For more than 45 years, Natale Builders has been providing clients with quality, custom built homes. After the downturn in the housing market in 2006, the business shifted their focus to building better insulated, and more efficient homes to set themselves apart, driving the message that customer satisfaction is a priority. Ten years later they are building green homes designed to achieve net zero energy performance. Since winters in Buffalo can be extreme, premium insulation and ultra-efficient heating systems are essential. Natale Builders uses a Superior Wall foundation insulation system, Aeroseal technology, and Ground Source Heat Pump equipped with a Desuperheater to achieve that goal. Natale uses continuous insulation combined with targeted caulking, and spray foam to reduce heat loss cost effectively. Adding a solar electric system to their already high performance home design provides their clients with piece of mind protection against future energy shocks. Investing in the right materials and properly marketing the benefits of high efficiency homes allows Natale to continue growing their client base pursing a net zero design.
Project Team Profile
Natale Builders is a premiere custom home building operation serving the Buffalo area. Founded 45 years ago by Angelo Natale Sr., the company has a longstanding commitment to customer satisfaction. That commitment means staying on the leading edge of their industry by evolving to meet the demands of a changing market. Now, under the lead of Angelo Natale Jr., the company’s focus is on achieving the highest levels of comfort and efficiency by building unique, beautiful, and high-performance homes. Natale Builders has taken a progressive approach to the increasing popularity of energy efficiency by building and marketing homes to the highest performance standard—net zero certification—meaning the home produces as much energy from renewable sources, such as solar electric, as it uses over the course of the year.
Vice President Larry LaDuca knows that the homebuilding market is competitive and builders need to find a way to distinguish themselves from the competition, “If you’re building the same product today as you did 10 years ago, you won’t have much of a marketing advantage,” says LaDuca. He adds that building high-performance and net zero homes is what sets Natale Builders apart, “We believe in the product, we believe in being green. It’s better for the environment and it’s better for our clients.”
Building a net zero energy home is a team effort. The names and contact info of the “Natale Builders’ net zero team” are noted here:
|Builder||Natale Builders||Larry LaDuca
|Architect||“In-house” design coordination Angelo Natale||KCB Architect
|HERS Rater||Home Performance Consultants||Todd Blackley
|Solar||CIR Electrical Construction Corporation||Scott Dalton
Net Zero Strategy
When building a home to achieve net zero performance, Natale Builders incorporates several simple, yet critical, components. First is the prefabricated “Superior Wall” foundation system. These foundation-wall panels are precast concrete with built-in footers and pre-applied insulation. Once installed, the Superior Wall is drywall-ready and includes a 30-year guarantee against leaks. Natale Builders can assemble the Superior Wall panels quickly and in any weather, whereas weather extremes can shut down work on traditional masonry or concrete foundations.
For wall fabrication, Natale Builders chooses a site-built framed assembly, which combines structural sheathing with a layer of continuous insulation. The continuous insulation is crucial to the assembly as it greatly reduces heat loss, air leakage (special tape seals the sheathing joints) and sound transmission through the exterior walls. Air leakage is further reduced with the targeted application of spray foam insulation at the band joist (between floors) and rim joist (where the foundation and first floor meet). R-15 batt insulation is installed in the wall cavities.
In such tight buildings, fresh air is essential to ensure a healthy indoor environment. Natale Builders addresses this by installing energy recovery ventilators (ERVs). During the heating season, an ERV extracts heat from stale air exhausted out of a home and transfers that heat to filtered, fresh air drawn in to the home. In the cooling season, heat transfers from the warm fresh air drawn in to the home to the cool air exhausted out of the home. ERVs also have the capability of transferring moisture to keep it in the home during cold, dry winters and keep it outside during hot, humid summers.
For space conditioning, Natale utilizes a ground source heat pump (GSHP). A GSHP system is different than a gas-fired furnace with a split central-air conditioning system. First, GSHPs do not burn fossil fuels and use the ground as a heat source or sink. During the summer months, a GSHP extracts heat from the home and pumps (sinks) it into the ground. During the winter months, the heat pump reverses the process and extracts heat from the ground and delivers it into the home. The GSHP system combines with a variable-speed air-handling unit and a properly designed and well-sealed duct system to deliver conditioned air to the living space. Thoroughly sealed ducts are an important part of a well-functioning space-conditioning system. Natale uses Aeroseal technology to seal gaps in the duct system by introducing sealant particles to the inside of a pressurized duct system. Pushing the sealant particles into any gaps between duct connections seals the duct system.
In addition to providing combined heating and cooling, the GSHP can improve the performance of the domestic hot water (DHW) system. A device called a desuperheater extracts waste heat from the heat pump and transfers the heat to water in a preheat tank. The preheat tank is piped to an efficient electric hot water heater. When there is a need for hot water, the electric water heater draws water that is 75° F or warmer from the preheat tank, using less electricity to bring the water up to the desired temperature. This is in contrast to having to heat the water directly from the main line, where water enters the home at 50° F.
