Episode 142: Building Custom Green Homes with Ferrier Custom Homes
GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks about building green homes, energy-efficient, and affordable homes Don Ferrier, President of Ferrier Custom Homes.
Sean Daily: Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily with Green Talk Radio in GreenLivingIdeas.com. Welcome to the program as always and we’re going to be talking today about Green Custom Homes and to talk with me on that topic is Don Ferrier who is the President of Ferrier Custom Homes, a company that’s very heavily involved in Green Building Projects including LEED Certified Projects. Don, welcome to the program.
Don Ferrier: Thank you Sean, I’m glad to be here.
Sean Daily: Well, it’s good to have you and it’s always good to get the perspective, any information from somebody who’s been doing green building, you know in the trenches as it were to hear about, you know the latest the happenings and the best practices and products so people can employ a lot of people or interested in building greener homes or remodeling them and so, I think -- why don’t we just start off from your standpoint? Tell us what do you think are some of the ingredients that would make a home considered very energy efficient and essentially green?
Don Ferrier: Green, we live in Fort Worth, Texas area so we are down here in a hot climate Sean. We are always looking at our number one idiom is orientation. If we got a lot of windows we don’t often facing away as you know that what I called energy efficient suicide.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: So, we are always taking an account the orientation of a house. The goals are to keep the hot summer sun out, the second goal is to let the warm winter sun in. But in our hot climate if we can’t do both of them we just going to let -- we’re going to keep the hot summer sun out, we’re going to try to keep the home as cool as we can.
Sean Daily: So what’s the optimal facing south -- is it southeast?
Don Ferrier: No, well it’s slightly southeast in this area, you just go by basically your magnetic readings and all of that is published and it varies from area to area, you know where it is but right here we’re just slightly east of south so it would be just basically south, southeast.
Sean Daily: OK.
Don Ferrier: Just a pad bit off to the east that’s what we do, you -- you do have to be careful though because you know roughly June 22nd, the sun’s going to be 85 degrees to the right and so it’s going to set off to the west almost perpendicular and then you go to December 22nd and it’s lay down in the southern sky about 33/32 degrees and so it’s going further to the south when it sets and what happen sometimes is that if you tilted too much southeast that west sun wanted to start to set will come in some north windows.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: We’ve had that just a small problem and even the windows we put on the west side of a house if we’ve got trees to buffer them, you got to be cognizant of where that’s going and it’s real common that will have a house if -- when the sun sets June these trees will completely shade those west line is but then when it goes to the southern area back in the December time that will get full solar exposure so it will pick up that heat, it’s a nice one that works that way.
Sean Daily: Yes. And so this is true both for, correct me if I’m wrong here, these are true both for the solar thermal properties as well as the solar photo voltaic exposure and ---
Don Ferrier: And that is correct, yes sir.
Sean Daily: OK, so ---
Don Ferrier: Very same thing and your solar hot water, you know your thermal as well -- the house and as well as the hot water and those items.
Sean Daily: Right, now, now those are all -- are those all standard features of the homes that you build?
Don Ferrier: You know, we built through custom homes, we’re letting the homeowner drive the ship where there is the trustee consultants to help them drop it where they want to go to. Extreme energy efficiency is standard in every home we have if you’re -- where the department of energies scale if it got score, you know you got a 150 as your existing home out there, a 100 is your new home that’s been constructed, you got to be 85 or lower to be the Energy Star, the current tax credit on the national law you had to be a 70 or lower and a zero is a through net zero and our homes are averaging rather around but 50 to 55 area.
Sean Daily: OK.
Don Ferrier: So they called, what’s called the near zero energy, all you have to do would be to put wind or PV, the photo voltaic on it. We have had a number of clients look at wind in PV today, we’ve actually not had any -- we built a few that were PV ready, which is not a difficult thing to do. As we’re seeing the cost of PV come down, and the cost of energy container go up. Right now we’ve got nine design clients who are working with and three of those I believe will end up within on their office.
Sean Daily: Interesting OK, so that hasn’t been -- so tell us some of the standard features I mean let’s just walk us through let’s just say that ---
Don Ferrier: Sure.
Sean Daily: --- you know, where a client, I’m a client of yours and I’m talking about ---
Don Ferrier: Sure.
Sean Daily: --- a custom home, what are some of the recommendations you would make to me in terms of building this project to make it near zero energy?
