Bringing more standardization and more predictability in terms of energy efficiency to an industry that she described as “decentralized and human” has been a driver for the past four years for Jennifer Banner and the team that comprises the ZEBRAlliance.
Almost four years ago – September 26, 2008, Banner and her partners officially launched a research and multi-faceted educational initiative focused on proving to consumers that energy-efficient homes can be “real, desirable and affordable.” The launch included groundbreaking for four traditional single-family homes in the Crossroads at Wolf Creek Subdivision in Oak Ridge.
“We were pioneers when we started this, and we still are,” said Banner, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Schaad Companies. The family-owned company joined with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), BarberMcMurry Architects, U. S. Department of Energy (DOE), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and a number of nationally-known companies to launch the ZEBRAlliance.
During the interview with teknovation.biz, Banner compared the merits of the Energy Star and Builders Challenge, two building programs sponsored by the U. S. Department of Energy. She spoke of an industry rating for HVAC systems called “air changes per hour (ACH)” and described what Schaad Companies has done to lower the number in its 100-year old headquarters at Knollwood Manor on top of Bearden Hill in West Knoxville. Structures that are drafty require the building’s HVAC system to reheat or re-cool large quantities of incoming new air on a continuous basis, which causes utility bills to rise.
“We have attempted to limit the draftiness of our pre-civil war headquarters, using our own building as a laboratory for learning how to make improvements,” she says. “We’ve done everything we can do.”
It’s clear, however, that she will do more as new methods and technologies evolve.
Banner also is fully conversant and more than a little passionate about everything from significantly increasing standardization in stick-built houses through the use of structurally insulated panels (SIPs) and optimizing wood framing to minimize thermal breaks, to properly sizing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units.
She believes that greater use of SIP panels will allow the construction of significantly improved energy-efficient homes that are “aesthetically the same on the outside, but produce superior results for energy efficiency inside. SIP panels tend to produce houses that are very quiet because of the air tightness achieved, something that also typically results in less tonnage of HVAC required and lower utility costs.”
Banner says that anyone wanting to understand the impact of SIP panels has to go no further than the ZEBRAlliance’s House 1 in the Crossroads development. Its ACH rating is less than one, an accomplishment that Banner characterizes as a “game changer for energy efficiency and lower utility bills.”
“There is a correct size (of HVAC) for each home,” she says, while adding that, “ if homes are equipped with larger than necessary units, the cost tends to go up, the energy usage tends to go up, the utility bills then go up, and oversized HVAC units are notorious for causing moisture issues such as mold and excessively high interior humidity.”
Information about the ZEBRAlliance homes can be found at http://www.zebralliance.com/.
For Banner, the four-year journey has clearly been valuable for her personally and for Schaad Companies.
“We have changed construction methods, techniques and materials,” she says. This includes “making houses much tighter through a variety of methods.” Schaad Companies is also using techniques and materials such as optimal value framing, incorporating radiant barriers, using zip panels, and pressure balancing each room in its houses.
“We want to be Energy Star and Builders Challenge certified,” Banner says and proudly notes that Schaad Companies was the first in East Tennessee to complete a home that met the more rigorous Builders Challenge standard. That was in 2009.
Today, Schaad Companies builds nothing but certified energy efficient homes in a variety of locations, including the Inverness and Sheffield subdivisions in Farragut, Kensington in West Knoxville, and in several surrounding counties.
Perhaps the most significant example of Schaad Companies’ commitment to the ZEBRAlliance is its willingness to extend the date when it will sell the Oak Ridge research homes. The deadline has been extended until February 2013.
For Banner and for Schaad Companies, it has been a worthwhile journey.
“Everything we do in home construction has been made better,” she says. For the consumer looking for value and energy-efficiency, that’s a plus.