Appliances are also very important to achieve a net zero home. While Natale does not supply appliances, they stipulate in their client agreement that buyers agree to purchase ENERGY STAR®-qualified appliances.
Overall, Natale estimates that their net zero homes cost 2% to 3% percent more to build than the houses of their competitors who build to minimum code requirements.
While building a net zero home involves some added upfront costs, there are ways to minimize that increase. Natale Builders’ use of the prefabricated foundation system costs more than conventional construction, but this additional expense is offset by the ability to install the foundation in one day, regardless of weather conditions. There is also the added benefit of a 30-year warranty.
To build a tighter home, Natale worked with their Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Rater and insulation contractor to develop a cost effective strategy to significantly reduce air leakage. The team created a hybrid approach; a combination of continuous insulated sheathing, thorough caulking around the windows, doors, mechanical and electrical penetrations, and strategic use of spray foam insulation. This strategy costs less than spray foaming the entire house, but achieves the goal of significantly reducing air leakage.
To reduce GSHP installation costs Natale uses a stacked “slinky” loop field when possible. This system uses slinky coils rather than straight vertical pipes that require a deep well, which reduces excavation and loop field installation costs. The slinky coils are stacked in a horizontal trench with one at a depth of eight feet and a second one directly above it at five feet.
Natale’s open, functional floor plans allow the builder to control costs by slightly reducing the overall square footage while still delivering a home with a very spacious feel.
In addition to the savings and optimizations realized by Natale Builders, NYSERDA incentives as well as State and federal tax credits play a role in the economics of their projects. The NYSERDA Home Builder Incentive offered through the Low-rise Residential New Construction program, which Natale Builders receives for meeting the tiered performance standards of the program, helps to reduce the additional cost for building higher performing homes. See the current Low-rise Residential New Construction program incentive levels. Natale’s efficient homes also make them eligible for a $2,000 Energy Efficient New Homes Federal Tax Credit.
Natale’s customers benefit as well. They can participate in NYSERDA’s NY-SUN incentive program which offers homeowners a set incentive based on the size of the installed solar electric system. See the currently available NY-Sun Incentive rates. Adding a solar electric system and a geothermal system also currently makes homeowners eligible for a 30% Federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit on the cost of each system as well as a 25% NY State Solar Energy System Equipment Tax Credit for the cost of the solar electric system.
Please note that tax credit and program incentive levels may change due to market transformation trends, changing code requirements, and advancements in technology.
While sales lagged during the economic downturn, Natale continued to improve the functionality and energy performance of their homes. That perseverance led to the winning formula they still use today: build a high performance, low maintenance, and stylish home with very low energy bills. Natale also adjusted their marketing to highlight the benefits of living in these homes, which has resulted in an increasing number of their buyers pursuing net zero design.
Investing in the right materials like Superior Wall, ThermalStar insulated structural sheathing, Anderson Windows and Doors, and AEROSEAL® for duct sealing saves labor and ensures an exceptional building envelope, which is the key to achieving net zero energy performance.
When conducting their standard six-month and one-year follow-ups with buyers, Natale finds that homeowners are pleased with their energy savings and are often surprised how low their bills are.
The Rivera Way Home in Clarence, NY is owned and occupied by a retired couple, their adult daughter, and her young child. Their feedback has been very positive thus far, and indications are that the home’s energy performance is excellent. See real-time monitored performance of Natale’s 2012 built Rivera Green Home.
Pictures, Plans, Materials
Size: 1920 square feet
Climate Zone: 6A
HERS Index : Pre-PV: 34 Post PV: 10
Roof: R-value 49, Composition: Architectural shingle
Foundation: Superior Walls
Foundation Wall Composition: R-12.5 Superior Wall
Windows: U-Value 0.29, SHGC 0.32 / Composition: Double glazed, Low-e Argon
Air-sealing: ACH 50: 1.81 /Strategy: Foam rim joist and other tough-to-seal areas
Ventilation: Energy recovery ventilator (ERV)
Cooling: Water furnace ground source heat pump (GSHP)
Heating: Water furnace ground source heat pump (GSHP)
Hot Water: Marathon high efficiency electric integrated with GSHP desuperheater preheat tank
Lighting: 80% LED, 20% CFL
ENERGY STAR-Rated Appliances: Owners must agree to choose ALL ENERGY STAR appliances
Solar: 9 KW roof-mounted photovoltaic system (solar electric)
Water Conservation Strategy: ENERGY STAR clothes washer and dishwasher
Certifications: New York ENERGY STAR Certified Home, National Green Building Standard
Awards: NAHB Green Site Development of the Year 2014