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June 29, 2000

Heating a home on two bits a day

Journal Construction editor

With temperatures pushing the 90-degree mark lately, prospective homebuyers may not be thinking about how much it costs to heat a home. But, residents at the new Woodlands condominiums in Everett will be smiling next winter because their heat bills will average 20 to 53 cents a day.

The secret?

Cocoon has a Class 1 fire rating.

Condo units have been built to Engineered for Life and Energy Star standards by developer and contractor Sunnydale Properties LLC.

"We are, to my knowledge, the only builder in the state of Washington building Energy Star certified homes," said Chaun Mackey, Sunnydale's director of sales and marketing. The same goes for Woodlands' Platinum Engineered for Life rating.

Energy Star homes are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to use at least 30 percent less energy for heating, cooling and water heating than homes based on the 1993 national Model Energy Code.

Engineered for Life homes have similar requirements for energy efficiency, but also include controlled mechanical ventilation of at least 40 cfm, an air-tightness standard of 0.25 cfm or below at 50 psi, and have all ductwork located within the conditioned space.

Sunnydale met the requirements by using two energy-efficient systems at the Woodlands project: hydronic gas heat and Cocoon insulation.

Dale Ackerman, Sunnydale's chief operations officer, said there are more advantages to hydronic heating than its energy efficiency, including the absence of ducting associated with centralized heating and the space those ducts take up. Also, he said each room has a thermostat to precisely control heat output.

Cocoon is made by GreenStone, a Louisiana-Pacific company that developed the Engineered for Life program. Cocoon is not only energy-efficient, it's earth-friendly because it's made from recycled newspaper and other paper products.

Cocoon is so efficient, GreenStone is guaranteeing Woodlands condo owners will pay no more than 53 cents a day for heat. That translates to $187 a year for an end ground floor unit to as little as $63 a year for a middle floor unit in the middle. If the cost is higher, GreenStone will reimburse the difference.

A study by Building Science Corp. estimated the annual heat cost of the end unit would have been $607 if it were insulated with standard fiberglass and had electric baseboard heat.

Mackey said Cocoon is 22 percent more efficient than fiberglass insulation because it has more air-tight qualities. It is blown into attic spaces and sprayed into walls cavities. Mackey said the spray goes on wet, but later dries into a dense mass.

With all that recycled newspaper in it, one would have to wonder if insects would like it as well as homeowners. GreenStone has taken care of that matter by adding boric acid to Cocoon, making it unattractive to insects but non-toxic to humans.

Cocoon insulation forms a seal around plumbing, wiring and framing.

Cocoon is also surprisingly fire retardant. It has a Class 1 fire rating for flame spread and smoke development.

At the Woodlands project, the cost to make units Energy Star compliant was about double for insulation and an extra $1,000 for the hydronic heat.

Mackey said the insulation cost was high because it was the first application Sunnydale had done. Another offshoot of Sunnydale's parent company McCaugherty Development will use the insulation on a project east of Lake Sammamish. Mackey said he expects the insulation costs to be nearly equal to that of standard insulation.

McCaugherty is using the energy efficiency ratings to market its condo projects.

"There was a project next door to (Woodlands) built the traditional way, we didn't want to be that project," said Ackerman. "From a competitive point, we wanted to differentiate ourselves. At this point, that is becoming our standard."

Ackerman said Seattle-based McCaugherty is adopting the Energy Star and Engineered for Life specifications for two other projects. One is 57 units on the first hole of the Harbour Pointe Golf Course in Mukilteo and the other is the Lake Sammamish project with 61 units. The Mukilteo project will open in January and the Lake Sammamish project this fall.

How is the public reacting to the high-efficiency units at Woodlands? While the project won't be totally finished for another month, 90 of its 126 units have been sold. Mackey said that's above average.

The eight-building Woodlands complex was designed by Milbrandt Architects of Bellevue.


Benjamin Minnick can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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