by Jennifer Gonzalez
Published: December 2,2013
8:00 am Mon, December 2, 2013
Berkeley Building Company owner Joe Atalla and Moya and Clint Dolsby sit in the family room of the Dolsbys’ home. Their two-story home will cost less to heat and cool than the one-story, much smaller home they moved from. Photo by Patrick Sweeney.
Moya and Clint Dolsby’s new house is more than twice as large as their old home, but they’re hoping to lower their power bills by $1,735 a year.
The couple designed their custom, 3,200-square-foot home in southeast Boise to be as energy efficient as possible.
“There are a lot of upfront costs, but we feel it will be totally worth it, since we plan on staying here for a long time,” Moya Dolsby said.
The couple teamed up with homebuilder Joe Atalla, president of Berkeley Building Company in Meridian, who specializes in constructing homes that are Energy Star certified and exceed other minimum energy efficiency standards. The trio determined that a big home with minimal power bills was possible. Most of the homes Berkeley builds are in the $250,000 to $400,000 range.
The energy-efficient construction includes a crawl space and fan in the garage that regulate the temperature in the house. Depending on the season, either cool or warm air is drawn from the crawl space to regulate the home’s interior. Exterior wall construction is with 2-by-6-inch lumber as opposed to the traditional 2-by-4-inch lumber, which helps insulate the home up to 46 percent more than average. Additionally, Berkeley homes rely on a zoned system with separate thermostats to better regulate the temperature in different parts of the house.
“A two-story home is a bit trickier to heat and cool, which is why a zoned system makes sense,” Atalla said.
They also did some investigating on their own. Clint Dolsby, an engineer with the city of Meridian, looked into installing a geothermal system, but determined the cost was prohibitive.
The couple chose an upgraded air conditioning and furnace unit thermostat that runs on variable speeds. The unit cost about $1,000 but works more efficiently than standard units to actively regulate the temperature inside.
Additionally, around the time they teamed up with Atalla, the two met Carl Simpson, owner of Renewable Energy NW in Star, who suggested some money-saving options for heating the home’s water supply.
The concept for the Dolsby home was straightforward. Two solar panels with 20 solar tubes each were installed on the roof to heat the hot water tank and furnace. A separate storage tank works with the water heater to provide 120-degree water on demand. The system costs roughly $6,700 upfront, but there are incentives, including a 30 percent federal tax credit for the total cost of installation and a 100 percent tax deduction available through the state.
In China, up to 90 percent of homes use solar power to heat the water supply. That number is less than 1 percent in the United States, Simpson said. Over the course of a year, these measures will reduce energy costs 50 percent compared to a traditional home water-heating system.
Moya Dolsby said that warm water from the solar heating system will also be available to heat a pool, something she and her husband have discussed building in the next year or so. The two also plan to build a well on the .42-acre property to irrigate the landscaping and grass. At a cost of about $3,500 for its construction, they’ll be able to irrigate their yard without receiving a water bill from the city.
“We need water for our yard because we will have flower gardens and beds, but it doesn’t have to be the same water we use in our house. … Well water is fine outside,” Moya Dolsby said.
Berkeley Building Company hired Building Energy Incorporated to audit the structure. Owner Ingo Stroup works independently and inspects homes based on a national rating system that calculates a home’s energy performance. That index is referred to as the Home Energy Rating System.
Stroup determined the Dolsbys will save about $1,735 in annual energy costs, which translates to $140 a month. Over the life of an average 30-year mortgage loan, that’s about $50,000 in utility cost savings, he said.
The couple said they’ll pay less for energy at their new home than they did for their former home, which was 1,500 square feet.
“To think we will pay less on our energy bills than our last home is pretty cool,” Clint Dolsby said.
A lengthy process
Months of cleanup and development were required on the large parcel of land Moya and Clint Dolsby purchased for their home near Timberline High School.
An old home at the site was donated to the Boise Fire Department for training, and the Dolsbys spent every evening and weekend for months filling up dumpsters with old trees and trash from the property.
“We spent most of the winter with our crowbars and chain saws just clearing,” Clint Dolsby said.
The two subdivided their lot so Joe Atalla, of Berkeley Building Company, could build two other homes on the property, creating a three-home neighborhood. The effort cost thousands up front, including survey work, sidewalks, driveways, and new sewer and power. Moya Dolsby said the lot development cost $100,000 on top of its purchase price of $130,000.
But “we wouldn’t live anywhere else,” said Clint Dolsby.
“It was important to us to get off the grid as much as possible and still be green,” Moya Dolsby said.