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Special Section — Spring Real Estate & Home Guide Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 29, 2007

Energy Star home shines bright with pride

By Rachel Dutil

GUILDERLAND – One of the first in the state to build Energy Star homes, Bryan Smith takes pride in his work.

He is the owner of Bryland Homes, Incorporated in Guilderland, a construction company specializing in quality, innovation, craftsmanship, and energy efficiency.

"Every home is Energy Star," Smith said of the homes he builds.

Homes that have been labeled "Energy Star," meet efficiency guidelines set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. The certification indicates the home is more comfortable, more durable, costs less to own, and is environment-friendly, said Smith.

Houses built by Bryland Homes have tested at the highest Energy Star rating, with an average 40 percent savings on utility bills, said Smith’s father and Bryland Vice President, Robert Smith, as the two men gave The Enterprise a tour of a 4,000-square-foot energy-efficient home being constructed off French’s Mill Road.

The house, on a three-acre lot, has many windows to take in the scenic view of the Helderbergs to the south. It will sell for $847,700.

Smith has been a builder for 10 years, forming Bryland in 1996, he said. Seven years ago, Smith became one of the first builders in New York State to construct certified Energy Star homes, his father said.

"I’ve yet to have someone ask what their utility bill will be," Smith said. Most homeowners are interested in the cost of their mortgage payment, he said.

He likened it to purchasing a car. With increasing gas costs, consumers need to be informed of the vehicle’s mileage. It isn’t economical to buy a car if the cost of gas to run it is more than the monthly payment to buy it, he said.

Utilities are similar, he said. When you pay utility costs, he said, "That money is gone. You don’t see it again."

Energy Star homes give customers the ability to "afford more of a home, because their utilities will be less over time," Smith said.

A 2,600 square-foot Bryland home has an average annual heating cost of $620, Robert Smith told The Enterprise.

Clean air

New York State’s building code is the very bottom level of building, Smith said, adding that there is no ventilation code in the state. "Energy Star raises the bar," he said.

If a builder were to follow the state’s building code, Robert Smith said, the result could be " a very unhealthy environment" You’ve got to ventilate when you insulate."

High-performance windows, tight construction, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, sealed ducts, and improved insulation are all techniques that Bryland uses in surpassing building standards.

Energy Star houses are considered healthy houses. Three physical tests are done on each house by an independent third party before Energy Star certification is complete, Robert Smith said.

A blower-door test determines the infiltration of air coming into the house; a decompression test of the duct-work ensures air-tight seals of all the ducts; and the "toughest test" is the air-ventilation test for air quality – it determines the cubic feet per minute of air that is being sent out through the ventilation system, Robert Smith told The Enterprise.

"I wish people would focus on air quality," he said.

Wherever wood touches wood in the exterior frame of the house, it is sealed with 50-year caulk, Smith said. Without doing this, the energy loss would be equivalent to leaving a window open year-round, he said.

Mold has become a common problem in newer homes as a result of tougher building regulations that require tighter building, Smith explained. Mold becomes a problem when the house hasn’t been sealed properly, and moisture gets inside, he said.

"You have to think of a house as one big system" and ventilate properly," Smith said.

Three factors facilitate mold growth, he said – food, temperature, and moisture. "Moisture is the only mold factor that we can control," Smith said. It is controlled through ventilation.

Bryland houses feature exhaust systems that circulate air for five minutes every hour for 12 hours a day. The system "circulates the proper amount of air that is healthy," Smith said.

"Being energy efficient is good, but having a house that people won’t get sick in is even better," said his father.

In addition to the exhaust system, a ventilation system is located beneath the concrete floor of the basement, creating a constant draft that keeps it dry.

The basement walls are built away from the concrete so that the insulation sits about two inches from it. This allows the water that forms from condensation, when warmer air meets cooler air, to drip down the concrete wall, and collect in a trough under the floor, where it is dried by the ventilation system and evaporated. This prevents mold in the insulation because it never comes into contact with that moisture, Smith explained.

Bryland constructs energy-efficient houses not only to help preserve the environment and lower costs to the homeowner, but also "because I don’t get the call-backs," Smith said.

