During their search for a place to live in Wilmington, first-time homebuyers Nathan and Stephanie Crowe wanted a beautifully designed house near their workplace.
The federal-style architecture of many downtown dwellings and the low-country look of homes in other parts of the city didn’t appeal to them.
“We looked at 10 or 15 houses,” Nathan Crowe said. “Nothing really caught our eye.”
In May, the couple became two of the first residents to move into Tonbo Meadow, a small, mid-century inspired neighborhood off Greenville Loop Road. Only four miles from the University of North Carolina Wilmington where Nathan works as a history professor and Stephanie a librarian, Tonbo Meadow is considered a model of eco-friendliness, with all aspects of sustainability making up a key characteristic in its construction.
As a result, the power bill for their 2,300-square-foot home is typically $100 a month or lower, allowing the Crowes to set aside more money for future expenses.
Among the many features that lead to this savings are the home’s ductless mini splits – air conditioning and heat pump devices that allow people to choose different temperatures for different areas of their homes.
“When you want to go to sleep at night and you want your bedroom a little bit cooler, you don’t have to cool down the entire house,” Nathan Crowe explained.
Pam Fasse of Fasse Construction & Development Inc., developer of Tonbo Meadow and another project of its kind called Midori on 29th Street in Wilmington, said she believes encouraging education among buyers and builders could help more people realize the savings energy-efficient homes guarantee, a savings she says surpasses the higher initial costs of more efficient construction.
What’s true of a lot of us, Fasse said, is that “we look at just the final number. We look at the bottom line and say, ‘Ooh, that costs too much.’ We don’t always look at the long term.”
Fasse said she tries to emphasize that long-term benefit by boiling the issue down to dollars and cents.
Using the example of insulation, Fasse said an original outlay of about $2,000 more for foam insulation versus a cheaper, more traditional material leads to a $100 or less power bill, like that of the Crowes, rather than the typical $200 to $250 expected bill for a home that’s 2,100 square feet or bigger.
“I’ve almost got a one-year payoff just on my insulation,” Fasse said.
Resale value is another long-term benefit.
“You start adding up all the things you’re going to save. Then you think five years down the road if I want to sell that house, that house is going to be in much better shape,” she said.
And then there’s the stress reduction. Both Fasse and Nathan Crowe said less space can lead to less hassle.
“You tend to accumulate to fill whatever space you have,” Fasse said.
Tonbo Meadow homes don’t have attics, a typical feature of mid-century modern architecture.
The style, prevalent in the 1950s, was super-efficient, without the “big wasted spaces” that attics in homes today can become, Fasse said.
On the more technical side of energy-efficient considerations in homebuilding is the Home Energy Rating System. An average older home gets a score of about 130, while a new home gets around an 85, experts said. Fasse said she builds homes that fall in the 52 to 56 HERS score range.
Mark Jabaley, a HERS rater, owner of Above and Beyond Energy and a member of the board of directors for the Cape Fear Green Building Alliance, explains the benefits of lower HERS scores using another spending choice as an analogy.
“It’s just like when people are buying cars. They’re really looking at the mileage per gallon, and that factors into their decision,” he said. “If you know this car gets more per gallon than another, you’re much more likely to go with that one.”
These days, more builders are getting higher HERS ratings on their homes, Jabaley said.
Builders are also getting rewarded monetarily for building energy efficient homes, he said, using Duke Energy’s incentive program as an example.
“Energy efficiency by builders is going to help the economy tomorrow because homeowners are going to have more money in their pockets,” Jabaley said.
Nathan Crowe said he’d like to believe that more people will incorporate eco-friendly, resource-saving measures as they build or buy homes and businesses.
“I think that that if we don’t all begin thinking a little bit more sustainably, it’s going to be an issue,” he said.