Monthly Archives: September 2013

What percentage of residential new construction cost do you think a high efficiency HVAC system should be? 5%, 10% ,15%???

This question was raised this morning on one of the professional discussion forums. Below is my response. Included is a link supplied by Richard McGrath in another response.

Let’s use a water bucket and a faucet for an analogy.

Take a page from the British Navy a few hundred years ago. They learned to tar the joints of their wooden hulled ships. Perhaps that’s why British Seamen are called ‘Tars’.

If you build your bucket with wood, you do something to stop the leaks. To use the bucket, you have a faucet to put water into it. If you put less money into the bucket stopping the water loss, you will need to put more water into it all the time, and need a larger capacity faucet. That will cost more money. The reverse is also true.

The question is ‘what should our faucet cost’? Most people would look at it and say not much! For a half million dollar house you might get answers from 2-4%. Some would say less. ??A faucet system is not just the part you see sticking out of the wall? The system includes pipe from the source of water to the house, to the various rooms where water is needed. You can’t buy a $10 faucet and claim to have a faucet system.

For this question, you can’t buy a furnace and AC unit and claim that is the system. You must have a Thermostat and some way to get the heat and cool to the various rooms of the home. For an effective faucet system, you put some thought and effort into the design. The same goes for an HVAC system.

What is the bucket in our house? Sometimes it is called the thermal envelope, sometimes Thermal Enclosure. It is formed by a continuous thermal boundary that is aligned with a continuous air barrier. ??Pretty simple in concept, Not as easy to execute. ??Put some time and effort into the design; then put some effort into the execution. If you are building with 2x4s use 24 inch centers, ladder connections for interior walls and 2 stud corners. Fill the extra room with insulation not wood. NAHB pioneered this in the 1970’s because of the high cost of framing material. ??You can install R-13 batts in those 2×4 walls, or you can use a blown in system. If you get the correct density and verify it, you can get R-15. You can choose a hybrid system with a 1 inch flash of CC SPF and blown in FG or Wet Sprayed Cellulose. R-17 or 18. ??Insulate the basement walls, crawl space walls and the above ground walls. ??Properly flash and seal the openings for windows and doors. Specify the U-factor and SHGC for the windows. Calculate the correct overhang for the eaves. You want to have them cast a shadow over the whole window at noon on June 21st.

Properly air seal the home. Install your WRB (water resistant barrier) correctly. That means following manufacturer’s directions. Wrap types mean gasketed nails, properly lapped and taped with approved products. You can use factory applied WRB to the OSB or a site applied liquid to the house. ??Air sealing doesn’t stop there. Fill each 1 inch hole the electrician drilled with caulk or foam, most wires running through those holes are about 1/2 inch. ??Then seal the joints of the wall and ceiling drywall on the attic side. Caulk or froth pac work. You can flash 1 inch of CC SPF also.

Now your house, bucket, is not very leaky. So you don’t need a big faucet. ??Big faucets relate to size of the HVAC system, they also directly relate to the cost to install. You also have the cost to operate.

After you have a well built air leakage controlled envelope, then you can consider the HVAC system. ??Two choices to start with: Hydronic or Forced Air. Forced air is most common in this area, we will persue that route.

After choosing Forced Air, you can choose gas fired heat or an electrically driven heat source. Again 2 choices. ??With a gas fired heat source you will have conditioned air leaving the ducts at 100 – 110° F. With an electrically driven source the air will leave the ducts at 85 – 95° F noticeably cooler. That will make or break many people on their choice and ultimate satisfaction with their HVAC system.

Gas fired comes in primarily Natural Gas and Propane. Availability is the key here. ??If you choose a gas fired system – go sealed combustion on the furnace and either sealed combustion or fan assisted drafting on the DHW.

If you choose to go with an electrically driven system, you can choose a Heat Pump or an electric furnace. If you choose an electric furnace, IMO you will not be pleased with your operating costs. They will be through the roof and you will invest any capital cost savings in operating costs very quickly.

That leaves a heat pump with Two Choices. You can choose an Air Source or a Ground Source. ??With a well designed and built duct system, meeting the standards for leakage and design for the Energy Star 3.0 program; a ASHP with variable speed ECM motor (which may be overkill) including actual Manual J, S, and D work ups around here will cost between 9 – 15 K. A gas fired system will be very similar in price, as would a dual fuel system.

If you opt for a typical closed loop Ground Source set up, including all of the above, wells and piping your capital cost will run between 25 – 35K. (noted for the next 27 months a 30% tax credit is available, but not considered in this article.)

In this area new construction homes range from 125,000 to 7 million. ??So the lower end is in the 7 – 12 % range. The more reasonable price of 500,000 for a high end spec home in the area results in the 3 – 7% range.

The question of percentages is silly. Builders may like them, but most homeowners will have their eyes glaze over if you bring this up. The goal is to sell homes, not HVAC systems. A home is supposed to be comfortable. Many new ones are not. This link goes into depth on this issue.

The equation of importance is capital cost to operating cost. Those are best approached with some modeling. I recently completed a model for a 3K sf home with R-25 ICF V 2×4 16OC construction. The operating costs were in the $1,500 range for our utility rates. The HERS Score was 54.

Substituting a GSHP brought the operating costs down by $200 per year and increase the capital costs by 10K. ??The customer opted for the ASHP and ICF over the GSHP and typical construction. He chose where to put his money.

I see a trap in logic using percentages. I provided new construction pricing around here. My cousin in California deals with homes on the bottom range in the neighborhood of 500,000. That makes a hugh difference in the % equation. ??So try rephrasing the question to get some more accurate results. Leave out the percentages.