Don Ferrier: Sure, and we start off always with what I talked about, the orientation. And nearly you combine those two questions we had earlier you know what are -- what are our main things we looked at? The second thing we’re looking at in a home is we’re [xx] it being extremely airtight. That’s even more important to us than insulation because a home can have great R60 walls, R100 roof, but if it leaks you just undermine it, so we’re looking for a really the house cell itself being something that is very tight. Now we’re very concerned about indoor quality, we’re very careful on a reverse side of that. Putting products and they don’t have any DOCs of all to organic compound that don’t have the formaldehyde, the out gassing so that we have a very tight house you’re not creating a toxic counts but, number 1 the orientation, we do that by positioning it, number 2 positioning it where the windows are, where trees are, where porches and overhangs all of those goes and depict. Second one is airtight, these are very tight, the third one is we do upgrade insulation, this hot Texas climate and any hot climate, physically the department of energy study shows that your roof insulation is four times more important than wall insulation.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: Because of that hot summer sun beats down on that. What we find for number 2 and 3 works extremely well as the structural insulated panels. So, we -- we talked about what we’re looking to do in the home and how we accomplish that. About 95 percent of everything we built is with a structural insulated panel, had been using ships as the acronym is since 1985 and is very pleased with that, use a number different producers and stuff, these are ships out of -- actually is the one that we are using for the last several years.
Sean Daily: So that’s structural insulated panels, you said?
Don Ferrier: Um-hum.
Sean Daily: OK.
Don Ferrier: Or called ships for the acronym, a lot of people call them that but, you got -- you’ve got most panels are starting with a eight-foot by 24-foot sheet of OSB and it’s a sandwich panel, what you have Sean, is the OSB on both side and this is what you had called a jumbo panel and everybody sees four by eight OSB sheets but you’re going to imagine a eight by 24 OSB sheet and actually starting to make something right by 28 -- that is a jumbo panel and you take that in a senses the breadth on your sandwich and you’ve got different types of insulation that’s the core of it. The most common is your EPS, which is your expanded polystyrene, which are calm like hold, a star form like your white coffee cups, your white beer cover stuff. And what happens you take -- you take the facing most commonly the OSB then you take the core almost commonly the EPS or expanded polystyrene and then you take a structural adhesive to bond all that together. And so, the OSB by itself is a real strong of the form definitely it’s not real strong but as a composite panel it really picks up incredible strength. So you find that a ship home compared to the average to before frame home that’s down here, that’s even covered with OSB on exterior, you’re still about four to five times stronger. Use your great strength but the biggest thing we go back to -- we’ve got this large panel that’s eight by 24 or whatever ends up with on the house to fit, air is not going to go through that panel so we take great care in sealing the joints where it patches the foundation, these lines between the panel to the left and right and then either the floor system for a second floor or the panel on the walls for the second floor or even the roof panel that we take great paint to seal those. The Energy Star people is run by the Federal Government GPA and Patrick Kelly in this area, this region really is the administrator that in, Patrick and I were speaking at a conference of how to form a home conference at University of North Texas four years ago and we’re talking just before we went onstage and he was telling me about a study that they had done locally probably legally but they went out to some non-Energy Star Home Builders and say her, honestly we want to test your home to see home badly it leaks. The average non-Energy Star Home may tested had 13 ACHS or air changes an hour, meaning that in the heating season, the cooling season when you’re running AV air conditioner, your heater it’s going to leak all that area out 13 times an hour and this was like the average around here is something like an eight or a nine mile hours wind, so that’s the way it was -- I think it was 11 mile an hour. They went to the Energy Star Homes and instead of 13 ACHS they had fixed, so less than half of the leakage our homes typically have somewhere about 0.7 to 1.2. So that’s one of the reasons we like to ship, the other one is that insulation, we’re having great insulation value on the walls and in the roof then we go what’s the next thing we’re looking for, we’re looking for extremely and efficient air conditioner.
Sean Daily: OK, well I actually have a question for you, I just want to ask ---
Don Ferrier: Well, you’re permitted to ask those.
Sean Daily: Thank you.
Don Ferrier: I’m sorry.
Sean Daily: No, it’s OK, it’s a good information you clearly got and there’s a lot about what he’s doing. So, on the structural insulated panels, which obviously is a core component, you know, metaphorically and realistically in terms of ---
Don Ferrier: Right.
Sean Daily: --- what you’re building your homes with. I’m curious are you also considering the off guessing aspects and a healthy home aspects of this and making in choosing the products and the products are -- that are components in the ships?
