Sims Luxury Builders Blog

sustainability and energyimage via Toner Home Matters Facebook

Today, we’ve got a special guest contributing to this little blog of ours!

Toner Kersting of Toner Home Matters is the premier energy and sustainability consultant in the Greater Houston area, and specializes in both preventing and solving some of the gnarliest and most feared construction deficiencies in homes and buildings all over the city. Follow him on social and you’ll see just what we mean. Mold, rotting building materials, premature breakdowns in a home’s mechanical systems… a day in his life is the stuff of every homeowner’s worst nightmare.

The truth is, we are able to build tighter and healthier homes today than ever before, but ONLY if we take a well-informed, holistic approach to proactively consider how all of our building methods and materials will uniquely interact when incorporated into each and every home’s design. 

We collaborate with Toner not just to provide mandated inspection and certification, but to proactively identify potential “problem areas” in each home’s unique design, then present solutions through building specifications that serve to prevent home-performance deficiencies, and optimize the longevity of the integrated systems within each home. Ultimately, our clients end up with a healthier, higher-performing home with fewer warranty issues.

We teamed up with Toner on this post to explore what sustainability and energy mean to Houston home buyers today, and to dig into the unique challenges presented by building in Houston. Enjoy!

ceiling moldimage via Toner Home Matters Facebook

What does Toner Home Matters see as the most pressing issue in sustainable living today?

Toner: Really understanding that sustainability comes first.  Sustainability means managing our climate, indoor and out, and making sure that they are copacetic.  If not, the end result will be a beautiful, but unhealthy, wet moldy mess.

What are some environmental challenges of building in Houston?

Toner: This is the worst place to build a home in the U.S.  We have the same environmental factors as Havana, Cuba.  I can’t make up for acts of God, like a hurricane or heavy rain, but I can make up for acts of Mother Nature, like designing to stop vapor drive, which is the most oppressive force.

What is the optimal design for an HVAC system to regulate heating, cooling, and moisture in a home in Houston? What do you take into consideration when designing the HVAC system?

Toner: We are almost 100% all electric systems now.  There is really no good reason for a carbon producing gas unit inside a tight envelope.  Of course, we use heat pumps, and that actually meets up to historic Houston usage standards.  We also down play to lower stage equipment and use standalone dehumidifiers.  Simple cooling and simple dehumidification are the smart play.

hvacimage via Toner Home Matters Facebook

While hurricanes are rare, they are a very destructive force. Is there a way to build a home to sustain the least amount of damage during a hurricane and the subsequent flooding?

Toner: We have special techniques when designing for flood plain homes. We accept that they may flood, and the design will allow for quicker clean out of not only water, but also the contaminants that come along with the flood.

Considering the heat and sunlight in Houston, how do you meet lighting design challenges in terms of windows and other openings, plus electrical lighting, to maintain energy efficiency?

Toner: It is important to ask the owners their plans for window coverings and how they schedule their daily usage of the light.  For instance, if the owner wants a clear view all the time, then we work with the architect to maximize the overhang to increase soffit shading.  Deep soffits look cool and are more efficient while maxing out day-lighting.

Can you talk a little bit about the State of Texas Energy Standard and any special challenges there are to meeting it in Houston?

Toner: This is a big part of our business.  Just like in any market, there are good and bad ways through this process.  We feel we are providing the best and most litigious version of the Energy Certification.  Unfortunately, there are lots of ways around the code.  If you disrespect the code that affects building performance design, then you will have problems.  That is why more than half of our business is fixing hundreds of homes with issues post construction.

What is the biggest mistake people make when designing a home in Houston?

Toner: Not seeking the team.  Don’t stop at the architect.  Get your Architect, Builder and Consultants, Building Performance Design (TONER), Structural Engineers, etc., onboard and then move ahead as a group.

old home new windowsimage via Toner Home Matters Facebook

When renovating a home in Houston, what changes or building techniques and materials will give the owner the biggest bang for their buck in terms of energy savings? How about in achieving a healthy home?

Toner: Understanding the original building performance design and working from the lowest common denominator is important.  If you push an old home, it will backfire hard.  Accept what you have and work from there.  With some historic respect, I can make an old home outperform a new home in terms of sustainability, but it may have a little fatter utility bill.  A healthy home in Houston is a well-maintained home.  These are not rental cars.  They are the most complex systems you will run.  Take the time to understand how to “run your home” or it will run you and not be healthy.

What are the three biggest high humidity issues Houston homes face? How can they be designed to mitigate them?

Toner:

  1. Over cooling the AC system. Tighter homes do not have the “wiggle” room older homes have.  Also, modern HVAC equipment is very powerful.  If you over cool your home, it will soak your walls.
  2. Third floor bump up spaces really complicate performance design. You are choking the attic and that is how a home breathes, with or without foam.
  3. Not understanding “feels like” vs temperature set point. Good performance design will yield a higher temperature set point, but a low relative humidity in the home.  74 degrees cooling and 55% relative humidity “feels like” a crisp 71 degrees.  This is a safer play than 71 without direct humidity control.

insulationimage via Toner Home Matters Facebook

Can you give one or more examples that fit into this quote from your website? 

“Everything goofy that could happen to a house, that you didn’t think could happen to a house, that happened to your house & you don’t know why!" - Tonerhomematters.com

Toner: Sure thing.  We were dealing with an odor issue in a new home.  It was about a four million dollar project in Little River Oaks.  I traced the issue to the living room and only in the winter.  I noticed an oil stain on the big reclaimed beams on the ceiling.  The owner was very proud that their builder found these beams from an old barn in the hill country and reused them.  I did some tests and yes, they were from the hill country, but not a barn.  They were old railroad ties and the heat was activating the tar and resin.

What is the most popular education session you give at conferences like The Sunbelt Conference, and why do you think that is?

Toner: My most popular class is always “Building Forensic Lessons”.  It has lots of crazy photos and people are surprised how easy it is to avoid problems at the front end, and how expensive it is to correct the issues at the back end.

~

It’s important to note that the state of Texas now requires that each home is certified by an independent 3rd party based on the 2015 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code). For homeowners and conscientious homebuilders like us, this was a welcomed mandate to ensure that high-quality construction best practices are being used in our communities. Unfortunately, this recent statute has given rise to some rubber-stamp 3rd party certifiers. We’re proud to say that Toner Home Matters definitely isn’t one of those. He approaches his life’s work with the same passion, professionalism, and integrity that we do, making our partnership a naturally great fit.  

We’ve been extremely grateful for the knowledge and expertise of Toner and his team through the years, and are looking forward to many more healthy, high-performing Sims Luxury Builders homes to come!

Campbell Kitchenimage via Toner Home Matters Facebook

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