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Home Performance Major Focus of Construction Firm

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Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 5:32 pm

Newman Construction Company in Washington has been in business since 1989 building homes, remodeling, siding, decks, retaining walls, finished basements and providing many other construction services.

“But, over the last few years, home performance has become an important part of our business,” said owner Jeff Newman. “We have changed our name to Newman Construction & Energy Corp. to better reflect our commitment to quality home building and remodeling.”

Energy costs have become the second largest expense for many homeowners following their mortgage, Newman noted. Ameren alone has increased rates by over 40 percent in recent years, he said.

In 2008, Newman began learning about solar design and installation.

“But, dollar for dollar, maximizing the efficiency of the structure provides a much higher return on investment than adding solar panels,” he said. “There was a lot of discussion about building science during this training, and I realized that it’s common building practices that are usually the reason for high utility costs.”

Newman said these building practices have a big impact on the occupants’ comfort level as well as energy costs.

“As builders, based on several years of experience, we know how to build strong, sturdy homes and add all the pretty bells and whistles the homeowner wants. But even the most conscientious builders are rarely trained in building science,” he said. “We are never taught what causes a home to perform in a way that provides maximum comfort, efficiency and durability, as well as provide a healthy indoor environment.”

In 2009, Newman became certified as a Resnet HERS Rater (Home Energy Rating System). This involved energy modeling software primarily for use with new homes.

“It helped me to understand the kind of upgrades that are actually meaningful and also, how the most common installation practices often cancel out the effectiveness of the product,” he said. “The certification allowed us to qualify homes for government programs and advise other builders on steps that can be taken to improve efficiency, which then qualifies the builder or homeowner for tax credits for building a more efficient home or building.”

In 2010, Newman achieved certification as a BPI Building Analyst and BPI Envelope Professional.

“This included more building science training in regard to the testing of existing homes and learning to locate efficiency and comfort issues,” he said. “I am also certified and registered with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as an energy professional. This is important to the homeowner because an energy audit and many improvements are tax deductible if recommended by a certified auditor registered with the DNR.”

Newman said people usually just want to know the most cost effective way to lower their energy bills.

“But there is not a standard answer. Even identical homes will have vastly different issues,” he noted. “Heat losses through walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors can be calculated mathematically as well as the extent and cost of air leakage. The most cost-effective solutions can only be determined through testing.”

Complaints that their home feels drafty or clammy, or feeling cold even though their furnace runs all the time, allergies, or frequent headaches, dry indoor air, or excessive condensation are common, Newman said. Maybe one part of the house or one floor is colder than another, he said.

“It is not just a matter of warm air rises,” he said. “These are building flaws and improvements can be made.

“In an effort to help, a window salesman will sell you windows. Or, the HVAC contractor might suggest a new furnace or air conditioner. But making these improvements might not fix the problem,” he said. “Each trade is giving their best advice based on their own area of expertise. But in the end, without testing and locating the real issues, a homeowner can spend a lot of money before actually fixing the problem.”

The difference with his company, Newman said, “is that we don’t make assumptions about the problems.”

His company looks at the whole house as a system.

“Through the use of diagnostic equipment we test and measure the severity and location of air leakage with a blower door, or use an infrared camera to locate missing or ineffective insulation,” he explained. “We test the efficiency of the furnace and water heater, the fit and efficiency of windows and doors, as well as several other tests. At the end of all the testing we have a good understanding of what is going on in the home.”

A sample energy audit report can be viewed at newman-construction.com.

“As the general contractor for a new home or remodeling project, the testing, heat loss calculations, and return on investment estimates are included services as part of the job. It’s up to the owner whether they want to implement the upgrades or not,” Newman said. “But, we can give them facts to base their decisions on. Folks want to spend their money wisely. They want to know if an upgrade is a wise investment or money wasted.

“We’ll calculate the energy losses based on the existing product or assembly versus that of an upgrade,” he said. “Then, determine the cost of the upgrade; calculate the return on investment, and the time it will take to recoup the additional cost based on the energy savings. The homeowner now has good information on whether this upgrade is cost effective or not.”

In 2012, Newman earned certification as a Certified Passive House Consultant and Builder. A home built or remodeled to Passive House standards reduces heating and cooling costs by 90-95 percent and total energy consumption by 70-80 percent.

The Passive House standard is recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Energy as the most logical and cost-effective path to a Net-Zero building.

Newman Construction and Energy Corp. can be reached at 636-239-0112 or www.newman-construction.com.

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