Radiating Energy Efficiency in Our Santa Fe Homes

At Palo Santo Designs, we pride ourselves on designing some of the greenest, most efficient and luxurious homes in Santa Fe. That’s why we often incorporate in-slab radiant heating and cooling systems into so many of our projects. A study by the New Buildings Institute found nearly half of the nation’s commercial net-zero energy buildings – buildings that produce as much energy as they consume — use radiant systems to meet their energy goals.

Using In-Floor Radiant Heating & Cooling:

In-floor radiant heating and cooling systems utilize of carefully designed network of flexible tubing set within the concrete slab to deliver heated or cooled liquids to thermostatically controlled zones of the house.  Concrete slabs, being of high mass are perfect reservoirs of heat (or cool) and thus slowly radiate temperature control into the ambient space, making the home comfortable in the most energy efficient way.

To really get the most of a radiant heating and cooling system that is installed in new slab-on grade construction, the concrete slabs are of utmost importance. That’s why we employ an above-code approach to high-performance slabs, involving a number of key strategies.

Here’s a clip of a slab in progress:

Starting With An Earthen Building Pad:

For starters, we begin by creating a 95 percent compacted earthen building pad that is constructed of engineered fill to provide for long term stability. We work closely with our Geotechnical Engineer to assure the excavation and compaction methods are suitable to the soil type, thus minimizing movement (settling or upheaval) within the building over time. Few builders are willing to take the time or afford the expense of this crucial step instead of suffering the consequences later with movement, cracking or subsidence of the building over time.

Avoiding Radon in Our Santa Fe Homes:

Over the engineered building pad, we apply a two-inch layer of gravel with a continuous vapor barrier overlay that allows earth gases, including life threatening radon, to collect and be isolated from the living space. Radon vents starting below the vapor barrier and continuing within concealed walls up through the roof allows radon and other gases to escape the building without ever entering the living space, thus avoiding the accumulation of potentially carcinogenic Radon gas within the living space.

The Palo Santo Way With Insulation:

Upon the radon mitigation layer described above, rigid insulation is placed to insure that the in-floor heating and cooling applied to the slabs is transferred directly into the living space, and not lost into the earth below.  Code minimum is not the Palo Santo way, so our under slab insulation is R-15 or better, creating a highly energy efficient floor that will be guaranteed to be thermally comfortable while minimizing heating and cooling costs

Upon the insulation, a layer of sand bedding allows for ideal curing of concrete, which promotes superior hard-troweled finished floors with integral color that is vastly more appealing than with typical concrete.

Needless to say, rebar and mesh installed prior to the concrete pour assures structural integrity and reduces hairline cracking. Strategically placed cut-in control joints do the same by relieving tension during the curing process, while also adding a visible architectural element similar to the look of large format floor tile. 

There is nothing quite like the feel and look of a hard troweled integrally colored concrete floor.  An aesthetic that works both in the ultra-contemporary or traditional Santa Fe home. 

The WERS Rating and How It’s Helping Our Homes Save Water

A group of green home builders in New Mexico recently created the WERS rating, a water conservation standard designed to help homes save water. What is the WERS rating and what does it mean for homebuyers? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the WERS Rating?

WERS stands for Water Efficiency Rating Score. It’s a term that quantifies a home’s water use, then generates a score similar to the HERS index, which is used to measure a home’s energy consumption.

The measurement standard was created by the Green Builder Coalition.

WERS seeks to solve one of New Mexico’s biggest problems: a lack of water. Many homeowners have acknowledged the need to conserve water more efficiently in their homes, so they install things like toilets and showers with flow reduction equipment. However, this equipment only reduces water consumption in certain parts of your home.

WERS, meanwhile, tracks water usage inside and outside the home to help homeowners make better decisions about their water usage.

WERS scores are given based on a scale from 0 to 100, with lower numbers indicating better water efficiency.

How Does WERS Track Water Consumption?

WERS tracks the efficiency of water consumption by tracking indoor and outdoor water usage.

Inside the home, for example, WERS looks at the main plumbing fixtures, including the toilets, showers, lavatories, kitchen sinks, clothes washers, and pipe priming (the pipe priming is water that is wasted before usable hot water arrives at the farthest hot water-using fixture).

The system looks at the loading values and associated efficiencies of these fixtures to calculate indoor water use. It also takes into account rainwater and graywater catchment, and uses these measurements in an attempt to offset indoor water use (just like solar panels can offset energy use in the HERS index).

How to Get a WERS Score On a Home

Homebuilders can estimate the WERS score of a property based on the fixtures and appliances installed in the home as well as any water conservation strategies the home plants to implement.

However, that only provides a general estimate for the WERS score. To get a specific WERS score, the completed program document must be sent to a third-party WERS verifier, who will then check to ensure all appliances, fixtures, and strategies have been installed as the builders have claimed.

