air sealing & the Path to Net Zero


In a Move to Zero Energy, New Tradition Homes is Testing Product Innovation

The Washington builder leads the country for energy efficient homes; awarded ENERGY STAR’s top honor in 2018.

For 30 years, New Tradition Homes has led the Washington home building market, constructing over 5000 single-family homes.  Recognized as a top 5 builder in the state for volume, New Tradition is also recognized nationally as a leader for building energy efficient homes.

Some builders claim to build energy efficient homes, but very few build to the level of New Tradition. Meaning, all New Tradition homes are certified ENERGY STAR and Built Green Washington 3-star; the only high-volume builder in the state to do so. This commitment to excellence is reflected in company values, which highlight quality, durability, health, and innovation. Family-owned, New Tradition has built homes since 1987. The company’s leadership includes brothers, Chris and Kelly Helmes.

An industry leader

Each year, ENERGY STAR recognizes the top energy efficient builders in America; the highest honor is Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence. New Tradition received this award in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

In 2005, New Tradition made a commitment to meet or exceed the most stringent standards for energy efficiency. At that time, the builder also committed to focus on indoor air quality, innovation, and continued improvement.  Building to high standards is reflected in the company slogan, or ‘We Build Homes for Life!’.

Steve Tapio, Building Science Team Leader, has worked for New Tradition since 2003. Tapio says, “We are proud of our awards, but the most important driver for our company is our home buyer, we deliver a home that we would proudly build for our mom. Kelly Helmes instills in us that every home must pass the ‘mom test’.” The mom test translates into a home that is high quality and durable, costs less to live in, is comfortable, and has healthy indoor air quality; the latter three are directly attributed to building strategies that improve energy efficiency, including mechanical design, duct tightness, and particulate control.

How does the public know if a home is energy efficient? The most recognized energy scoring system is the HERS Index

The typical New Tradition home scores a 54 HERS Index. (ENERGY STAR requires a HERS Index of 65). Meanwhile, the average, code-built home in Washington state scores a 72 HERS Index. The energy requirement for Built Green Washington requires 10% better than code.

Helmes says, “Average, or code minimum, is not an option for us, we are constantly striving for improvement which includes a lower HERS Index. If budget was not an issue, there are a lot of options. But, when considering a new product or new construction strategy, we are challenged with making it standard on every home while remaining market competitive.”

ENERGY STAR and Built Green Washington are third-party verified, which gives home buyers the assurance that all improvements are inspected beyond the builder’s claims.

Beyond buyer assurance, benefits of a lower HERS Index include lower electric bills and less solar needed to meet zero energy.

“The greatest challenge is building the highest quality home possible while maintaining market competitiveness and doing so on a large scale.”

– Kelly Helmes

Pushing the envelope

Tapio states an airtight building envelope, or shell, is critical to energy efficiency. He says, “The envelope tightness is measured by using a blower door test, which measures air changes per hour (ACH). Our standard home scores 2.5 – 3 ACH. The lower we get the ACH number, the less energy-demand.” (Built Green certification requires 3 ACH or lower).

Climate Zones1 – 23 – 45 – 78
LEED BD+C | v4 (1 Point)4.25 ACH503.5 ACH502.75 ACH502.0 ACH50
LEED BD+C | v4 (2 Points)3.0 ACH502.5 ACH502.0 ACH501.5 ACH50
IECC 2009<7 ACH50<7 ACH50<7 ACH50<7 ACH50
IECC 2012≤5 ACH50≤3 ACH50≤3 ACH50≤3 ACH50
IECC 20155 ACH503 ACH503 ACH503 ACH50
ENERGY STAR v3.1 (Rev 08)3 ACH502.5 ACH502 ACH501.5 ACH50
NGBS (IECC 2015)5 ACH503 ACH503 ACH503 ACH50
PHIUS+ 20150.6 ACH500.6 ACH500.6 ACH500.6 ACH50
ZERH3.0 ACH502.5 ACH502.0 ACH501.5 ACH50

“Once we reduce energy demand low enough, less solar is required (see Table 3) and a zero energy home becomes financially feasible, giving us the ability to scale.” Tapio says, “If you can remain market competitive and offer a zero energy home, why wouldn’t you do it?” With new product innovations, tightening the envelope and reducing energy demand is getting easier.

