Energy efficiency can improve public health through weatherization of homes, reducing pollution, and making people’s homes safer. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has a new Health & Environment program that is doing pioneering research to document how saving energy does more than save money — it protects health.

In the southernmost tip of West Virginia, where the state’s poverty rates are highest, Brenda Kelsor struggles with chronic breathing problems. She has bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and her home — an old trailer — was only making matters worse. It lacked central air conditioning and insulation so she found it difficult to breathe in both summer and winter, noting, “It’s hard to breathe … if it’s too hot or too cold.” After her home was weatherized, its indoor temperature remained pleasant and her utility bills decreased. “Oh, my god, it feels good in here,” she said about the difference. “This is going to help.”

Like Kelsor, many residents of rural areas such as McDowell County have inefficient homes with high energy bills. Efficiency upgrades not only save homeowners money but also can improve their health. Curtis Lindsey, the weatherization program coordinator for the Council of the Southern Mountains, said many local residents can’t afford to move or fix their homes. “They are freezing every winter. They’re burning up every summer. And weatherization can help people in that situation.”

The conditions inside a home can have a big impact on a person’s health, affecting exposure to indoor air pollution, allergens, disease-carrying vermin, and other hazards. Energy efficiency upgrades can make buildings safer and healthier. Weatherizing a home involves sealing up holes and cracks that can allow cold air — or pests — into the home. A residential energy efficiency program typically also repairs or upgrades appliances. This can reduce utility bills and eliminate health hazards caused when malfunctioning furnaces and hot water heaters spew carbon monoxide into a home.

Professionals like Mr. Lindsey who deliver weatherization services are typically trained in building systems and sciences. They identify hazards in a home and fix them.  For example, they identify causes of moisture and ensure proper ventilation so that when the home is tightly sealed, air quality is maintained and mold doesn’t grow. These benefits are especially significant for vulnerable individuals such as the elderly, children, and people with respiratory illnesses, including asthma. By reducing a family’s utility bills, these efficiency improvements can also help those struggling to put food on the table.

Pollution & Air Quality

Reducing energy waste reduces pollution. By saving energy in buildings and making vehicles more fuel efficient, we burn less fossil fuel and reduce the pollutants they emit. Fossil fuel pollution contributes to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke. While our air is getting cleaner overall, four of every 10 people in the United States still live where the air is unhealthy. This pollution is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma. One of every 13 US residents has asthma, now the most common chronic disease that sends our kids to the hospital. Each year, we spend more than $50 billion on its treatment.

Energy efficiency policies and programs have already reduced pollution equivalent to what would have been produced by hundreds of power plants and improved the fuel economy of tens of millions of new vehicle. These programs and policies hold the potential to reduce even more pollution.

Cleaner air means better health and longer lives, particularly for those with respiratory illnesses. We have no cure for asthma, but we do know what triggers attacks. Mold, exposure to cold air or sudden temperature changes, air pollution, and pollen are all culprits. Fortunately, these triggers can be managed, reduced, and in some cases even eliminated through energy efficiency measures. Sealing holes that let moisture into a house helps prevent mold, reduces the influx of outdoor pollution, and eliminates exposure to drafts and sudden temperature changes. Changing your furnace’s filter ensures that particles in the air don’t circulate throughout your house.

Energy efficiency directly benefits the health of the general public as well as families who make their homes more efficient. Yet so far, efforts to understand and quantify these benefits have been limited. ACEEE’s research in this emerging and promising field aims to provide critical information about the benefits to the public, energy and health policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders.

The first-ever Conference on Health, Environment, and Energy is being planned for December 2018 in New Orleans.


From the ACEEE blog on their 3 part video series exploring the health impacts of energy efficiency.

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Newport is proud to see the Lutron Caseta Light Switches make the news in the top smart gadgets to buy this year. We were a part of this cutting edge smart lighting technology from Lutron Electronics before the system was even being sold in stores. Newport Ventures partnered with Lutron to put these systems in all our demonstration homes for our LED Demonstration Project.

Newport Ventures working with NYSERDA and a group of New York builders conducted an LED lighting demonstration that highlighted the use of advanced lighting and controls technology. Newport identified Lutron switches as a technology that could take advantage of LED technology and offer the homeowner benefits. Lutron was just coming out with the Caseta system and we placed it in each of the demonstration homes. Each home was designed with 100% LED lighting packages that aimed to not only emphasize energy savings from a more efficient technology, but also present innovative design options, improved aesthetics and ambience, and increased control capability available only through LED technology.

We are excited to see such rapid adoption of a system that not only works for homeowners, but saves energy!

Read the Washington Post article.

