New Tradition Homes moves toward zero energy

Before Sealing

2.6 ACH

After Sealing

0.6 ACH

Over 30 years, there’s been one name in the Washington home building market: New Tradition! Recognized as a top five builder in the state for volume, they’ve gone onto construct 5,000+ homes with innovation in mind. With that success, they’ve been honoured as a leader in building energy efficient homes.

All New Tradition homes are ENERGY STAR certified and built Green Washington 3-star; becoming the only builder in the state to do so. This level of precision, expertise and commitment to excellence is a by-product of their company values. Shining a light on quality, durability, health, and innovation; the family-owned organization, led by Chris and Kelly Helmes, has been in the industry since 1987.

We build homes for life

In 2005, New Tradition decided to take a targeted focus for building green. They were driven to go beyond the most tightest standards in energy efficiency by doing more in areas such as indoor air quality, innovation, and continued improvement. That goal has been realized in each of the years of 2016, 2017, 2018 when they became recognized by ENERGY STAR as the top energy efficient builder in America with the Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence award.

We are proud of our awards, but the most important driver for our company is our home buyer, we deliver a home that we would proudly build for our mom. Kelly Helmes instills in us that every home must pass the ‘mom test’.” The mom test translates into a home that is high quality and durable, costs less to live in, is comfortable, and has healthy indoor air quality; the latter three are directly attributed to building strategies that improve energy efficiency, including mechanical design, duct tightness, and particulate control.

-Steve Tapio, Building Science Team Leader, New Tradition

Energy Efficiency Scorecard

the HERS Index is the most recognized energy scoring system so the public can find out if their home is energy efficienty.

54 HERS Index
Typical New Tradition home score
65 HERS Index
ENERGY STAR requirement score
72 HERS Index
Average Washington state score
10% lower
Built Green Washington better than code requirement

Average, or code minimum, is not an option for us, we are constantly striving for improvement which includes a lower HERS Index. If budget was not an issue, there are a lot of options. But, when considering a new product or new construction strategy, we are challenged with making it standard on every home while remaining market competitive.

The greatest challenge is building the highest quality home possible while maintaining market competitiveness and doing so on a large scale.

– Kelly Helmes

With ENERGY STAR and Built Green Washington both being third-party verified, home buyers are given the assurance that a home is beyond a builder’s claims. In addition, the lower HERS Index allows for lower electric bills and less solar needed to meet zero energy.

Pushing the envelope

Envelope tightness is measured by using a blower door test, which measures air changes per hour (ACH). New Tradition standard home scores 2.5 – 3 ACH. The lower they get the ACH number, the less energy-demand. (Built Green certification requires 3 ACH or lower).

Once we reduce energy demand low enough, less solar is required (see Table 3) and a zero energy home becomes financially feasible, giving us the ability to scale. If you can remain market competitive and offer a zero energy home, why wouldn’t you do it?

If you can remain market competitive and offer a zero energy home, why wouldn’t you do it?

– Steve Tapio

Advanced air sealing

Nerva’s aerosol sealing technology for building envelope has been honoured with the IBS award for top product and best product innovation. So it was no wonder how Tapio and Helmes came to find the technology through their continual research for new building products and construction strategies. The innovative technology passes a mist that seals the tiniest of holes of the home envelope, making it easy and affordable to reduce leakage, resulting in lowered energy demand – ACH. While also being GREENGUARD Gold certified, the technology only becomes better, because it doesn’t use harmful VOCs or off-gassing.

Each year, IBS features a demonstration home (TNAH), The demonstration home is constructed using the latest building technologies and innovations. This year, TNAH used the same technology that would take New Tradition Homes notice. Nerva’s envelope sealing technology helped TNAH achieve LEED Platinum — the highest level of green certification. Furthering interest, the technology took home another award: the Edison Gold award, America’s top honour for innovation.

New Tradition’s beta test

Ron Nardozza is New Tradition’s third-party energy rater and verifier. Luckily he was in the process of having a home built by New Tradition, which gave an optimal time to test out the envelope sealing technology. He is the Founder and President of Four Walls, and a self-described energy geek. With over forty years of experience in home construction as a custom homebuilder and remodeler, Nardozza consults builders, architects, and engineers on maximizing energy performance for residential and commercial projects.

As would any “energy geek”, Nardozza wanted to make a home that was as energy efficient as possible, one way to do so would of course be to reduce envelope leakage and energy demand. Nardozza said, “Within 90 minutes, the ACH went from 2.6 to .6. It was quite remarkable. The application was easy to setup, and the results were immediate. With a .6 ACH, heating and cooling my home just got easier – and cheaper.” Nardozza says the reduced energy demand will mean the 3600 square foot home will require very little solar to achieve zero energy.

With the success of Nardozza’s home, it may only be a matter of time before such design and specs become a New Tradition standard, including the use of the envelope sealing technology Nerva offers and zero energy ready (ZERH).

Tri-Cities going solar ready and zero energy

The past year has witnessed an increase in zero energy homes. The Department of Energy (DOE) zero energy home program is gaining in popularity with its ZERH certification. Innovative builders from across the country are embracing the program. In Arizona, Mandalay Homes has committed all of their homes ZERH certified and making them near zero energy. In Utah, redfish is making an entire community zero energy. Meanwhile, California is requiring solar on all new homes and making insulation requirements more strict. Innovative products such as Nerva’s building envelope sealing technology, and the affordability of solar and energy storage, makes building zero energy homes possible for little or no additional costs passed onto the homebuyer.

New Tradition believes the timing is right. If the builder commits to certifying all homes ZERH, it will be a first for a high-volume builder. To date, the state of Washington has a total of 80 homes ZERH certified since 2013. New Tradition builds 300 homes annually.

Helmes emphasizes the challenge of scaling new products in homebuilding, while meeting buyers’ wish lists for their new home and remaining competitive. He says, “As a market leader for energy efficient homes, our sites are set on making solar ready, or zero energy ready, a buyer option for all homes. And, depending on the market response, it may become a standard feature. But, we must stay price competitive.”

Tapio says other challenges exist, including educating the buyer and the sales agent about the value of energy efficiency and zero energy homes. He says, “We invest in educating our sales team and making sure they speak to the buyers’ hot points, too often builders present all their great features without first asking the buyers, ‘what is important to you?’.”

Are zero energy homes the trend for Washington? The Badger Mountain South master-planned community in Richland, WA is requiring all homes to be solar ready. New Tradition has already built 80 homes in the community. And soon, New Tradition will break ground on another 35 homes in Badger Mountain, some of which may offer ZERH certification and feature the same technology Nerva offers.