blower door test
For remodeler Mark Brick, one of the most challenging parts of green remodeling was convincing clients they could “go green” and still be practical.
So Brick, president of B&E General Contractors in Glendale, Wis., decided he needed to show clients what could be done with a model green home.
“They can remodel green and it doesn’t have to take them 10 years to get a return,” Brick says. “I’m showing a return instantly, just on the savings on the electric and gas bill.”
When Brick bought the 1950s home, gas and electric topped $200 a month; now it’s averaging $87 a month in utilities, despite the addition of another 900 square feet of living space.
The project has already paid off as a model home and has garnered publicity from the local media. Brick shows the home by appointment and has also used it for weekend events and during the local tour of remodeled homes. B&E has signed at least two new clients that toured the home. He's also created a website for the project.
Brick had several offers on the home even before it was completed, and has accepted a offer with the new owner moving in in August. Even after that, Brick’s contract with the buyer allows him to show the home 25 more times through the end of the year.
In the home, Brick breaks down the costs of every green upgrade to show potential clients exactly what certain changes will run them. The idea is to make it easy for homeowners to make a decision on including green elements in their remodel. Focus on Energy, a Wisconsin utility company program that promotes energy efficiency, told Brick he was the first remodeler to use their program specifically to demonstrate green features like this.
When deciding what to include in the house, Brick tried to focus on items that provided a return, either in the form of rebates and tax incentives or immediate energy cost savings.
“I was weighing the dollar value to see if it made sense,” he says. “I did not go hog wild — I did not do geothermal, didn’t do photovoltaic on the roofs.”
The project does include all new energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting throughout the home, water-efficient fixtures and toilets and soy-based, closed-cell spray foam insulation. The home has new fiber cement siding, new windows and doors, and a new HVAC system. B&E also put in new landscaping and grading outside the home to conserve water. Most of the products were sourced from within 300 miles of the home’s Mequon, Wis., location.
“I also decided to put in some nice amenities, like a digital shower system,” Brick says. “Why did I decide to put that in? To let people know that, yes, you can be green and efficient and still have some of the items that you really wanted.”
When choosing the home, Brick was looking for one that had potential for big changes. That was what attracted him to the 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom home. The home is located only a quarter-mile from one of the best high schools in the state, in an attractive, established neighborhood.
“I bought the home at the bottom end of the neighborhood versus the top end, knowing that I was going to be doing a lot of significant things,” Brick says.
The new master suite, expanded living room and other additions increased the size of the home to about 2,500 square feet.
All told, Brick estimates the remodel would have cost a client $150,000 to do. The sale price easily covered the cost of the remodel, even without considering the marketing benefits B&E is garnering.
“It was definitely a good value proposition,” Brick says. “I’m really excited about the product. I can’t wait to do it again.”
Just as important as the monetary benefits of the project was the chance to become better educated about the world of energy audits, rebates and incentives.
Brick worked with an energy consultant, Tom Krawczyk of TH Energy Consultants, to do a blower door test and other audits of the home.
“I assisted him in several home audits so I could understand and see for myself where the leakage in homes was coming from,” Brick says.
The project also gave Brick valuable experience working with various incentive programs to learn more about the process, experience he can pass on to his clients to make their remodels easier — and more affordable.
“Before this project, I was not able to initially answer questions from potential clients of where they could get a return from the state, the federal government, or whoever their utility companies were,” he says.
By the time the project was done, he had saved about $5,000 on the project from manufacturer rebates, utility company incentives and government tax credits.
“Now I know from doing this first hand for myself, being the guinea pig,” Brick says. “Now I can answer a lot of questions that I couldn’t even come close to answering.”