Read the full project report.

The Lutron Caseta remote, dimmer, hub and app give your lights superpowers. (Photo: Lutron)

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Passive Dwellings creates net zero energy buildings that provide exceptional comfort and will survive for multiple generations. Typical American buildings use wood as their basic building material. Most wood-based structures exist for a relatively short period of time because they eventually succumb to fire, rot, or insect infestation. Passive Dwellings builds long-lasting structures built of natural materials that are fireproof, waterproof, and insect-proof. The buildings are beautiful, comfortable, low-maintenance, supremely energy efficient, and permanent.

Passive Dwellings built a 4,250 square foot home in Hillsdale, NY to the performance criteria of the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program and recently received honorable mention from DOE’s Housing Innovation Awards. These award-winning ZERH homes are independently certified to meet DOE Zero Energy Ready Home guidelines and constructed by a select group of top builders. Zero Energy Ready Home is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings initiative which aims to make commercial, industrial, public, and residential buildings 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade.

This Passive Home by Passive Dwellings is “Energy Positive,” meaning the house produces more energy for its heating/cooling, lights, plugs, appliances, and well pump than it requires annually. It is also “Source Zero,” meaning the energy produced on site adds no net pollution to the atmosphere (either at the house or at the power plants that send electricity when the sun isn’t shining).

“Actual electric bills and solar energy production numbers are all made available to all prospective clients … It is difficult to explain what it is like to live in a home without drafts, cold spots, and heating/cooling losses through inefficient windows. Ancillary benefits are its fireproof construction, waterproof properties, and the fact that it is rodent proof.”

– Steven Bluestone, builder, Passive House

A variable refrigerant flow air-source heat pump provides high-efficiency heating and cooling for the home. The air handler and ductwork are located within the conditioned space of the home (photo 2). This Passive House saves homeowners more than $3,000 in energy bills annually with the help of a  9.6-kW pole-mounted PV, along with super-efficient construction (photo 3). All of the paints and finishes used in this EPA Indoor airPLUS certified home are low-/no-VOC-emitting. The windows are triple-glazed, argon-filled Passive House certified and fill the home lots of natural light. The roof consists of 12-inch structural insulated panels (SIPs)(photo 4). On the exterior of the autoclaved aerated concrete walls, the Passive Dwellings attached 4.5 inches of foil-faced poly-isocyanurate rigid foam and topped this with furring strips to provide a ventilation gap behind the fiber cement siding (photo 5). An energy-recovery ventilator provides continuous ventilation for clean air inside the tightly air-sealed home (0.39 ACH 50).

See photos below. Click to enlarge.

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

photo 4

photo 5

Key Features:

  • High-Performance insulation system for enhanced quiet and comfort
  • Comprehensive draft protection
  • Fresh air system for cleaner indoor air
  • High-efficiency comfort system
  • Energy-efficient appliances and advanced lighting technology for energy and water savings


Beneath the fiber-cement siding is an unusual building material called autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC). Steve Bluestone’s Passive House is the first autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) certified Passive House in the Americas. The homes above-grade walls are made of 8-inch-thick autoclaved aerated concrete blocks (pictured left). AAC is formed by mixing fine aggregate with water and other minerals that form gas bubbles in the mix causing it to double in size. It can be molded, fired, and easily cut into lightweight blocks with structural and insulating properties.

Autoclaved Aerated Concrete is a special lightweight concrete product that was invented in Sweden in the 1920s. Today it is used throughout the world and manufactured in over 350 plants around the globe. It is structural, easy to install, unaffected by water or fire, and airtight. AAC acts as insulation, doesn’t support the growth of mold, and provides abundant comfort through its inherent mass. Passive Dwellings advocates the use of reinforced AAC in walls and floors (and on occasion, roofs) due to its unmatched properties.


Steve Bluestone, founder of Passive Dwellings, has worked as a developer, general contractor, and property manager, producing thousands of units of housing and tens of thousands of square feet of retail space. Whether working on single-family homes or very large mixed-use apartment buildings, he has helped produce structures that have reduced energy consumption by 90% and more, others that are net zero, and some that are energy-positive. He has been an industry leader in energy efficiency for decades and continues to pursue his passion of researching new products and systems and introducing innovative building methods. He has spoken at numerous building and energy conferences and continues to share his knowledge to inspire the industry to reduce overall energy and water consumption.

For more information about Passive Dwellings and Steve Bluestone, visit


Associated Press: Building homes that make more power than they take (video)

Huffington Post: What Does It Take to Achieve a Zero-Net Energy Home? (video)

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Photovoltaic efficiency keeps improving. SunPower recently achieved 24 percent efficiency with its panels, delivering 70% more electricity than conventional solar panels from the same space over 25 years.