Don Ferrier: Right, we -- they are and this has been looked at it a lot over the year Sean. I know when ships in the United States really started back in the 70s but most part, they say that the oldest one that’s ever was built, one of the two Dow brothers, one went on to found the Dow Chemical Company or maybe already had and his brother actually with US Forest Service back in the 30s, Dow’s early ships for cabin that were going to be very remote and they looked it, OK what can we do to make these extremely energy efficient and they decided to let sandwich them, form between some wood and that’s what they did. As knowledge of air quality, indoor air quality and out gassing increase, you saw back in the ‘80s, a lot of the [xx] formaldehyde, which was used on nearly all ships early on and it migrated or outgas was very common and then it became aware that -- that’s not good.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: So, that has stopped and so, I don’t know, I belong to the structural insulated panel association, which is the national association or really it in many ways that the international representing structural insulated panels and been a lot of discussion, a lot of research done and the products I’m using and I don’t know of anybody that I’ve seen that is a member of ship, but which probably 85 percent of ship manufactures maybe even 90 are uses anything that does outgas the formaldehyde or any VLC.
Sean Daily: All right. It’s an important issue, you know ---
Don Ferrier: It is.
Sean Daily: --- the energy efficiency ---
Don Ferrier: Yes, you -- you used to find it in the OSB, you used to find it in the hisses and you used to find it in the deform itself. But, many people had become much smarter over the past.
Sean Daily: Yes, and there are certainly the focus is equally on, you know our health as well as the energy efficiency side and in these building projects. Now, on that note about the green building, I understand you guys have gotten in the spotlight recently with some exposure in the Opera, a home magazine I think you guys have a project called the Heather’s Home Project, which is mention on your FerrierCustomHomes.com website and I understand that you got some exposure in the magazine. Tell us about that project, I understand it’s sort of a showcase for sort of best practices and in green humbly and I actually -- I also understand it was like the third LEED Platinum, the highest certification for LEED Home in the United States.
Don Ferrier: And that’s true Sean, it’s -- it’s really quite an interesting story. And Heather’s Home has its own website as well, it’s HeathersHome.Info but Heather is my daughter, 28 years old now when she was 25, working for me now as my general manager working now as my office manager. She had thought around with you know what I want to do, well I want to build a home, do I want to -- maybe buy something remodel it, do I want to build a new one? Looked at a lot of things for a couple of years ** and finally stuck her stake in the ground and said I want to build a home, I want to make it as energy efficient and as affordable as I can. And that was the project and then it was just amazing how it took wings and started flying, Heather and I were at the Regional Sunbelt Builder Show here in the Dallas Fort Worth area and where the first day --we went all three days and the first day, lunch was included. It’s part of your registration and do we’re down there, we pick a table buy ourselves sat down to eat, shortly hereafter here five people come up and it turns out to be George James, George is the Director of the Department of Energy’s Building America Program, which is strongly supporting building extremely energy efficient homes with the goal of building zero energy homes for no more money, I think by the year 2030 yes, and we talk and the bottom line, two days later, he said Don I want Heather’s Home, which was conceptual in my program. We want to make it a prototype home. And they do this with a select amount of homes each year and they’re basically -- they gave us building science support, you know, it’s the study that’s become so important on these kind of homes of “How does everything that go into the home synergistically work together?” You’re not just randomly choosing windows and doors and orientation and walls and insulation but you’re saying what works together is a unit. And so, we looked at a number of different things from air conditioners to windows to hot water heating, you know, but we’ve used thankless hot water heater since 1986, that’s been our standard, they’re real hot and popular now and I’m glad they are. We started building these kind of homes in 1982, didn’t even know to call them green, you know and they were real hot now and we’re obviously thrilled with both of those. So, the Building America people and they have basically, I think it’s six building signs suppliers and we were thrilled to work with building signs corporation out of Boston, Joe Lstiburek and Betsy Pettit in their group. So, they looked at these different options and what one of them was ships even as simple as do we put a four inch ship wall in here or do we put in a six inch? Do we put a six inch ship roof or an eight inch? And so they took that as an example and said the increase in cost from a four to six-inch wall is this much and if the current energy rates in your area, you would save this much energy a year.” And so on the walls, it was going to take us about 11 and a half years to recoup that addition two inches of wall thickness. On the roof, they did the same calculations and they said it’s going to take you 2.3 years to recoup going from a six inch to an eight inch. Well, affordable home, we were trying to look for a payback within five years, so we increase the thickness of the roof, but then increase the thickness of the wall.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: And so, those are the kind of things they gave us input on that we made those decisions, so they help guide it, tweak the design slightly, went through that and actually, after we had just start the construction of a home, doing some side work and such as that, our first provider, which is the Home Energy Rating Service, we have all of our homes tested by NEED, Energy Star, they approached us, guaranteed watt savers in this area and said we have just been named one of four providers for home testing for the lead home palette program and you have a project because you build the kind of home that would qualify. And we said well, we just started in Heather’s Home on the ground work and they said wonderful, so we jumped onboard and went through that documentation process and interestingly, at the same time, the NAHB, the National Association of Home Builders had just a couple of months earlier announced they had introduced their model, Green Home Building Guidelines. And so, we were a prototype home under it. So, we were prototype in everywhere onto that Sean but the great thing is, you get a lot of discussion, you get a lot of synergy and we learned a lot and really, we just did on Heather’s Home what we normally did that fit within her budget, we hadn’t come up with this master plan or we got to get LEED Platinum, which as you well said is, was the highest standard and really still is in the nation, for energy efficient and [xx] Home.
