The Times West Virginian

Business

June 15, 2014

ARCEE teaching home builders how to meet energy efficiency codes

FAIRMONT — Energy efficiency encourages the competitiveness of small businesses in the state and has a direct impact on consumers.

For these reasons, the Appalachian Residential Consortium for Energy Efficiency, or ARCEE, which is under the Home Builders Association of West Virginia’s Charitable Fund, is teaching home builders in the state ways to meet the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, or IECC, for energy efficiency. ARCEE, which was started in October 2013, wants home builders to be able to follow the law and construct houses for West Virginia families that have better value and are healthier, said project manager Sheila Coleman-Castells, who lives in Preston County.

While energy efficiency reduces heating and cooling bills significantly for home owners, these practices also provide a healthier home by allowing air flow to properly circulate, which helps all kinds of conditions, from asthma in children to arthritis in adults, she said.

“(It’s a) very important standard to meet, and we want to make sure that the home builders are understanding what they need to do and getting the best training that’s available,” Coleman-Castells said. “We’re building a lot of accountability into this training, because it’s that important.”

The training is linked to national certifications, such as what the National Association of Home Builders offers, and requires testing.

The IECC system has been around for many years. The West Virginia Legislature approved the 2009 code in 2011, and the code went into effect at the end of 2013.

Coleman-Castells explained that the state took on this new code as a result of the federal government trying to improve aspects of the economy during the stimulus era, which included providing funds to states for depressed sectors like energy and construction. In turn, West Virginia adopted the 2009 IECC to improve the quality of residential buildings, and also adopted the companion standard for commercial buildings.

In 2010, building energy-efficient homes was very expensive because some of the required materials weren’t even available in the state, she said. But that is no longer true today, as the costs have gone down significantly and there are choices of materials to buy. Consumers can work with their home builder to decide what type of energy efficiency they want in their house.

Energy efficiency has become part of standard building practices across the country, and there is consciousness about these practices that didn’t exist a few years ago, Coleman-Castells said.

During the two-year window between the time the 2009 IECC was approved by the Legislature and went into effect, the West Virginia Division of Energy offered training at no charge to make home builders and others aware of the code.

“But we realized that while the awareness training was good, we needed a more comprehensive solution, and by that time, there were no stimulus funds on the state level and the home builders needed to devise a solution that would work for their members and consumers,” she said.

Coleman-Castells said Chris Ilardi of the North Central West Virginia Home Builders Association contacted her in October of last year to tell her about the situation — that few home builders in the state really knew what it meant to live up to the 2009 IECC that was now law. ARCEE wanted to create a large-scale training with little or no cost to the home builders, which are generally small businesses constructing five to 10 homes a year and can’t afford those training costs themselves.

So ARCEE applied for and received initial funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to help devise a project in stages, and was also awarded money from 84 Lumber Co. Right now, ARCEE is developing the training, which should be rolled out around the fourth quarter of 2015 and offered over a period of approximately 18 months, Coleman-Castells said.

The nonprofit’s total budget for this project will most likely be between $500,000 and $750,000, she said.

ARCEE plans to train 1,000 members of the state Home Builders Association. The association isn’t just comprised of home builders, but also includes Realtors, appraisers, architects, code officials and bankers, who all need training on the new code. The comprehensive training will make sure that all parts of the building industry understand the value of energy efficiency, Coleman-Castells said.

She feels that this training is a good investment.

“We are doing this for the families that need it most,” she said.

In 2012, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assisted more than 77,000 families in West Virginia with their heating and cooling bills. Then in 2013, because of the terrible cold and the propane shortage, an increased amount of families — 90,000 — received help through the program. If these people don’t get assistance in paying their bills, dire consequences — such as death — can result, Coleman-Castells said.

If the energy efficiency of houses could be improved, a lot of money would be saved in LIHEAP alone, she said.

“It really is a public health issue. It’s also a public policy issue,” Coleman-Castells said. “There’s a reason why the federal government wanted to make sure that they improved the quality of residential and commercial buildings, because ultimately it saves all of us money in the long run in terms of the assistance that has to be given to families as well as conserves the energy that we do produce in the state, and it helps keep people healthy and safe.”

Through a very comprehensive public education campaign, ARCEE also concentrates on teaching consumers the importance of energy efficiency and why they need to contact a certified West Virginia home builder that has the proper training, she said.

“ARCEE is a system to train both home builders and educate consumers and provide that continual loop of quality assurance for both those who build the homes and those who buy the homes, and this results in higher comfort and healthy buildings for families with a lower cost,” Coleman-Castells said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Premier Construction Services LLC, which is based out of Fairmont, is already exceeding the 2009 residential energy code and is building to the more stringent 2012 code, said Bob Riffle, contractor and owner of the business. The company solely constructs sustainable homes for clients and strictly follows the National Green Building Standard.

“Anytime the code changes happen, builders need to pick up on it whether we like it or not and conform to them,” he said. “Our company does that wholeheartedly. We look at it with an open mind. The code only benefits the consumer. It really doesn’t affect the builder. We’re trying to lessen what it costs for a consumer to operate their home from an energy standpoint.”

Around the end of 2008, Riffle earned the designation of Certified Green Professional through the National Association of Home Builders. He then built upon his experience and reached the next level, becoming West Virginia’s only Master Certified Green Professional. He also serves on the boards of the West Virginia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the North Central West Virginia Home Builders Association.

Premier Construction Services has built three certified green homes, including one in Fairmont that achieved the Gold level through the NAHB Home Innovation Research Labs. The business constructed another Gold-rated home in Cincinnatus, New York, and reached the highest rating — Emerald — with a house in Siler City, North Carolina. The company is also currently building a home in Morgantown to the Emerald standard, and it’s slated to be done sometime in September.

Riffle believes ARCEE’s training program on the 2009 IECC is a positive step for the state.

“It’s definitely a must-have,” he said. “We need all the builders to be on the same page with whatever the state-mandated code is.”

Education on energy efficiency is also vital for the consumer. Home owners need to know as much as they can about the code and what they should be getting when they’re having an energy-efficient home built, Riffle said.

Because ARCEE is a nonprofit organization, it encourages individual and corporate donations to help with its training project, Coleman-Castells said. Anyone who would like to donate tax-deductible contributions can contact: West Virginia Home Builders Association Charitable Fund, 2220 Washington St. East, Charleston, WV 25311.

For more information, email info@arc-ee.org.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.

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