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High Performance & Style Hand-in-Hand: Is the future now for beautiful properties with zero carbon footprints?

Mar 28, 2016 02:16PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Image courtesy of High Performance Homes

By Carol Sorgen / Images courtesy of High Performance Homes

Daniel McCusker and Deborah Fugas are in a state of transition...from full-time careers to eventual retirement, and from their Potomac-area home to a new property being built just one hour away.

In choosing a home for the next stage of their lives, the couple were looking for someplace close enough to the D.C./Baltimore corridor to take advantage of cultural opportunities, restaurants, and the like, but far enough away to “escape the rat race,” as they explained while navigating rush hour traffic from their Department of Defense jobs to a rural golf community that’s building Zero Energy Homes—the site of their build.

Zero Energy Homes or Zero Net Energy Homes (ZEHs), are designed to produce as much energy as they consume. According to the nonprofit educational site, Zero Energy homes are airtight, highly insulated, and utilize highly efficient appliances, heating, and lighting.

Once a ZEH home is designed to be as energy-efficient as possible, the home uses solar photovoltaic (PV) collectors, or other renewables, to produce sufficient electricity to meet the minimal remaining energy needs of the home. Apart from a monthly hook-up fee, by the end of the year homeowners will see their net energy bill (energy credits minus energy usage) be zero, hence the designation as Zero Net Energy Homes. If a home is built to the same energy efficiency standards as a ZEH, but does not have solar panels, it is called a Zero Energy Ready Home or Near Zero Energy Home.

The opportunity for McCusker and Fugas to retire into such a home, made their decision a no-brainer.

“Consumers want the best quality for the money, and the latest technologies. And they want a home that will increase in value over time,” says Kiere DeGrandchamp, an Anne Arundel-based builder of such homes.

To emphasize the latter point, DeGrandchamp points out that Dow Solar developed a case study on model homes built with these specifications that shows their homeowners can save $200,000 over 25 years.

A year-long study of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) in Washington, D.C., on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), supports this finding. Using computer simulation to replicate the energy consumption of a family of four, researchers found that at the end of its first 12 months, there was a large enough surplus to power an electric car for 1,440 miles (2,317 km).


The Real Deal

We asked several leading local home builders and renovators for their take on green retrofits and new green home construction. Here are their quotes.


This energy/money-savings aspect could well be what’s driving the burgeoning green homebuilding industry. According to a recent study conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics, in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), during the prolonged housing downturn, green homes provided support to the ailing residential market and now promise to be an important element of the recovering market as well.

Despite the higher initial cost of building green, the report indicates that a large percentage of home builders and remodelers are already building green and expect to do so in the future. The report notes that currently just over half of home builders are constructing at least 16 percent of their new homes green, and 39 percent of remodelers report that at least 16 percent of their remodeling projects are green.
Images courtesy of High Performance Homes
The study also finds that consumers age 55 and older are the most important group driving the current green market, which is expected to grow as homebuyers associate green with healthier homes, along with the increased use of renewable technologies. Local builder Mike Baldwin also sees the market for such homes growing locally. “Most of our green buyers are looking for high performance homes and they want to see a payback within a reasonable amount of time. In this area of the country net zero is achievable with solar but it is expensive and affects the type of home that is built.”


"Most of our green buyers are looking for high performance homes and they want to see a payback within a reasonable amount of time. In this area of the country net zero is achievable with solar but it is expensive and affects the type of home that is built.”


“[But] by constructing a home through techniques provided by the ICC 700 “National Green Building Standard” as well as LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design], Zero Energy becomes easier to achieve through a comprehensive process utilizing ‘Building Science’ that provides balance in all areas of construction. These programs ensure a healthy comfortable home for consumers who can choose the level of performance and green that fits their individual budget.”

In addition to the cost savings and increased value of the homes, McCusker and Fugas like the fact that the home was built to allow them to age in place, with single-floor living, relatively small lots, and attention to detail that will forestall maintenance issues down the road.

“This is a high-end custom-built home,” McCusker says. Fugas worked closely with the builder to design a retirement home that had everything the couple wanted, from hardwood floors, to marble foyer, archways, a waterfall, double French doors leading out to the ninth fairway, two-story closet with spiral staircase, and age in place features such as wider doorways, hallways, and curb-less showers.


Read the Study

If you’re interested in the study, “Green and Healthier Homes: Engaging Consumers of All Ages in Sustainable Living SmartMarket Report,” you can download it at:


The 6,000-square-foot home is a blend of French Country and contemporary and DeGrandchamp remarks that high performance technology works in any design.

McCusker and Fugas fully expect to reap the benefits of their new home, with its advanced levels of energy savings, comfort, health, durability, and quality.

For now, homeowners like McCusker and Fugas have everything they want in a retirement home and couldn’t be happier. “We’re so impressed.”


Reducing Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

If a new home isn’t in your plans at the moment, there are still ways you can make a difference in the environment and save money as well. Here are several suggestions from