GHI Community Upgrade Begins Monitoring Process
Greenbelt Homes, Inc. held a press conference with members from the National Association of Home Builders and National Renewable Energy Laboratory and to discuss partnership of the pilot program and community upgrade Friday.
The town of Greenbelt was established in 1937 and with it, Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI). Now that the 1,600 homes are increasing in age, it's time a full-scale community upgrade.
GHI held a press conference Friday to discuss plans already in place for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to work together on ensuring the community upgrade is the most energy and cost-efficient effort possible.
GHI vice president Tokey Boswell said they need to start replacing all of the windows, doors and baseboard heaters by 2015 and at the same time think about how to sustain the homes for another 60 years.
The pilot program kick-off meeting was held Oct. 24 and it was discussed that 28 homes in seven buildings would be selected for efficiency-testing purposes. Testing has already begun and GHI has include all three types of housing: brick, frame with vinyl siding and cinder block homes.
"We were a model back in '37 and the model has gotten a bit old and chilly and expensive … and so this is a natural tension that we're hitting because of the cooperation and because of the award that NHAB has received and it's really providing us with an opportunity to study how we can make improvements so that we'll all be warmer, more comfortable and less expensive in the long term," GHI president Suzette Agans said.
Joseph Wiehagen NAHB senior research engineer said that in recent years, NAHB has worked with the Department of Energy's program Building America to increase the efficiency of new homes, but has since moved the focus to existing homes since it uses up the bulk of energy use in the public sector.
"This has been a very unique project … the translation of what happens here will go out to the homes in Greenbelt, but also I think a lot of this research will extend out to the wider building industry and to homeowners across the country," Wiehagen said.
NREL will measure the temperatures in three to four locations in each of the test units, and the relative humidity in some of those units, using wireless temperature sensors. The sensors or monitors are no bigger than a standard cell phone. Whole house electrical energy, heating, clothes-dryers and water heating are all being monitored as well through the existing transformers in the buildings.
According to Agans, the test homes will be monitored in three phases. Currently, the homes are in a test year where no upgrades have been made and they are collecting base measurements. Next year, they will add insulation upgrades and measure the units again and in the third year any heating, ventilating and air conditioning improvements will be made and the homes will be monitored again.
"Then we need to look at the study and find out what works and what didn't and then make a decision as a cooperative. I anticipate it will be about five years before we can make upgrades to the whole community," she said.
"One of the possible good outcomes from doing the retrofits (energy efficient upgrades) also is improved comfort for the residents. So one thing that we're finding even right away is that not all rooms of the home are maintained at the 70 degrees, which would be the standard comfort temperature," NREL energy monitor contractor Ed Hancock said.
The variable temperatures in GHI homes are one of the main factors to be monitored since it determines a lot of the energy consumption and could affect future costs.
"Part of the reason we need to do this study is to figure out what it does cost to put these systems in place," Boswell said. "The goal of the Building American program is to see a 30 percent decrease in energy consumption, so there's one benchmark we can shoot for but for GHI members its more about comfort in some cases than savings because if you're using no heat, you're not going to have any savings."
The final price tag of the upgrade has not been calculated, but Boswell said GHI has about $10 million in reserves for this very purpose and depending on the findings of the study may be enough to fund the new technology.