than homes built just a few years ago. A SunSmart home goes well beyond the current building codes and does so in a cost-effective manner, saving about 40 percent of the energy used in a similar-sized home built according to the new codes.”

“This is an integrated building approach where all the key energy-saving components, building techniques and designs work together,” adds Hufford. Specifically, an 80-gallon solar-powered hot water heater; solar-powered attic ventilation fans; and pressure-tested, certified-tight air ducts are just a few of the standard features.

Buyers of a SunSmartPV home are spared costly month-to-month electric bills, as each home also is built with a photovoltaic (PV) generating system that, simply put, turns sunlight into electricity. Using roof-mounted PV panels, sunlight captured during bright months will produce a surplus of electricity, resulting in a credit with the homeowner’s utility company that can be used during months when the sun isn’t shining. According to the builder, over a year’s time, a homeowner’s electric bill is reduced to net zero, or close to it.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is backing the growth of net-zero energy homes, and Lifestyle Homes is the first builder in Brevard County to meet the net-zero energy criteria of the DOE’s Builders Challenge, a program that aims for a presence of these homes across the U.S. by 2030.

Lifestyle Homes’ SunSmart initiative was developed in partnership with the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) in Cocoa. The builder’s only restriction when working with the FSEC in the design phase of the project was that each component of the system be cost effective. The initiative involves extra field testing to confirm performance, as well.

The promise and benefits of a SunSmart home are so great that Lifestyle Homes was recently tapped to build a net-zero energy home for “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” which aired on February 13 on ABC. The Canaveral Groves home, which was constructed in January in one week by hundreds of volunteers, is truly a historic local landmark as it is the first occupied net-zero energy home on the Space Coast and one of only a handful of net-zero energy homes in the nation.

Incentives & Programs

Tax breaks and incentive programs also have helped fuel the boom in green homebuilding. Currently, the federal government allows an uncapped 30 percent federal tax credit on qualified energy equipment alternatives, such as solar-energy systems, through 2016. A 10 percent federal tax credit with an overall cap of $500 also is available for various energy-efficient improvements and installations that meet certain requirements.

In addition, the EPA and the DOE have set strict guidelines for various products and homes to receive Energy Star certification. Specifically, certification requires that each home be 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC) and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes.

One builder contributing to the increase in the number of Energy Star-certified homes in Brevard County is Joyal Construction, a family-owned company with over 50 years of experience. Since 1996, the builder has constructed over 250 homes that meet the EPA’s requirements. “Joyal Construction was one of the first participants of the Energy Star program in the state of Florida,” says Bob Wille, vice president of Joyal Construction. “A certified home offers many long-term benefits, including improved comfort, more durability, improved air quality, better resale value, as well as lower energy costs.”

LEED-ing the Way

Joyal Construction also is putting the finishing touches on a LEED-certified home, according to Wille. LEED, a program that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is a third-party green building certification system for residential and commercial construction.

“LEED sets high standards for the use of green technologies to build homes and businesses, where energy efficiency, green product manufacturing techniques and local ecological impact is considered in the overall house plan,” explains Mike Nichols, co-owner of Hurricane Product Warehouse (HPW), who worked with Joyal Construction to provide energy-efficient (impact-rated) windows and doors for the Merritt Island home.

Illustrating the high standards set by the LEED program, HPW had to ensure that each window or glass door met or exceeded a certain insulating (U-factor) value, met an established solar heat gain coefficient and, as the home was a fortified home, met or exceeded extreme impact standards for storm protection. Potentially, the homeowner can save up to 25 percent on electricity costs.

It’s these types of savings that are resonating with homeowners and putting an end to homebuilders’ struggle to convince potential homebuyers that the upfront financial costs will provide a positive return on their investment. “Builders have refined their palate of green choices, making better returns and making sense for today, and appraisals seem to be catching up,” explains Fleis, who adds that the energy-saving features of Monarch Homes should offset the initial investment costs within the first five years of home ownership. “I think green will simply be the standard for new construction, hopefully when it has proven financial sense.”

What Makes a Home “Green?”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these are the components of green building:

  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Water efficiency
  • Environmentally preferable building materials and specifications
  • Waste reductions
  • Toxins reductions
  • Indoor air quality
  • Smart growth and sustainable development