So, you are thinking of building a new home, and you want it to be as energy efficient as possible. You’ve heard that the cost of solar panels has dropped significantly. But you aren’t sure of the next steps. First the good news — you heard right! The cost of photovoltaics has dropped precipitously in recent years, thanks to a rush of imports, improved solar efficiencies, and bigger economies of manufacturing scale. The installed cost of a residential system has fallen to a tempting $2.70 a watt, making it very competitive with purchasing power from the utility.

That’s led to a big increase in residential installations – they nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015 alone. “Things are really looking good for solar,” said Ron Fergle, of Solart Inc., speaking to a packed room of architects at this year’s American Institute of Architects conference. It’s reached the point where producing solar electricity is cheaper in the long run than buying it from a utility, as long as you are willing to make an upfront investment. “Photovoltaics are cost competitive with fossil fuels,” says Jason Jewhurst, a senior associate with Bruner/Cott Architects & Planners, which specializes in urban housing projects.

How much would it cost to buy a system for your new home? Installers say the size of the typical photovoltaic installation is about 5 kilowatts (kW). At $3 per watt, that means the system only costs $15,000, half of what it cost five years ago. A super energy efficient new home, on the other hand, may only need a 2kW system. That would run about $6000. And that’s before tax breaks. The first is a federal solar tax credit of 30 percent. States may offer tax inducements.

The economics of photovoltaics are so compelling that some people design net-positive homes that produce more power than they consume. In more than 35 states, the excess power can be sold to the local utility at full retail rather than wholesale rates. And you can still buy electricity from the utility when you might need it.   Photovoltaics are typically only one part – arguably the most important one – of a system that powers your home. Most photovoltaic panels produce direct-current (DC) power that must be converted to alternating current (AC) with a stand-alone inverter. Some newer panels now come with built-in inverters.

The missing piece of this equation has been a reliable battery for storing electricity for use on a cloudy day. Inefficient lead-acid batteries used to be the only choice. In the last two years a new generation of deep-charging batteries – some work with lithium-ion technology, others with salt water – have hit the market that can hold four times the electricity and last three times longer. Acquion, whose battery modules are shown above, employs environmentally benign salt-water technology to produce a deep-charging battery that’s compatible with the new generation of lithium-ion batteries that have hit the market.

Many solar systems also come with software that tracks your energy consumption and use. You can come home in the evening, find out how much electricity your home produced during the day, and adjust your nighttime use accordingly. Real-time data may remind you to close doors and windows so that conditioned air doesn’t escape. Some systems tell you how much electricity different home appliances consume.

If you think you are located in a part of the country where photovoltaics won’t work well due to clouds or industrial pollution, think again. One of the toughest places to run a solar system in the United States is Seattle, where storm clouds cover rooftops for much of the year, Fergle said. But Germany has roughly the same solar insolation levels (or solar exposure) as Seattle, and it was the world leader in electricity produced by PVs until it was recently passed by China. The United States is in a way better position to use photovoltaics than Germany. “The United States has huge untapped potential,” said Fergle.

Where Should I Put the Panels?
 To make optimal use of PVs, your home must have a clear view of the sun for most or all of the day — unobstructed by trees, roof gables, chimneys, and buildings. The best location for a PV system is usually on a south-facing roof, since in the U.S. the sun is always in the southern half of the sky. That said, a roof that faces east or west may also be acceptable. If you can’t use the roof, you could mount the panels on a pole or a trellis in the yard, as shown below at a Deltec demonstration house in Asheville, SC.

Roofs with composition shingles are the easiest to work with; slate the most difficult. PV panels can often be integrated into the roof itself. Some modules are actually designed as three-tab shingles or metal-roof sections. Using PV panels as an awning can provide both electricity and shade.

What Type of Solar Should I Use?
There are two basic kinds of photovoltaics to consider. The first employ Crystalline Silicon cells. They are the most efficient and command 80 percent of the market. If your home will have good solar exposure – a big roof facing south in a sunny climate — they are often the best choice.   They may also live longer. They commonly come with a 25-year warranty. The actual efficiency of the panels ranges from 15% to as high as 24%, depending on the manufacturer. SunPower achieved a record 24.1 percent efficiency with its X-Series panel.

There are two types of crystalline silicon cells — monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline are more expensive but yield better results.

Thin film
photovoltaics, on the other hand, may perform better at lower light levels, and at high temperatures. Thin film may be a better choice with low light levels — where the lot is heavily treed, or if the home isn’t oriented to have much south-facing roof space. Thin film photovoltaics are made of thin layers of PV material deposited by gas on backing material. The film is basically rolled on roofs, louvers, or walls.