Going green

"Energy Star is great" It really educates builders," Smith said. It has provided builders with an "awareness of energy efficiency," he added.

Bryland tries to use engineered materials wherever possible, Smith said. These materials substantially cut down on waste because they are cut to length, he said. "We’re using less timber and getting more strength," he said.

"Just because we’ve done something for many years, doesn’t make it right," Smith said of some builders’ reluctance to try newer, more energy-efficient building methods.

A lot of little things can make a big difference, Smith said. "Every single hole drilled is caulked and foamed," he said.

Bryland uses an insulation with a high resistance to heat – R value – which helps to keep the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, he said.

Smith installs a very energy-efficient furnace in every house he builds, he told The Enterprise. "All the heat created from the furnace is used to heat the house," he said.

The heating seals are all taped with Duct Mastic Taping to prevent energy loss through the heating ducts, he said.

He also installs a tankless hot-water heater, which is considerably more energy efficient than a hot-water tank, Smith said. The heater initially costs about $1,500 to $2,000 more than a standard hot-water tank, he said, but, at an average annual operating cost of $120 to $140, it is cheaper in the long run.

With a hot-water tank, Smith said, "We heat our water to 120 degrees, and then, when we hop in the shower, we cool the water down with cold water" It doesn’t make much sense."

The Rinnai heater that Smith installs instantly heats the water, and an unlimited supply of it, he said. Digital displays installed in various areas of the house set the water temperature, he said, so that the water is the desired temperature and energy is not wasted on cooling the water.

Smith also installs Energy Star windows. The windows have argon gas and a low E film sandwiched between two sheets of glass, which deflects the heat from the sun in the summer, and absorbs it in the winter, based on the angle the light enters, he said.

Smith also installs lights that use energy-efficient bulbs. The difference between standard bulbs and energy-efficient bulbs is tremendous, he said. "The light bulbs are the greatest," he said. "The time they last is huge."

With standard bulbs, he said, "More energy is exhausted in creating heat, than light."


Smith and his crew often attend educational sessions to remain well-informed on the latest in building materials and techniques.

Smith is on the board of directors for the Capital Region Builders and Remodelers Association, and, in conjunction with the association, he has established annual scholarships that are awarded to local students who plan on entering the residential-construction trade, he said.

He also helps with curriculum for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, and often guest-lectures on building techniques, he said.

Two Voorheesville students worked with Smith this year as interns through the Career Exploration Internship Program (CEIP) at Clayton A. Bouton High School. Jennifer Wademan administers the program, and established the partnership with Bryland because "of the demand for construction laborers," she said.

The program is for juniors and seniors, she said. In addition to the internship, students learn to write résumés and cover letters, how to interview well, and how to manage personal finances – "the skills they need for the real world," Wademan told The Enterprise.

Smith thinks the program is great. He remembers when he was a student at Guilderland High School: "Sometimes you’ve got to get people out of that mold," he said of the routine of high school.

"These kids are so motivated," Smith said of his two interns. "It’s been awesome."

He stressed that higher education is not for everyone, again citing himself as an example, saying that college just wasn’t for him. He has enjoyed the opportunity to share his knowledge and love for building, and, at the same time, teach students about energy-efficient techniques.

"It’s better for everybody," Smith said of energy-efficient building. "Homes in the future are going to be valued by their energy efficiency."

Factory-built homes are on the move

By Jarrett Carroll

When it comes to housing, most people equate price with quality. But, what if you can buy the same size house, with the same layout, sound construction practices, and the same quality, for a fraction of the price"

When you see a new house being pulled 60 miles an hour behind a truck, according to the New York Housing Association, Inc., you’re looking at a wise investment.

A factory-built home, says the association’s executive director, Nancy P. Geer, can cost up to 35-percent less per square foot than its site-built counterpart. Plus, she said, all of the construction is performed inside of a factory on cement so that the materials are never exposed to damaging elements and all of the corners and angles are perfectly plumb.

Geer also said that half of factory-built home buyers are between the ages of 40 and 59.

"Factory-built housing falls into two major categories: modular and manufactured," Geer said. "What differentiates homes that originate in a factory are the building codes to which they are built."

