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Reasons to Build Sustainably, Especially in New Mexico

Tangibles

-Economics

A more sustainable building is a better investment for many reasons. It will cost less to own and operate while having better resale value.

  • New Mexico has a Sustainable Building Tax Credit. This unique and underused credit will return up to $13,000 in tax credits for a residential building that earns Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification. LEED certification requires designing and building to higher standards for several building attributes including Indoor Air Quality, Energy Consumption, Site usage, and Durability. It requires third party inspection and testing which provides an objective quality assurance for the owner, while reducing building operating and maintenance costs and improving a buildings re-sale value.
  • There is a 26% Federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit (in 2020) that will help pay for solar thermal or solar electric systems and may include the heating system. These systems can be included in the buildings long term financing which is low now and has great tax advantages.
  • There is an exemption to the Gross Receipts Tax for solar investments.

These tax breaks are money the government provides for you to improve the environment and promote energy independence. They also reduce a buildings operating cost and improve your equity value. A good illustration of this can be made with energy costs. If a conventional building has current annual energy costs of $1,800 a year and energy costs continue to increase 5% annually, by the end of a 20 year mortgage that annual cost will have increased to over $5,000 a year and will have required over $68,000 in energy costs. An important point is that these costs are in after tax dollars and represents money down the drain and a reduced equity position.

In contrast, the investment for energy efficiency can be financed with the tax sheltered mortgage and government subsidies, which results in am improved equity position that will improve with building appreciation and the increase of energy costs.

Additionally, in our experience, our sustainable homes have re-sold very quickly, even during economic downturns.

Intangibles

-Environment

Making a positive contribution to the global and local environment with sustainability should be seen as a civic duty. It is important to ourselves and to future generations, and there is no more important place to do that then in the homes we build or modify. A commitment to sustainable building may be the most important decision we can make, and will leave an enduring testimony for the owners.

-Health

Sustainability requires making good decisions about many aspects of our built environment. These decisions involve indoor air quality, lighting, comfort, and acoustics. Sustainable buildings have proved to have higher rental values, increased occupancy rates, and improved occupant productivity.

-Aesthetics

A sustainable building should incorporate timeless superior aesthetics. How can it be enduring if it is unpleasant to look at or live in?

You can contact Sun & Earth Construction at (575) 521-3537

How Good is that Wall?

With a conventional 2 x 6 wall, you get a nominal R-19 rating, but the effective R-value is usually only a little over ½ of that due to heat transfer through wood components, voids around the wiring, and real-world conditions.
Our minimum preferred framing system is a 2 x 4 wall with sprayed-in-place cellulose insulation backed with R-7 rigid foam insulation on the outside. The asphalt-impregnated paper facing on conventional fiberglass insulation is extremely flammable and difficult to extinguish once ignited. The cellulose insulation is a recycled product that is treated with borax and boric acid. Another example of green products having unexpected side benefits. Additional benefits are: reduced air infiltration, reduced cleaning, increased the usable area of the house and the overall measured external square footage, controlled insects and mold, and increased fire resistance.

Conventional Wall
Conventional Wall

We have also built frame walls with a nominal R-value of up to R-35, which is about what a straw bale wall is but requires much less floor space. This gives an effective R-value close to R-27.

Almost 20% of the heat loss in a conventional building is due to air infiltration under frame walls. About 15% is due to heat loss through the opaque wall areas. Air leakage under the walls is a more important factor than the nominal R-value of the wall, but it requires more research, more attention by the builder, and it is much harder to put in an advertisement.

Better Wall
Better Wall

A typical house with 2 x 6 walls might have 120 less usable square feet than if it were built with our minimum framing system. It would have an appraised value area of 60-120 feet more. At $100 per square foot, that would be an $18,000 to $24,000 difference in your taxed property.

More important are the long-term ownership benefits. As an example, if a $10,000 investment in energy conservation saves $800 the first year and energy costs rise at 10% per year while housing values increase at 8% a year, at the end of the second year the energy savings will be $1,680, while the $10,000 investment will have appreciated to $11,800. After ten years, that $10,000 investment will have appreciated to $52,338. It will have saved $12,750 in energy costs. Also, the initial investment is typically part of a mortgage and may be tax-sheltered.

This does not count intangibles such as protecting the environment, preserving indigenous cultures from exploitation, providing a stronger economy, and having lived in a healthier home. Experience has shown that over time intangibles are often the most valuable and the most profitable. Economy and ecology have the same root word: Oikos, which is Greek for house. What goes around comes around. We pay now or we pay later with interest, and the hidden charges are the ones that hurt the most.

Jim Graham, Las Cruces New Mexico Builder

Leed Certification

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a globally recognized sustainability achievement symbol. It is the most widely used green building rating system and is available for new construction and remodels. LEED provides parameters for building efficient, healthy buildings with cost-saving methods.
The benefits of LEED Certification include:

  • certification requires third party inspection and testing, which provides objective quality assurance above and beyond the mandatory building inspections.
  • Reduced energy and water usage
  • Lower operating costs
  • Less construction waste
  • Reduced liability
  • More durable buildings
  • Supports the local economy
  • Greater resale value
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • New Mexico’s Sustainable Building Tax Credit will return up to $13,000 in tax credits for a residential building that earns LEED Platinum Certification.
  • It is becoming easier for individuals with modest incomes to have their homes remodeled or built to green standards.

