HERS – Home Energy & Efficiency Rating Systems

Those of you who may have built or bought a new home in the City of Santa Fe over the last few years may be familiar with the terms ‘HERS Rating’. HERS (Home Energy Rating System) is a tool for measuring the energy performance of a home. 

It has become the standard method across North America for ranking homes in terms of energy efficiency. Much like the MPG (miles per gallon) rating on a car; a HERS rating describes how energy efficient a home will be.  But energy performance is not the only way to quantify a home’s efficiency.

Going From HERS To WERS:

Water efficiency, as we all know, is all too important in this era of ever growing scarcity of water resources.  And homes are a major source of water consumption in any community. Santa Fe is known as one of the most water efficient cities in the country, and it would make sense that the City Different would spawn a Water Efficiency Rating System or WERS!

In fact we have. Thanks to the combined efforts of water efficiency experts from the Santa Fe Area Home Builder’s Association (SFAHBA), Santa Fe Community College and others from The Foundation for Building and Green Building Coalition, the launch of a new WERS tool is imminent. 

SFAHBA’s Green Building Council provided a portion of the seed money needed to design and develop a mathematical model for measuring and scoring a home’s water efficiency performance based on its design.

Developing the WERS Tool:

Major components of the tool include calculating typical water consumption from various plumbing fixtures based on the ‘gallons per minute’ or ‘gallons per flush’ rating of such fixtures, and the household occupancy level. It is a performance based method that allows home owners, architects and builders to prioritize which fixtures are best suited for their personal needs/desires while assuring overall water use reduction is attained. 

The WERS tool also encourages the use of both rainwater and grey water as a source for both outdoor irrigation and INDOOR use (with proper protocols for health and safety).

The local developers of the WERS tool worked extensively with experts from around the country to assure the method would be appropriate across a national platform. Major national players including RESNET (the licensing agent of the HERS Protocol) and major housing developers are taking notice of our efforts, as they look to adopt water efficiency tools by which to rate homes. 

And with the coming 60 day session of our state legislature, efforts to renew and refund the Sustainable Building Tax Credit will likely find broader support with the inclusion of a WERS type provision.

It is likely that national organizations like RESNET will be looking closely at our locally crafted WERS tool as they begin their process of including water conservation in their set of rating tools. This will only further bolster Santa Fe’s reputation as a leader in water conservation nationally, and help to influence law makers here at home for inclusion of water conservation requirements in new policies.

What Every First-Time Custom Homebuyer Needs To Know

If it is your first time looking to buy a custom home, you may not yet fully understand the complexities of such a prospect. Because buying a custom home is unlike any other purchase you will make in your life. 

Think of it less as a product you are buying and consider it for what it is, a personalized experience specifically tailored to meet your unique values, goals and preferences, so that you are able to attain the lifestyle improvements you have worked so hard to afford, and that you deserve.

Hire An Integrated Design-Build Team:

Conscientious contractors, designers and architects have learned that an integrated design-build team can streamline this process by bringing the right experts to the table from day one to value engineer the plans to best suit the owner’s goals and budget.

Our Santa Fe building and design team brought the services of architectural design and construction under one roof, improving the efficiency of the integrated design-build team even more.

Choose A Great Location:

The lot you choose to build on will have dramatic effects on the cost, timeline and feasibility of the project. Invite your realtor into the integrated team right away. A quality realtor will be able to interpret potential issues and constraints present with covenants, Home Owners’ Associations, and/or historic districts affecting you. 

Furthermore, your expert realtor will be able to demonstrate what other comparable properties in your area have recently sold at. This will affect the appraisal of your property, which the banks will use to determine your loan amount. Lower appraisals often result in the need to bring more cash to the table in order to close a construction loan.

Understand All Design & Building Costs, Then Relax:

An experienced and qualified contractor will be able to provide you with detailed descriptions of the scope of work with a fixed fee agreement to build the home.

Luxury details, finishes and fixtures require careful consideration and planning on the part of the design-build team and will have a significant impact on the budget. Experienced and conscientious designers and builders will be able to calculate reasonably accurate “allowances” to cover the costs of specialty items that may not yet be selected when a construction contract is signed. 

Be timely with selections of items like tile, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and ask for referrals to local showrooms to view and experience your options.

Remember To Communicate:

Your trusted team of building and design experts will be communicating with you regularly, however, they cannot read your mind.  Don’t allow unspoken concerns detract from the design-build experience.  Good supportive communication will increase the trust among the team and enable the best possible results for you.

Designing and building a custom luxury home is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience.  For some it is something they may get to experience only a few times in their life.  Either way, it is an extraordinary experience that, when handled with trust, expertise, and clear constructive communication is rewarding beyond words. 

Pre-Planning Can Make a Building Dream, a Reality

As spring takes hold of us here in Santa Fe, many dream home hopefuls will decide to make the plunge and commit to getting their much anticipated custom home project underway. 

In our experience, there is nothing more valuable than some careful pre-planning to assure that the next steps you make will lead you directly to making that dream a reality while avoiding many common stumbling blocks.

Location – It’s Most Important:

Location, location, location.  We have all heard this before, but it can’t be emphasized enough.  The lot you choose to build on will dictate to a significant degree how easily you will be able to achieve your goals, stay on your budget and hit the timeline you hope for. 

Use a reputable realtor who is very familiar with new home construction when looking at land.  When possible, pre-select a builder who is in alignment with your core values and work with that builder and realtor to select the lot which will yield the greatest benefit to you. 

Covenants, existing easements and setbacks, the Home Owners’ Association requirements, access to existing utilities, and the soil types on site will all have implications for the design, costs and timeline of your project.  Take time to do the due diligence with your builder and realtor to make sure you know what is going to be required of you on that lot.

Then Get Serious About House Design:

Once the limitations of the lot are understood, and you have made the purchase of the land, it’s time to get serious about design.  If you have pre-selected a builder, ask them who they prefer to work with for design. 

Many builders have existing relationships with architects, and better yet, some have in-house design capabilities.  The integrated design-build approach will yield efficiencies in pre-construction costs and shortened timelines, and perhaps most importantly, enable the project team to design to your budget effectively.  We call this “value engineering”. 

Before you even begin design work make sure you and your builder have had a serious conversation about costs, contract structure and a pre-construction timeline. 

Speak The Same Language About Costs:

When getting clear about what costs to expect, be sure you and your builder are speaking the same language.  Misunderstandings in the beginning about what “typical” costs are, and what may be atypical about your project can lead to disappointments and failed projects.  Remember, builders and architects do not have a crystal ball, and nobody, no matter how experienced, can predict any better than 80%-90% accuracy what the real costs of a project will be before the construction blueprints are 100% completed. 

That said, good design-build teams can prepare you very early on with cost expectations within a reasonable margin, and thus keep everyone’s expectations aligned, and the home design on track, so that the final “bid” doesn’t blow you out of the water.

When you have the right team, a clear understanding of what your site will allow, and cost expectations aligned, there is little to nothing that can stop you from making that dream home a reality.

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