(Here thin film is part of the roof in an early version of the Future Farmstead project in Georgia.) The film is flexible, lending itself to application on a wide range of surfaces – not just the roof. Thin film also may make more sense where space is not an issue – like on a farm or in a rural setting. Homogenous in appearance, thin film isn’t as efficient as crystalline silicon at converting sunlight to electricity, with efficiency ranging between 7 and 13 percent.  It also degrades faster and comes with a shorter warranty.


From the blog Time to Build, Photovoltaics Have Improved!, By Boyce Thompson, July 2016

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There are innovative, new technologies that are poised to influence the building industry according to John Ellis, a managing director of Ellis & Associates, a management consulting firm that serves clients in the automotive, consumer, connectivity, and software fields. These influential technologies include the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and scanning, nanotechnology, and more.

Below is an excerpt from Builder Online’s interview with John Ellis about his vision for the future.

Technology is exploding these days, faster than builders can keep up. What top five technologies should they pay attention to?
The top five technologies for builders below might seem a strange list since some of these technologies are not specifically related to home building. That said, they are important for builders to follow and understand. Here’s why:

  1. 3D Printing. This technology has made significant leaps and bounds in the last few years. The first 3D commercially viable 3D printed car was debuted in November, 2015 at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas and is now available for purchase. In the first quarter 2016 the Oak Ridge National Laboratories showcased the first viable, fully 3D printed home suitable for every-day living. 3D printing will continue to improve and soon it will be possible for anyone to print just about anything. In the some not too distant future, I fully expect to see every house have a 3D printing room which will be used to print everyday objects like plates, cups, towels etc. Read more about 3D printing and watch a production video.
  2. Wireless Power. Imagine a world without cords or outlets. Where devices of all shapes and sizes are able to operate continuously, and as needed, have their batteries charged. This is the future of wireless power. And the future is much closer than people realize. One company promises commercial viable product before 2020. If that happens, this will have a profound impact on how homes of the future are built.
  3. Nano-particle Paint. This new technology is poised to revolutionize the world. Exceptionally hardened surfaces, self-cleaning surfaces, and dynamic-color changing surfaces are just a few examples of what is possible with nano-particle paint. We can imagine future homes that are never dirty, resistance to mold, mildew and other such destructive forces and can change colors at the whim of the owner. Read more about Nanotechnology in Homebuilding.
  4. Autonomous cars. While not directly related to the materials for home builders, autonomous cars are set to change the home building experience for ever. The narrative goes as follows: As autonomous cars permeate the market, people will become more accustomed to the vehicle as a utility rather than a thing to own. Over time, the idea of personal ownership will be replaced with on-demand services. When that happens, there will be no need for garages, driveways and maybe even streets. A future home in a world that is fully autonomous will be dramatically different than today’s homes.
  5. Drones. Yet another technology that is not directly related to home building but will have profound impact on the home of the future. We are moving quickly to a place where individual ownership of drones will be commonplace. Imagine sending your drone to the local Target or Costco to be loaded with goods that you purchased from an online website and the drone returning to your home. The future home likely will have a drone-pad similar to a helipad today.

How will IoT affect the way people live in homes over the next few years?
One of the biggest issues with IoT and homes of the future will be the concept of privacy. As we barrel ahead to connect anything and everything, we are quickly arriving at a point where all our devices in the house are connected, and even monitoring what we say to help provide additional conveniences. In the future, it may in fact be likely that homeowners will be required to post signage indicating to all that pass through the door that any and all of their conversations may be recorded and used in the future. That by entering the home, the person agrees to there not being privacy.

How far off are 3D printed houses in the U.S.?
As I indicated in my previous answer, 3D printed housing structures are possible today. So it would not surprise me that we could have 3D printed housing within the next 10-15 years. The natural place for this to first start is the pre-fabricated home industry. They already have adopted the idea of building the pieces in one location ensuring quality and price controls and then assembling elsewhere. This is a perfect place to use 3D printing of housing materials.

Our readers often look to the design and technological innovations of the automotive industry. What can builders learn from the way cars are built and designed?
One of the biggest changes in the auto industry is the introduction of 3D printing. Once fully commercialized, it has the potential to fundamentally change the entire supply chain and logistics. No longer do we need to expend significant energy and cost to bring together thousands of parts from hundreds of companies. So too in the home building industry. When 3D printing is fully commercialized, home building will be changed forever.