    Types of Solar

    Passive Solar Heating

    Passive Solar Home
    Passive Solar Home

    Buildings designed for passive solar heating with natural sunlight to light a building’s interior incorporate large south-facing windows, skylights, and building materials that absorb and slowly release the sun’s heat. Incorporating passive solar designs can reduce heating bills as much as 50 percent. Passive solar designs can also include natural ventilation for cooling. Windows are an important aspect of passive solar design. In cold climates, south-facing windows designed to let the sun’s heat in while insulating against the cold are ideal. In hot and moderate climates, the strategy is to admit light while rejecting heat. Interior spaces requiring the most light, heat, and cooling are located along the south face of the building, with less used space to the north. Open floor plans allow more sun inside.

    Active Solar Heating

    Active solar heating systems consist of collectors that collect and absorb solar radiation and electric fans or pumps to transfer and distribute the solar heat in a fluid (liquid or air) from the collectors. They may have a storage system to provide heat when the sun is not shining.

    An active system may offer more flexibility than a passive system in terms of siting and installation.

    Heating your home with an active solar energy system can significantly reduce your fuel bills in the winter.

    A solar heating system will also reduce the amount of air pollution and greenhouse gases that result from your use of fossil fuels such as oil, propane, and natural gas for heating or that may be used to generate the electricity that you use.

    Combined Passive/Active Solar Heating

    We have learned to combine passive and active solar elements in our designs because they both have advantages. Passive heating allows us to use building elements (walls, floors, etc.) as heat storage, reducing the requirements for water storage while leaving the advantages of active solar systems.

    A cubic foot of water will transport or store 3800 times the amount of heat the same volume of air will. Active solar systems allow the use of water to collect, store and transport heat.

    While some of our houses have been completely passive, actually able to meet their heating loads with the elegant simplicity of passive heating, we believe that a combined system is most effective because the increased area of glass amplifies total heating and cooling load, and active systems allow the greatest flexibility of site design, landscaping, and room layout.

    One advantage to using the sun to heat your building in New Mexico is that it allows you to use the unique ”solar right of way” law preventing neighbors from shading your collecting surface, and preserving the open spaces to the south of your building.

    Sun and Earth are distributors of ezinc Solar Water Heaters. What better way to save money than to use the Sun to heat your water!

    Other systems are available as well. We help you decide what’s best for you!

    Jim Graham, Contractor/Builder Las Cruces New Mexico

    Green Building: Minimal Impact on Environment

    A green building is any building that is sited, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained for the health and well-being of the occupants while minimizing the impact on the environment.

    Green Building

    Green building construction refers to those practices that promote occupant health and comfort while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. There are different degrees of “greenness.” Often it is necessary to strike a balance between many different sometimes conflicting “green” options based on the particular conditions of a given project. For example, a proper strategy for a sustainable retrofit project may differ from that of a new construction design.

    Green building practices offer an opportunity to create environmentally sound and resource-efficient buildings by using an integrated approach to design. Green buildings promote resource conservation by including design features, such as energy efficiency, use of renewable energy, and water conservation.

    By promoting resource conservation, green building design creates healthy and comfortable environments, reduces operation and maintenance costs, considers the environmental impact of building construction and retrofit, and concentrates on waste minimization.

    In the interim, green building design addresses such issues as historical preservation and access to public transportation and other community infrastructure systems. The entire life cycle of the building and its components is considered, as well as the economic and environmental impact and performance.

    Jim Graham, Las Cruces Contractor

    Energy Efficiency

    The wholesale price of propane increased at 3.8% per year from 1990 – 1999. That is the lowest annual increase we are likely to see given:

    • propane is tied to the price of petroleum and natural gas
    • petroleum prices have increased and are likely to be unstable, and storage facilities for petroleum, and especially propane are limited

    Natural gas prices have increased sharply in the 1st part of this millennium because

    • natural gas is difficult and expensive to transport, especially overseas
    • the United States has over invested in natural gas as a fuel for power generation.

    The embodied energy (that is the energy used to make the building) can equal 5- 20 years of the energy consumption of a building. That one reason is why we prefer to use fly ash. It is a waste product that replaces part of the Portland cement in concrete. Portland cement production requires strip mining limestone, crushing the limestone, and enormous amounts of energy to convert the limestone to cement. Fossil fumes are consumed and carbon dioxide is produced both by fuel combustion and limestone conversion.

    Buildings are a major source of the pollution that causes urban air quality problems, and the pollutants that contribute to climate change. They account for 49 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 25 percent of nitrous oxide emissions, and 10 percent of particulate emissions, all of which damage urban air quality. Buildings produce 35 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions the chief pollutant blamed for climate change.

    There are many opportunities to make buildings cleaner. As just one example, if only 10 percent of homes in the U.S. used solar water-heating systems, we would avoid 8.4 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year.

    Sun & Earth Construction uses quality materials with low embodied energy, while caring about the environment around us and building cost efficient homes.

    Reasons for Choosing Energy-Efficient Design

    Tangibles

    Economics– the short term returns to the building owner

    • immediate reduction in utility bills
    • decreased household maintenance, especially cleaning
    • increased appraisal without an increase in property tax assessment
    • qualification for energy-efficient mortgage programs

    Economics – long term returns to building owner

    • energy costs increase more rapidly than inflation, so energy-efficient upgrades increase their cost effectiveness. They appreciate more
      rapidly than other building amenities, which may even depreciate
    • energy-efficient upgrades will be saving money at the same time they are appreciating. Similar to rental property except that they are a passive investment.

    Intangibles

    • Human rights and political self-determination
    • Sustaining the environment
    • “We are very pleased. The house has exceeded our expectations in terms of aesthetics, quality, and energy efficiency.”