This winning Quality Home Comfort Award project demonstrates what can be accomplished when a team bonds together in pursuit of a common comfort goal, and when participants take full ownership of a project.

After a successful career as a commercial builder, Patrick Stare decided he wanted to focus his time and energy on building energy-efficient homes.

For one of his first major projects, in early summer of last year, colleagues from a leading Southwest mechanical contractor — TDIndustries — referred Stare to employee-owned Tempo Mechanical Services, Irving, TX — the ContractingBusiness.com 2003 Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year. Up until 1997, Tempo was the residential construction division of TDIndustries, ContractingBusiness.com's 1995 Commercial HVAC Contractor of the Year. (Read the Tempo story at http://bit.ly/tempostory.) But, this would be no ordinary home or HVAC installation.

"The homeowners and I wanted to build a house with a geothermal comfort system, and one that would help qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification," explains Stare, whose commercial building resumé includes a previous LEED Silver certification.

"Tempo was one of the few contractors in the region that could handle the LEED rating specifics, in addition to its experience installing geothermal systems," Stare says. The goal was total comfort and efficiency, and a responsible building design, at a cost that was within the customer's budget.”

Tempo's point-men in the project were Project Manager Ted Konechne, Jason Helm, project manager for Tempo's affiliate company, Tex Energy Solutions, a leading energy testing company, and "above-code" certifier, and Thomas Murrell, Tempo's vice president, new construction.

Stare knew the logistics required to deliver the home on schedule and as specified. Konechne and Helm supplied their experience in geothermal and energy efficiency required to pull all the pieces together, to offer the best options for the owners.

"The geothermal approach caused the project to double in price (total cost: $70,000+) — but it's a good option for those who can afford it and who want long-term sustainable home comfort," Konechne says. "The cost of repairing a standard system in the later years can mount up. With geothermal, the inherent value is that none of the elements are exposed to our severe Texas heat. They're all inside, contained in the building envelope. That leads to durability and longer life, with manufacturer warranties beyond what you’d see in a traditional system."

Konechne worked on 50 custom homes in this size range in 2010. Twenty have been in conjunction with Tex Energy, and were in compliance with an above-code program, such as Energy Star or Green Built Texas.

Perfect Collaborative Effort
Konechne says this home was ideal for a collaboration between Tempo and TexEnergy.

"We maintain a separation between the air conditioning company and the energy testing company. TexEnergy works more often with other air conditioning companies, to consult, test equipment, or help with LEED certifications. It just so happened that we were affiliate companies, with good communication and connections, and wide-ranging knowledge. That bond is valuable with these larger projects," Konechne says. "As soon as we realized in which direction we were going, Jason and I were able to react quickly, to get Pat what he needed to get started down the road towards a LEED-certified project."

Patrick Stare hit the ground running at a brisk pace. "From the very first day we met on the site, he said, 'OK, we're going to do this, and this, and this.' Each goal was reached at the right time," Ted says.

To ensure that the home's sizable footprint didn't negate its many favorable efficicency qualities, Stare used an ample amount of foam insulation underneath the floor assembly. The builder overcame the size issues with spray foam insulation, top of the line windows, and the incorporation of shading and orientation of the home as built, and delivered a perfect application for geothermal heating and cooling.

The 1.7-acre lot provided ample area for two separate loop fields. There are three, 300-ft. wells on the east side of the home, to serve the two-ton system for the master bedroom zone, as well as another eight loop field in the front of the home serving the family room and second floor zones.

The loops were put in place over the course of eight days. "The challenge with geothermal is finding a knowledgeable driller, one who can do the pressure drop calculations to figure out how to size the pipe. When we stir the water it must be kept at three gallons a minute, and the loop field must be sized properly for optimum cooling performance," Konechne explains. "The team at Geothermal Drilling, Inc. knew exactly how to proceed."

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The project meets all of the pre-requisites of the LEED for Homes rating system, and has earned points for location, sustainability, water efficiency, energy, atmosphere, and indoor air quality (IAQ).

"It scored a 59 on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), which is 41% better than current energy code," Konechne says. "They were super-insulating it, tightening up the structure and all metal ductwork for the most efficient air flow. When people want top-of-the-line comfort, we use snap-lock round pipe, fully ducted returns to bedrooms, and plenty of return air so it can breath well. When you start adding up the small chunks and big chunks of efficiency, it starts to put together a house that’s big, but sensible."

After considering their options, the team selected three ClimateMaster systems, in horizontal, vertical, and split configurations, based on what they knew of its durability and long-term performance. The original plan was to fill the attic above the garage with foam insulation. But soon, the homeowner realized the area could be used for extra storage, as well as a place for one of the ClimateMaster units. A split system that serves the master suite was installed in the attic space above the suite, at a 90-degree angle, to ensure the best fit.

"We met the challenge of the storage area because of our preplanning, and organization on the site," says Helm. "It was somewhat difficult to move the equipment around. When you get electrical and plumbing involved, the red lining process begins so you don’t miss any important steps."

Other notable challenges included redesigning assorted ductwork and chases.

"We had to shorten some duct runs upstairs, and then bring the equipment in and connect it to the plenum, which used up three days," Helm recalls. "The challenge when making those kinds of changes is to have the discipline to put down on paper everything you want to accomplish. We all have to be looking at the same drawing and everyone must clearly understand the concept," Helm says.

Besting the Standards
The home earned an EnergyStar designation through a third party home energy rater, U.S. Eco Logic, Irving, TX, which performed an inspection and performance testing for duct leakage and infiltration. Duct leakage was measured at 3.67 CFM per 100 sq.ft., outperforming the EnergyStar standard of 6 CFM per 100 sq.ft. Infiltration rate was measured at 2.88 ACH@50 PA, using a Minneapolis Blower door system. The current energy code requirement is 7.0 ACH@50 PA. The confirmed HERS index score for this home is a 59. To achieve this score, the project incorporated an efficient insulation system and cathederalized the attic, bringing the ducts and HVAC system into the conditioned space.

Indoor Environmental Quality
"When homes have as low an infiltration rate as this home does, indoor air quality is very important. Operating the home as a system helps to reduce indoor contaminants and humidity," Helm adds. "This home uses Energy Star-qualified bath fans that are quiet, use less energy than nonqualifying fans, and help remove humidity in bath areas. Diluting the interior air with fresh air from the exterior helps improve the indoor environment. Another strategy the project team incorporated was a pre-occupancy flush that helps remove air contaminated by dust from the building process.

Great Team Brings Great Results
Both Tempo and TexEnergy have established solid reputations as leaders in quality HVAC systems, so it’s not surprising that this project was such an unqualified success. But there are always some questions before and during the event, related to those unknown factors that often occur. When those questions arose surrounding this project, it was great to have a team of solid professionals to provide the answers, and plenty of support.

Konechne says this was, "a great project, managed by a great team." They overcame the project's challenges, and delivered what would be a home of anyone's dreams to the happy — and now, comfortable — family.

PRODUCT KEYS TO SUCCESS

  • Climate Master Tranquility TTH/TTV/TTS Indoor/Outdoor Split Earthpure® systems (with Copeland® Scroll UltraTech™ compressors)
  • ClimateMaster Tranquility 20/27 Series geothermal heat pump systems
  • Ecobee web-enabled thermostats with humidity control and remote access
  • Honeywell Y8150 fresh air system