Zenergy House, the brainchild of Residential Energy Assessment Services (REAS), was conceived as a living example and educational tool for the average person to learn about and incorporate greener elements into their home environment.
The 2,450-square-foot, one-story home in Studio City, Calif., was originally built in 1950 and includes three bedrooms and three bathrooms. The home was selected for a high-performance retrofit because of its unique architecture and because the home’s size reflects the national average for square footage.
The Zenergy House
home is the first remodel in Los Angeles that combines building science–based energy auditing with environmentally responsible design and construction to create a net-zero energy, healthy, whole-house designer showcase, claims project owner Tammy Schwolsky. “The benefits of a high-performance green home are improved health, safety, comfort, and the ability to protect property values from escalating energy costs.”
Schwolsky lives in the house and will monitor the retrofit over the next few years to collect data on the energy-efficient systems employed. Schwolsky is an energy auditor/HERS rater and a green consultant to builders. She embarked on the project to produce a living lab to demonstrate to builders and consumers the value of high-performance retrofits.
When Schwolsky started the project, she conducted an extensive audit. “The house was very leaky; the ducts were leaky; the HVAC was way oversized; there was no insulation; and there was too much lighting,” she says.
The first rewarding piece of news was that by making the house more energy efficient, the HVAC would be downsized in half. “That’s where you save your money,” she points out.
None of this was surprising to Schwolsky. “Basically in last three years we found that things come up over and over. [The most common] is leakage. We see that homes are leaking many times over what they should be. If you put all the cracks and holes together it’s the same as if you’d left a pretty decent sized window open 24/7.”
Off the bat, she says, the most cost-effective solution is air sealing. “That’s making sure you are caulking and sealing gaps in the attic, so you separate the conditioned space with unconditioned.” She also notes that crawlspaces are also an important area where homeowners lose heating and cooling energy.
Schwolsky notes that the concept of a house as a system is still lost on many consumers. “When they feel something is wrong they call individual contractors. But an energy auditor should be the first step to learn how your house is performing.”
She adds: “With all the testing equipment, we can build homes in a way that will provide great value and long-term durability. You don’t put icing on a rotten cake.”
Schwolsky cites solar incentives as an example of a backward incentive. The payback is longer on solar if the house is not efficient to start with. If homeowners made their homes more energy efficient, they could use the savings to pay for the solar. In Los Angeles, where Schwolsky operates, residents must get an energy audit before they can qualify for financial incentives for solar. “Solar took off; it’s cool,” Schwolsky explains. “But economically, it makes sense to address energy efficiency first.”