Modular homes have to abide by the New York State Uniform Building Code, while manufactured homes are built to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) national building code.

Particular elements from each code may be superior, said Geer, but most experts agree that the two codes are about equal.

The houses traveling on the backs of giant flatbed trucks at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour are the factory-built homes being installed all over the area, she added.

The median income of those who buy manufactured homes is $35,000, according to the New York Housing Association, Inc. The group also says New York has traditionally remained in the top three states for modular home placements.

History of the homes

As the automobile industry geared up in the 1920’s, and society as a whole began to become more mobile, trailer coaches appeared. The trailer coach allowed families to travel open roads by providing a sleeping room at campsites.

However, these original units were "dependent units" and did not provide restroom facilities, according to New York Housing Association.

After World War II ended, as the United States economy boomed, larger coaches were developed for more comfortable conditions and permanent living quarters.

These types of coaches quickly became popular with construction workers and others who traveled from job site to job site and they then began using them for longer periods of time. Eventually the coaches developed into "mobile homes," which provided permanent housing but could be moved from location to location.

As mobile homes became more popular, the industry become more regulated. In 1974, the National Mobile Home Safety and Construction Act was passed and turned into law in June of 1976.

As a result, the federal building codes then pre-empted local authority over all mobile homes. New standards in production and more stringent inspections at the factories soon followed, according to the New York Housing Association.

The 1970’s saw record production levels for mobile homes in the United States, and the manufacturers then began building modular homes in factories. These new homes were built to conform with state building codes using federal standards.

"Modular homes are now the fastest growing segment of the new housing market," Geer said. "New York is second in the nation for modular home placement."

Today’s homes

The New York Housing Association says that today’s manufacturers go well beyond standard ranch-style homes. Two-story homes and Cape Cod-style houses are now the norm.

Some manufacturers can build custom homes of multiple units, providing large square footage and many amenities.

Extras can include vaulted or tray ceilings; fully-equipped kitchens; walk-in closets; bathrooms with recessed tubs and whirlpools; various sidings, including stucco; bay windows and pitched roofs with gabled ends; awnings; patio covers and decks; and site-built garages.

The New York Housing Association says that independent appraisal studies confirm manufactured homes appreciate in value the same as site-built and other types of homes around the country.

Local retailers and builders of modular homes recognized by the New York Housing Association include:

— Deer Creek in Gloversville;

— Fernwood Homes in Whitehall;

— Glensfalls Mobile & Modular Homes, Inc. in Ganesvoort;

— Independent Mobile Home Sales in Hoosick;

— Paisley Development Inc. in Middle Grove;

— Paradise Mobile Homes, Inc. in Broadalbin;

— Superior Housing in Howes Cave;

— Value Manufacturing Housing in Fort Edward; and

— Vita Bella Enterprises, LLC in Schuylerville.

Factory-Built Housing Week is scheduled for April 14 through 22, and various events and open houses will be held throughout New York State, according to Geer.

For information on these events, Geer said, people can call 1-800-721-HOME or visit the association’s website at www.nyhousing.org. The New York Housing Association, Inc. is a not-for-profit trade association made up of manufacturers, builder retailers, developers, home owners, lenders, insurers, suppliers, and installers among others.

Finished basements add value to homes

By Paige Spawn Pierle

A finished basement could increase the sale of a house by $20,000 to $30,000, according to Troy Miller, broker and owner of CM Fox Real Estate. This figure is not related to the square footage of the room, but to the extent involved in finishing the basement, he said.

People view basements as a good spot for a playroom or a recreation room, being an area separate from the other parts of the house, said Miller.

If a basement floods, this affects the sale of the home "without a doubt," Miller said. "At the very least, people view the basement as a place to store stuff. They would rather have a dry basement than a finished basement where a part of it floods."

Buyers should look for evidence of water problems. Yet this could be tricky, as the wallboards hide the foundation. Miller said to look for an area of the basement that is not finished, which would usually be a room boxed out for the furnace or hot-water tank. This provides the buyer with a chance to see the foundation and if there are any problems with it.

"There is a potential for people who finish a basement to be hiding issues," Miller said. "Make sure it doesn't just look pretty—make sure that the foundation wall is in good condition."