Sean Daily: And which, particularly, if I may ---
Don Ferrier: Yes.
Sean Daily: --- was particularly interesting about that is that I think people think and I know I hear sometimes, you know LEED Platinum oh, you must have spent a lot of money on that.
Don Ferrier: Yes.
Sean Daily: And I think one of the most compelling things about this project and one of the things that was picked up in the odd home article was the fact that, you know, Heather did have this budget, it helps to have a dad in the business, by the way, but she had a realistic of real budget ---
Don Ferrier: Right.
Sean Daily: --- and it was like a $115 .00 a square foot ---
Don Ferrier: Right.
Sean Daily: --- and it was a Mayonnaise home.
Don Ferrier: Right. And that was the retail cost of the home into that coming in it.
Sean Daily: And that’s -- sorry, I mean, I think that every men aspect to this that this is accessible, these kinds of home designs and these kinds of efficiencies are available to the average person because I mean in California ---
Don Ferrier: Right.
Sean Daily: --- you can’t build a home for anywhere near that, you know, and certainly to be able to get something that is essentially, I guess, I just want to differentiate between platinum in terms of lead and platinum, in terms of home building cost because ---
Don Ferrier: That’s an excellent point though.
Sean Daily: --- you know, these are two different things and that was -- what really blew me away is that, you know, as described in the article, you know, she’s in her 20s, she represents, you know, the average 20 sometimes that wants to build a home and there are these kinds of options ---
Don Ferrier: Right.
Sean Daily: --- available is really impressive.
Don Ferrier: Single lady.
Sean Daily: Yes.
Don Ferrier: And yes, it really was. And so, you’re right, it was something that we were very carefully looking at. I believe in earlier when you asked me what is the standard features in our home where we’re looking at all of the things, but what that looks like for each client is specific to their home, their site and their taste. You know, Heather has a contemporary house, you go to websites and you’ll see that we were honored -- we’re just almost and dated in three weeks of tours we had with people that came up, look at it, they ooh-ed and ah-ed about it and probably a fourth of them said well, I love the house, I love the concept, but does it have to look like this. And we said no, you know, Mediterranean, Texas Hill country, you know, it could be a Tudor style, you can do it with any styles, you just got to do some things a little different and make different choices.
Sean Daily: And that’s good to hear because, you know, people do have varying taste and it changes depending on, you know, the person’s personal static as well as the area of the country, what’s common in certain area, so that’s nice to hear that these concept are, sort of, universal across different styles. Well we’re going to take a quick break right here and we’ll come back, I have another questions for you and we will be right back after this word from our sponsors, we’re talking on Green Building Projects, with Don Ferrier of Ferrier Custom Homes and we’ll be right back.
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Sean Daily: Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily, we’re back on Green Talk Radio, talking about Green Home Projects and specifically about Green Custom Homes and ones that are accessible, not just to the very rich out there and talking with me about that is Don Ferrier of Ferrier Custom Homes and you could find them online at FerrierCustomHomes.com. So Don, I’m just curious now, tell us about your average client. We’ve been talking about the Heather’s home project and ---
Don Ferrier: Right.
Sean Daily: --- and the price range that’s in, but what’s an average client for you that’s doing these kinds of building projects?