Then, there’s one final certification step: the program document is sent to the Green Builder Coalition for processing.

Once that step is complete, the homebuilders have a certified, verified measurement of how efficiently the home consumes water. They can use this information to apply for tax credits or other incentives that require third party verification.

Tax Credits, Incentives, and Other WERS Benefits

Why should you start thinking about WERS? Here are some of the tax credits, incentives, and other benefits of the WERS system:

-Potential financial incentives, including reduced tap and storm water impact fees

-Potential upcoming tax credits like Senate Bill 279, which was recently approved and will be funded in 2016 to promote water conservation across NM

-Support of water conservation codes, regulations, and enforcement, and can easily be incorporated into your local green building code (which varies between municipalities across New Mexico – in Santa Fe, we have the Santa Fe Residential Green Building Code, or SFRGBC)

-The satisfaction of doing your part in the long-term conservation of a precious natural resource

The Green Builders Coalition is currently in talks with the EPA to expands WERS across the country and build support.

What Does WERS Mean for Santa Fe Homebuyers?

WERS gives homebuilders, homebuyers, and anyone else in the industry an easy way to compare homes.

If two homes seem pretty much identical in square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms, location, and all other metrics you use to compare property, then the WERS score may be the deciding factor.

The 0 to 100 scale of the WERS score also plays into the competitive nature of homebuilders: builders may start to advertise that they have the lowest WERS scores in New Mexico, for example, and will try to beat competitors to a lower score.

Build your Next Santa Fe Home with Water and Energy Efficiency in Mind

Ultimately, WERS is a water conservation standard that’s becoming increasingly important in New Mexico. If you’re interested in designing and constructing a home with strong WERS and HERS standards, get in touch with us today at Palo Santo Designs. As an award-winning design build contractor, we can build homes to your precise specifications and efficiency goals.

Green Home Building in Santa Fe

As a design-build firm in Santa Fe, we are proud to be among a progressive community of conscientious builders devoted to the most sustainable residential development possible.

Many of our projects in Santa Fe have passed the rigorous scrutiny of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, the nation’s most recognized brand in green building. With its multifaceted approach to design and building, the LEED program takes into account a variety of methods, materials and other considerations to rank projects into different categories of certification, from basic to Silver to Gold and, ranking highest, Platinum.

Our LEED Platinum Home in the Works: 

Currently, we are nearly complete with a home that is expected to be certified as LEED Platinum. Located in Santa Fe’s Museum Hill neighborhood, the Gonzales-Scott residence is a 2,100 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath Pueblo Revival style home with contemporary accents, ample outdoor living areas and stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nestled into a uniquely shaped single-acre lot, the floor plan required careful consideration to capture the views and be oriented for passive solar gain.

As much as we are proud of the home’s aesthetic beauty, we are proud as well to have produced a superior model of sustainable living.

This Santa Fe home features a roof-mounted photovoltaic system that generates 4.5 kilowatts of electricity, helping the building produce nearly all of its electrical needs. The all electric home, with an electric vehicle charging station, includes a high-efficiency air-to-water heat pump that provides for radiant in-floor heating and cooling.  Throughout the home are efficient LED lighting and non-toxic finishes.

Building In Water Conservation:

As for its water conservation features, the home is topped with a roof designed to capture and utilize all rainfall for the outdoor landscape irrigation as well as for toilet flushing indoors.  Indoor re-use of collected rainwater is a cutting edge innovation for Santa Fe, and a pilot project in keeping with Santa Fe’s newly adopted 2012 Uniform Plumbing Code. Also, gray water beds reclaim wastewater from showers, laundry and bathroom sinks to nourish permanent landscape features.

Paying Attention to Home Insulation & Air Quality:

Additionally, the home is very well insulated, with R-30 walls and R-50 ceilings. The incorporation of an interior adobe wall provides thermal mass, which captures and retains heat energy from passive solar-oriented clerestory windows.  As with all well-insulated buildings, air quality is a major consideration because air can become trapped without proper ventilation. That’s why we’ve included an energy recovery ventilation system, which ensures the proper exchange of fresh air into the home. 

The system employs an air-to-air heat exchanger that brings fresh air in the home, filtering it from dust, pollen or other contaminants, while exchanging the latent heat and moisture of the indoor air being exhausted. This stabilizes indoor ambient air temperature and humidity with continuous fresh air intake. This is especially important during winter months when the home is mostly closed to the outdoors and during allergy or wildfire season.

Altogether, this Santa Fe home features many of the best available residential market design-build considerations for both comfort and sustainability.  We’re confident our clients will be happy in their new LEED Platinum-certified home for years to come; and we look forward to creating more such projects for others. 

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