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Lorry Pence of United Builder, Inc. (left) speaks about methods of caulking for energy efficiency with Dana Smith, Director of Member and Public Relations at Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative in Auburn.

When building a dream home many homeowners know the special aesthetic and comfort features they want to include. But one thing many homeowners don't consider up front is how important it is to build a really energy efficient home. Energy efficiency features are often hidden from view and hard to inspect. You should never assume a new home will automatically have low utility bills.

It is a safe bet that electricity and gas will continue to increase in price in the future. Investing in energy efficiency now will pay dividends every month for as long as you own your new home.

"People in the past didn't have to think of energy efficiency," says Bob Dickey, Manager of Marketing and Economic Development for Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative (EIEC) in Paxton. "Energy was cheap. We've looked at aesthetics without thinking about the potential long-term


This home in Taylorville, built by United Builders, Inc., has been built to seal out any air leaks and when the cellulose insulation is applied and the windows installed, it should be air tight, energy efficient, and easy to heat with its geothermal heating and cooling system.

cost. We assumed energy would always be cheap. And it will always be there, but at what cost? As the demand is increasing and the supply is not, the prices will go up. This is not a short-term problem. It's not going to go away. Many of the homes that are being built now are huge and I can't imagine paying the bills in the future."

Dickey is one of the authors of "Building the home of your dreams: Certified Comfort Home." The booklet was designed by the Illinois electric cooperatives as an easy-to-understand energy efficiency guide to building a new home or remodeling an existing home.

Dickey says, "It is important that homeowners understand what it means to build an energy efficient home. That's why we're using the 'Certified Comfort Home' booklet. And it is not just for the new homeowner. We believe that building contractors need to incorporate these concepts also." Dickey urges homeowners to be involved in the construction of their homes and make sure their building contractor is building not just a good, sturdy house, but an energy efficient one as well.

One way for builders in Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative's area to stay informed on energy efficient practices is by attending one of the co-op's annual education dinners. Larry Pence of United Builders Inc. is a big fan of the co-op dinners and attends as many as he can. "Some time ago I had a customer I was speaking to about a house and he asked if I had seen the co-op's model home in Chatham. I started these energy efficient methods after visiting the home. I've had really good luck since then. Some of my guys would say, we don't need to do this or that, and it's hard to convince them to change, but it's really paid off. There is a big difference in the homes we build now," says Pence.

Using the "Certified Comfort Home" techniques, the homes are more comfortable and have lower heating, cooling and hot water heating bills. Even homeowners who plan to live in the home only a few years can really benefit through increased home resale value.

Dickey says, "For every dollar you decrease your energy bill, you'll get an additional $11 back at the time of sale. That's the low end. The high end is $22 per dollar saved in energy costs."

In many cases, homeowners have two choices. They can pay a little more now for an upgraded heating system, more insulation and extensive building sealing methods. Or they can pay even more later in higher energy bills each month.


Certified Energy Rater Tim Frick, Marketing Representative at Eastern lllini Electric Cooperative, conducts a blower door test to check a home for air leaks.

Homeowners need to concentrate on three primary areas during construction: sealing the home, insulating the living spaces, and choosing the right heating and cooling system. These areas are described below and further elaborated on in the "Certified Comfort Home" booklet.

Sealing Your Home

Sealing your home against air infiltration, or convection, will dramatically reduce your heating and cooling bills. The less air that comes in, the less air you have to heat or cool. Making sure that all corners, joints, doorways, windows, utility openings and any other open spaces are caulked and sealed can stop this air movement.

One way you can find air leaks on an existing or new home is by having a blower door test completed. Dickey says, "A blower door test is a vacuum on the home. We put the vacuum in the frame of the door to the outside and then we go around and find out where the air leaks are. It helps you pinpoint the areas that aren't properly sealed."

Eastern lllini has identified 16 common entry points for air leaks that can be sealed up easily when building a home and can often be sealed when remodeling a home.

Pence has adapted his building practices to include new energy efficient methods of sealing. "There are no leaks. The outside "frame is caulked and then just before the insulation crew comes in, we go back through and caulk it again. We will seal with foam any holes in the floor where wiring and plumbing come in. Then we'll come back and seal the whole outside in house wrap," says Pence. He says that by caulking twice and using a solid piece of housewrap, he feels confident the house is sealed properly.

