New Home a Model of Energy Efficiency

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Tompkins Weekly – March 1, 2010
By Carol Eichler

711-Hancock-SIPs-roof-going-up-12-01-09Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, already noted for building new LEED certified – and affordable homes, is taking energy efficiency to the next level with its latest new home under construction at 711 Hancock Street, in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. This home is being constructed using SIPs, Structural Insulated Panels. Think of a structural insulated panel as a gigantic “ice cream sandwich.” The panels are formed using foam insulation placed between rigid materials such as particle board or plywood cut to design-specific dimensions. These panels form the walls and roof of the house. Because the SIPs panels are prefabricated, it allows for the above ground structure of a house to go up in a matter of hours, resembling an old-fashioned barn-raising, with the assistance of a crane to lift the panels into place.

A SIPs home offers certain advantages – it goes up quickly, saves labor costs, and minimizes use of materials and waste products. However its greatest advantage is its energy efficiency. SIP structures provide superior thermal performance, which will last the life span of the building. Due to the solid core of insulation throughout the structure, the building is heated evenly and free from cold spots. Compared to a home built to existing energy code, the energy saving measures translate to a 50% or more reduction in utility bills. Precisely how much energy savings can be realized is a question INHS intends to find out.

Taitem Engineering has been contracted to monitor and compare the energy use of this house with another INHS house of similar size and design that was built using more conventional energy efficient methods. While it will cost slightly more to build the SIPs home, the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (or NYSDERDA) awarded a grant to this project, one of four statewide as part of its High Performance Residential Challenge, to help offset the additional expense. INHS wants to determine whether the additional costs can be justified. Will building with SIPs be cost effective?

This 1,300 square foot home has incorporated many other energy saving features such as triple pane low-e rated windows, Energy Star appliances, low-water use plumbing fixtures and faucets, and compact fluorescent lighting. The home is heated with a 95% energy efficient natural gas boiler which incorporates an on-demand water heater. This home was planned to include many other “green” features as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council under its LEED-certification point system. Most notable among these considerations are the home’s proximity to community resources, the use of sustainable and recycled building materials, and the incorporation of native plants in the landscaping. From INHS’ preliminary calculations this home will likely be LEED-certified at the highest Platinum level.

Construction on the Hancock Street house is well underway with completion anticipated sometime this spring. At that time INHS will place the home on the market to be sold to a first-time homebuyer of low income. 711 Hancock Street will make a wonderful home for some deserving family – a home that embodies energy efficiency and long-term sustainability – and long-term affordability too. 711 will certainly be someone’s lucky number.

Carol Eichler is Director of Community Relations at Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services.

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