What will a home building construction site look like in 2025?
Home building in 2025 will likely include a lot more “technicians” focused on tuning the wireless power, or calibrating the nano-particle paint. In terms of tools, there will definitely be 3D printers used to create parts in real-time. I would also suspect there will be a lot of computer equipment likely in a trailer that is used to manage the building, configure the different instruments, sensors and products and to functionally test and verify the house is doing what it supposed to do.

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Many people look forward to selecting paint colors, countertops and appliances when designing their new homes. One other item that they may want to add to the list is how tightly the home is built.


A typical existing home can be very leaky by today’s standards. The metric used to measure the leakiness of a home is air changes per hour (ACH), often measured at 50 Pascal’s (ACH50). In many existing homes this number can approach or even exceed 10 ACH50. For context, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which sets minimum standards with regards to energy efficient construction, requires all new construction to meet certain air leakage requirements. In the 2009 edition the limit was 7 ACH50 (air changes per hour @ 50 pascals), which was then tightened to 5 ACH in the 2012 edition, and again to 3 ACH50 for the most recent 2015 edition. It is widely accepted throughout the industry that anything less than 5 ACH50 is considered to be a tight home.


To measure a home’s air leakage, we use a tool known as a blower door. To conduct a blower door test, a fan is mounted into a frame of an exterior door, which pulls air out of the house thus lowering the air pressure inside. Because the outdoor air pressure is now higher than the air pressure inside the home, the outdoor air is pulled in through all penetrations, crack and openings in the buildings envelope.

To measure the airflow, a manometer is connected to the fan and includes reference hoses inside and outside of the home that monitor airflow and pressure. The manometer measures airflow at cubic feet per minute reading (CFM) measured at 50 Pascal’s. Using this number and the volume of the home, we can calculate the infiltration or leakage rate.

Formula for calculating the ACH on a house using a blower door:

ACH50 = CFM50 x 60 ÷ House volume

Read more on Blower Door Testing and Sealing the Building Envelope (PDF)


“Having a blower door test helped validate the quality and energy efficiency we are getting with our new home. With rising energy costs its great piece of mind that any preventable issues with the home were addressed and we will spend less on heating & cooling as a result.”

– New Homeowner, Ballston Lake, NY




The benefits of having an energy efficiency home with little air leakage are great. Here are some advantages:

  • Lower utility bills
  • Reduced heating and cooling loads
  • Improved comfort
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Reduce/eliminate moisture problems


If you are a builder or homeowner and are interested in getting a blower door test done on your home, please contact us at 518-377-9410 or

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Safer, Stronger Homes: Reducing Your Risk During A Natural Disaster

SaferStrongerHomesCover_375WWith the Hurricane Harvey devastation in Houston and the impending doom of Hurricane Irma en route, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit a popular publication written by Newport Partners and ARES Consulting for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development on building Safer, Stronger Homes.


Why should I consider improving the way my home is built? Don’t building codes already ensure a home is safe enough? And doesn’t insurance take care of any damage anyway? How much does it cost and what do I get in return? — These are just a few of the questions that come to mind when considering decisions related to upgrading the construction of your new home.

At a very basic level, most people probably will admit that they want to avoid costly forms of damage to their home, personal contents, and harm to human life. Yet there are natural forces all around us that we often ignore or pay little attention to for various reasons. We tend to assume the big events like hurricanes and earthquakes are already taken care of through building codes. As you read through this document, you will find that building codes don’t fully protect you or your home all of the time. Further, they don’t often address damage from smaller events that can prove costly.

The first step to considering improvements during construction, or mitigation as it is often called, is to become an informed builder or consumer. That is the primary goal of this guide.

Here, you will find that it includes answers to important questions which will help consumers, builders, and others become wise decision-makers. It is not about “pushing” disaster mitigation so much as it is about explaining it so that individuals can make sensible decisions.

How to Use This Guide

This mitigation guide allows you to shop for specific disaster mitigation solutions and associated resources. When you consider one mitigation strategy, other related strategies will be brought to your attention for consideration. Often, you will find that the best value comes in a package deal rather than a piecemeal approach. So, please browse this catalogue for items that make sense to you for your particular situation. And, along the way, pay attention to any other considerations associated with a particular mitigation strategy

BUILDERS: If you already have a strong and current building code in your area, you can use this catalogue to design optional upgrades or include quality features in your homes that will differentiate you from other builders. If you are not in an area where the risk of a disaster is high or if there is an older or no building code, you should first look at the section in this report on the basics of good practice to help prevent damage from ground movements, winds, and flooding.

HOMEBUYERS: Use this catalogue to shop for features you want and to compare builder practices.

DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE: Safer, Stronger Homes: Reducing Your Risk During A Natural Disaster, November 2011 (PDF, 5MB)

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

~ B. Franklin

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