Although it's good to stop air leaks, homeowners still need a way to ventilate their homes to prevent carbon monoxide and mold growth. Dickey says, "If you're burning any fossil fuel, if there is a flame in the house, it could generate carbon monoxide. Ventilation is the key. But it's not an issue if you deal with it up front. You can still build a home air-tight and have ventilation for carbon monoxide."

Another issue that concerns homeowners is mold. "As long as you ventilate the home's moisture in the bathrooms to have some sort of an air exchange, you shouldn't have any problems with mold," Dickey states.

"My home is 10-years-old, and I built it myself. I wish I could start all over again and do all the caulking and insulating the whole nine yards. You can just really tell a difference," says Pence.

Insulating Your Living Space

Proper insulation can help stop conduction, the movement of heat through walls as the inside is heated or cooled. The most popular methods of insulation used today are fiberglass and cellulose. Many co-ops and builders promote cellulose as being more energy efficient.

"We promote cellulose for one reason - it stops air infiltration," says Dickey. "There are no air gaps in cellulose when it is applied properly. Sooner or later heat is going to conduct, or transfer, through fiberglass because it has a lot of air space. With cellulose, you're completely eliminating air space," says Dickey.

Pence says, "I built a house about two years ago and the homeowners wanted to use fiberglass

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because they didn't want to spend the little extra money on cellulose. It's not that much more to do it. But when the insulation was finished you could actually see through the electrical outlets going into the garage and outside." Pence says cellulose has great coverage and doesn't have those air leaks.

Pence also recommends that homeowners insulate basement walls to the specifications in the "Certified Comfort Home" booklet. "Part of the biggest heat loss is the basement. I recommend that homeowners stud the inside and use fiberglass insulation there. If they're not going to finish the basement in the near future, we put two inches of insulation all around the outside walls."

Dickey also says that even unheated basements need to be insulated. If they aren't, the homeowner is using the ducts, hot water heater and hot water pipes located in the basement to inadvertently heat the space, and that can cost a lot.

Insulation needs to be applied in the attic and crawlspace as well. "In almost all cases, people don't have enough insulation in their attic," says Dickey. "Forty percent of heat loss is through the attic. Attic insulation must be a minimum of 12 inches in central Illinois. If you can see the ceiling joists in the attic, you haven't got enough insulation.

"Whatever insulation homeowners use, the more the better as far as the thickness," Dickey says.

Heating and Cooling Equipment Options

"There are three costs associated with every heating and cooling system: the acquisition cost, the ongoing energy cost, and the continuing maintenance cost. You can pay now, or you will pay later," says Pat Gallahue, Marketing Advisor at EIEC. New homeowners can now choose from electric or gas furnaces, air-to-air heat pumps, or geothermal systems as methods of heating and cooling.

With geothermal energy, the initial cost is higher, but the ongoing energy and maintenance costs counter balance the price. In fact, Dickey says that a typical new homeowner would increase his or her mortgage payment $33 a month by including a geothermal system. That same person would then save $122 each month in energy costs, giving them $89 more dollars each month for their pocket.

"There is no lack of energy when it comes to your backyard or the air outside," says Dickey. That's why air-to-air heat pumps and geothermal energy are such effective and efficient heating methods.

A geothermal heat pump uses a ground loop pipe system buried in a trench or a series of wells. Fluid then circulates through the pipes and uses the earth's own natural temperature to either heat or cool the home. The hidden benefit of a geothermal system is it provides hot water heating as a free byproduct of the refrigeration process. Especially for larger families, water heating can be a significant energy cost.

Pence has been very impressed with the geothermal systems he's installed. "It makes customers happy and I'm really pleased with the way everything works."

How Your Co-op Can Help

Several happy homeowners from Tri-County Electric Coperative's membership have shared the benefits regarding comfort, cost and resale value they have received by following the "Certified Comfort Home" booklet's recommendations. George and Barbara Hiltibildal told the co-op, "The comfort in our new home is a great improvement over what we had in the past. We don't know if it's zero or 100 outside. We just set our thermostat and never move it."

Jim and DuAnn Bates of Patoka said, '"When it comes to heating and cooling expenses, our home is 3,264 square feet and our heating and cooling cost averaged $24.15 a month."

And Kevin and Pat Cummings of Mt. Vernon said, "We had people lined up to buy our home because they knew how low our utilities were. We got our asking price and sold it to the first person who looked at it."

You too can enjoy all the benefits of an energy efficient home. Contact your local co op today if you are thinking of building a new home or remodeling your current house. Your co-op can provide you with a "Certified Comfort Home" booklet and answer any questions you may have.

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