This article was originally published in the March/April 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1996


Building Better to Build Business

by Steve Offutt and Tom Rooney

Steve Offutt and Tom Rooney work on residential efficiency programs for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Can homebuilders make more money by spending some extra time on energy efficiency? One builder in Massachusetts has found that constructing houses above the industry standard is both sensible and profitable.

Steve Bonfiglioli of Design Construction displays one of his homes, which has qualified for both a utility-sponsored Energy Crafted Home designation, and EPA's Energy Star Homes program.

Incorporating energy efficiency into his new home construction practices has been a way of business for Steve Bonfiglioli of Design Construction in Massachusetts for almost 20 years. He started building in 1977, using 2 x 6 walls with R-19 insulation and R-30 insulation in the attic. At that time, these practices were far above the industry standard, which allowed him to develop a niche for his business. Since then, Bonfiglioli has fine-tuned all aspects of the efficiency of his homes. He moved to 10-inch thick walls in 1982, and he has gradually incorporated upgrades based on a thorough understanding of the systems approach-better windows, tighter shell, and mechanical ventilation. For me, Bonfiglioli says, it is the only way to build. A good part of the money put into the shell to reduce heating load is saved by putting in a smaller heating plant. The savings on the heating bills then transfer to the home for the life of the house.

This systems approach is a keystone of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Energy Star Homes program, of which Bonfiglioli is a charter partner. The Energy Star Homes program was launched in April 1995. As of December 1995, more than 4,000 homes were committed to the program, and more than 30 builders had signed on as partners. A voluntary program, Energy Star Homes follows on the heels of EPA's successful Green Lights and Energy Star Computers programs. These innovative programs combine the concepts of energy efficiency and profitability by helping to create and support markets for higher efficiency products. Bonfiglioli's homes also qualify for the utility-sponsored Energy Crafted Home (ECH) designation, a complementary regional program that also incorporates the systems approach to building.

The systems approach considers the house as a system from the early stages of design. By decreasing the heating and cooling loads through more efficient windows, better insulation, solar orientation, a tighter shell, and other measures, the builder can save money by using a smaller heating and cooling plant and often shorter, more effective duct runs. The savings in heating and cooling equipment can offset the additional costs of the other efficiency upgrades. For the home buyer, the properly sized equipment results in lower utility bills and a more comfortable home. Most of Bonfiglioli's customers end up paying less than $600 per year for gas heating, water heating, and cooking.

How does Bonfiglioli profit by making investments in the homes' efficiency? By making a commitment from the beginning to build the best, most energy-efficient home, he explains, I have created a stream of business that has stayed steady throughout the years. Most of my jobs come through word-of-mouth references. Typically, these people are second- or third-time home buyers, so they are a little more discerning. By building a reputation for delivering homes with low energy costs and excellent comfort, he has developed a clientele that value these qualities, which has increased the value of his homes-and hence the price. Bonfiglioli builds about four custom homes per year and also works on additions. His new buildings are usually reproduction Colonial-style 3,000-5,000 ft2 houses, and most qualify for the Energy Crafted Home program.

By incorporating his energy savings in a systems approach, Bonfiglioli is able to achieve a higher level of performance at a lower cost. If the same home buyers approach the builder down the street who doesn't build this way, and ask for the things that provide the energy efficiency, that builder will quote a much higher price, because he hasn't developed the practices-such as right-sizing the equipment-that make it cheaper, he says. Their mistake comes in being unwilling to take the time for proper air sealing and insulation. Bonfiglioli spends extra time making sure the details that will affect comfort most are done right.

Bonfiglioli spent an extra $3,000-$4,000 on a 3,100 ft2 home he built recently in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He specified R-60 insulation in the attic and R-39 in the walls. This house will utilize a 4-ton geothermal heat pump for heating and cooling, and it has a heat recovery mechanical ventilation system. Bonfiglioli estimates that the same home built to Massachusetts code would require a 6-ton system or larger, costing over $5,000 more. And, he boasts, the annual heating and cooling costs for this house should be between $350 and $400 per year as compared to around $1,000 for conventionally built homes in the same neighborhood, and the folks living here will be more comfortable. This is the first time Bonfiglioli has put in a geothermal heat pump (he usually installs a high-efficiency gas furnace), taking advantage of a rebate from Massachusetts Electric Company. The utility will also conduct blower door and duct airtightness tests on the home.

Bonfiglioli summarizes his success in this way: Since the beginning, I've set myself a challenge to build energy-efficient houses for the lowest cost. It is a commitment that has been rewarded over the years, both in the business it has attracted and the satisfaction I get in doing things right.

For more information, contact the EPA Energy Star Hotline at (202)775-6650 or Steve Bonfiglioli, Design Construction, 305 Forest St., P.O. Box 12, Bridgewater, MA 02324. Tel:(508)697-2726.


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