Don Ferrier: You know, the majority of our client is somewhere around, 70 to 75 of our clients are baby-boomers, they come to me Sean and we have researched this and looked and looked at it and we’re heading toward retirement, we’re going to build the last home we ever planned to build, empty-nesters. We’re convinced energy costs are only going to go up and we know your kind of home will cost us more upfront, but in the long run, it’s going to be one of the wisest investments we could ever make and it’s also going to be very comfortable and healthy and it’s going to have much less maintenance than the average home and that’s what we want to look and head toward retirement and it’s the right thing to do. Our second largest client is typically in their 30s or 40s and they are coming and saying it’s the right thing to do first to help the environment, we got to do something here to make a difference and I think it’s going to save me money and that’s going to be a wise investment. But they just need to always live on those two.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: One and two. And, you know, we varying things from a mid-century modern, which is kind of a Modern Frank Lloyd Wright type of home to what we just talked about, contemporary to Texas Hill country, Mediterranean, historical replicas of homes and just really almost any style that you could think. I even got one in Cape Cod that’s in the drawing process right now in our design, they love that look.
Sean Daily: Do you work with a lot of different architects or primarily just one?
Don Ferrier: No, we work with a number of different architects, we do more work with Gary Olp, O-L-P, out of Dallas and anybody, but I guess currently right now, we’re working with a total of four different architects on these different projects.
Sean Daily: And all of these architects specialized in green design?
Don Ferrier: You know, no they don’t. What I find is about -- I’m going to say roughly, Sean 50 percent of our clients come on and they don’t have any plans. So, they’re asking me where do we start and I said OK, you know, let’s form a team. And that’s the number 1 thing I always say Sean and I said we need to decide and Heather usually asked this before, I didn’t talk to the folks, if I’m a good fit for you and if you’re a good fir to me, you know, if we’re not going to work well together, it’s not any fun and this is too short, not to have some friend in this stuff.
Sean Daily: Um-hm.
Don Ferrier: And then we said OK, let’s get an architect involve and would go from there. About the other half, either half on architect are the drawing plans or they already have a set of plans. And I find that half of the equation and in the overall sense, probably 60 percent of my projects I’m working with architects on one side of that fence or the other and the other 40 percent, the people already have a set of plans and it’s already past that. We knew it always, always have to tweak those out of plans because something’s wrong, energy wise.
Sean Daily: I was just going to -- yes.
Don Ferrier: But that’s part of the service we give them, you know, it’s easy to get them redrawn most of the time. Let the architects that the people are bringing with them, you know, most of them have some knowledge of grain but almost all of them say I’m just learning.
Sean Daily: Right. But they’re willing to work with you on it?
Don Ferrier: They’re willing to work with it, it’s a huge change, back from the 80s and early 90s when we were out in these thing that most builders, architects and homeowners thought this was just a little bitty French deal that was kind of crazy.
Sean Daily: Right. More for the -- Californians.
Don Ferrier: That’s right, that’s right, you bet. We’re going to drive up in a Volkswagen bus with P sign in the side and [xx] ---
Sean Daily: Right, right. Well, it’s good to hear that it’s, you know, pervasive throughout the country now because certainly, those things, do you tend to start on the east and the west coast and -- but it’s good to hear that, you know, in the mid-west and the south and in places like Texas that this is becoming important that their flexibility and interest in competency around this because that’s important that it happened everywhere.
Don Ferrier: Well, and it is and, you know, there’s been some articles written about it. So locally, we just been very blessed over the last three to four years with a tremendous amount of PR, but saying can you believe it? Green Building is in Fort Worth -- it went out to a small 13.8 million or something and it’s just kind of Green Building’s coming to Texas, kind of live there for.
Sean Daily: Oh well it’s a great story and we wish you, well, much congratulation, first of all, on the exposure and the visibility and been seen on any nightly news and otherwise on the Opera Magazine and everything else you obviously deserved and yes, we appreciate you coming on the program and showing this information with our audience on how they can green build in their own budgets.
Don Ferrier: Well, it’s great, you know, the last two quick things I’ll say ---
Sean Daily: Sure.
Don Ferrier: --- we then look at Energy Star Plan and Energy Star Lighting and then how you heat your hot water, those were the big rocks to put in that home building jar.
Sean Daily: OK. Well, that’s a good information and as a referral on that, we have done a number of Energy Star podcast on this program, with Energy Star as well as other entities that provide those types of product. So, anybody listening in, if you want to get more information, you can check out the other podcast on Green Talk or also the articles on the GreenLivingIdeas.com site, for more information on that. And again, I want to thank you Don, for being on the program.
Don Ferrier: My pleasure.
Sean Daily: And my guest today has been Don Ferrier, who is the President of Ferrier Custom Homes in Texas and they’re online at FerrierCustomHomes.com, again, that’s F-E-R-R-I-E-R. And Sean Daly, I’m signing off for Green Talk Radio, thanks everybody and we’ll talk to you next time.
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