Of the approximately 9,800 houses in the town of Guilderland, Assessor Carol Wysomski said that 503 houses have recreation rooms in their basements and 941 have finished basements. A recreation room describes basements that do not have ingresses nor egresses, but are basements with paneling, heat, and electricity. Included in the number of homes with finished basements are town houses, raised ranches, and split homes.

Wysomski suspects that there are at least 10 to 20 percent more finished basements and recreation rooms in Guilderland than are reported. People probably fail to report this because of fear that their assessment would increase, or because they do not think they need a permit since a basement is an existing structure, said Wysomski.

"But God forbid if there is a fire, as their home may not be covered by their insurance company if their basement was not inspected," she said.

The town issues homeowners their building permit after reviewing a drawing of the basement. The cost of a permit is related to the estimated cost of the project. Robert Cardinal, a building inspector for the town of Guilderland, recently issued a permit that cost $104 for a basement that will cost $18,500 to finish.

When inspecting basements, Cardinal said he makes sure that the cellar stairs are boxed, and that the risers are 7.5 inches tall with a 12-inch tread. The basement ceiling has to be at least seven feet high. "In the event of a fire, the smoke goes to the ceiling first," he said. "We need to give the people the opportunity to get out of the fire." An egress window is mandatory if the basement will be used as a place other than a game room but as a place where people will cook or sleep, he said.

Town building inspectors visit the site twice — the first time being when the basement is framed, and the last time when the basement is completed. The homeowner must hire an independent agency to inspect the electrical wiring. Of the basements he inspects, Cardinal said that most basements are finished with studs and drywall.

Traditional workmanship

John Waechter, owner of Mr. Handyman of Saratoga and Northern Capital Region, finishes basements with metal or wooden framing, Sheetrock, and insulation. Mr. Handyman, which specializes in smaller projects such as assembling furniture, re-tiling showers, and installing cabinets, recently started to finish basements to provide work for employees during the winter.

The very first thing that Waechter does when he considers finishing a basement is to check for dampness, to find out if the basement is prone to flooding.

"I’d hate for the customer to spend all that money and come spring, the basement gets ruined from a flood," he said.

If the basement is damp, it is up to the homeowner to correct the problem, which would usually involve working around the outside of the home’s foundation.

Mr. Handyman finishes basements in about three to five weeks, which costs between $10,000 and $18,000.

A new approach

Cardinal recently inspected a basement in Guilderland which will not be finished with the traditional method of drywall and paneling but instead by The Basement Finishing System by Owens Corning.

About 120 homes in the Capital Region have used The Basement Finishing System, including at least one home in Guilderland, according to Ralph Ricchiuti, Certified Basement Consultant for Owens Corning.

"This is the only system engineered for the basement environment," said Ricchiuti. "Up until now, everything used in the basement was designed for above-ground use."

The Basement Finishing System consists of panels made of polyolefin fabric. "This allows the humidity to come in through the walls so the dehumidifier can take it out," said Ricchiuti.

The panels are removable to allow for easy access to the foundation, if the need arises, according to Ricchiuti. In a recent demonstration for an interested customer, Ricchiuti said that this product resists mold and mildew, and will not be destroyed if the basement floods. Being made of fabric instead of drywall, it does not dent nor does it need paint. Ricchiuti also noted that it is termite proof and reduces noise by 95 percent.

"It’s the only non-mechanical thing that a person can do in a home that has an energy-star rating," said Ricchiuti, adding that The Basement Finishing System has a thermal rating of R-11.

In 1998, Owens Corning installed the first basement with these panels after years of research and development, said Ricchiuti. Since then, the company has installed about 30,000 basements in the country. Ricchiuti said that Owens Corning have been marketing to the Capital Region for the last four years.

Owens Corning installs the system in about two weeks. The product has a lifetime transferable guarantee, being transferred to future owners of the home. The cost varies, depending on the basement. Ricchiuti addressed many factors that influence the cost, which include obstacles such as whether the windows need to be boxed out and flushed with the wall. He noted that the cost is usually more than if the basement were finished with drywall. "But it has no comparison in terms of quality," he said. "It is the last thing you will do for your basement."

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