Advanced envelope sealing

On a mission to build the best home, Tapio and Helmes continuously research new building products and construction strategies. At this year’s International Builders Show in Orlando, AeroBarrier got their attention. AeroBarrier was first brought to their attention by energy rater, Ron Nardozza. Then, at IBS AeroBarrier was awarded the top product and awarded best product innovation. (AeroBarrier is a mist that seals the tiniest holes of the home envelope, making it easy and affordable to reduce leakage, hence, lowering energy demand — ACH. Even better, AeroBarrier is GREENGUARD Gold certified, meaning no harmful VOCs or off-gassing.)

Each year, IBS features a demonstration home (TNAH), The demonstration home is constructed using the latest building technologies and innovations. This year, TNAH used AeroBarrier. AeroBarrier helped TNAH achieve LEED Platinum — the highest level of green certification. New Tradition Homes took notice. Furthering interest, in April AeroBarrier received the Edison Gold award, the nation’s top honor for innovation.

New Tradition’s beta test

The next step was to put AeroBarrier to the test. The timing was perfect. New Tradition was in the process of building a home for Nardozza.  For the past decade, Nardozza is New Tradition’s third-party energy rater and verifier. He is the Founder and President of Four Walls, and a self-described energy geek. With over forty years of experience in home construction as a custom homebuilder and remodeler, Nardozza consults builders, architects, and engineers on maximizing energy performance for residential and commercial projects. 

Excited to make his personal home as energy efficient as possible, Nardozza saw AeroBarrier as key to reducing envelope leakage and energy demand. Nardozza said, “Within 90 minutes, the ACH went from 2.6 to .6. It was quite remarkable. The application was easy to setup, and the results were immediate. With a .6 ACH, heating and cooling my home just got easier – and cheaper.” Nardozza says the reduced energy demand will mean the 3600 square foot home will require very little solar to achieve zero energy.

With the success of Nardozza’s home, it may only be a matter of time before such design and specs become a New Tradition standard, including the use of AeroBarrier and zero energy ready (ZERH).

Solar ready and zero energy in Tri-Cities, WA

The past year has witnessed an increase in zero energy homes. The Department of Energy (DOE) zero energy home program is gaining in popularity with its ZERH certification. Innovative builders from across the country are embracing the program. In Arizona, Mandalay Homes has committed all of their homes ZERH certified and making them near zero energy. In Utah, redfish is making an entire community zero energy. Meanwhile, California is requiring solar on all new homes and making insulation requirements more strict. Innovative products such as AeroBarrier, and the affordability of solar and energy storage, makes building zero energy homes possible for little or no additional costs passed onto the homebuyer.

ACHSystem SizeAverage Annual kWH ProductionEstimated # of Solar PanelsPremium Panels (Sq Ft)

Table 3

New Tradition believes the timing is right. If the builder commits to certifying all homes ZERH, it will be a first for a high-volume builder. To date, the state of Washington has a total of 80 homes ZERH certified since 2013. New Tradition builds 300 homes annually.

Helmes emphasizes the challenge of scaling new products in homebuilding, while meeting buyers’ wish lists for their new home and remaining competitive. He says, “As a market leader for energy efficient homes, our sites are set on making solar ready, or zero energy ready, a buyer option for all homes. And, depending on the market response, it may become a standard feature. But, we must stay price competitive.”

Tapio says other challenges exist, including educating the buyer and the sales agent about the value of energy efficiency and zero energy homes. He says, “We invest in educating our sales team and making sure they speak to the buyers’ hot points, too often builders present all their great features without first asking the buyers, ‘what is important to you?’.”

Are zero energy homes the trend for Washington? The Badger Mountain South master-planned community in Richland, WA is requiring all homes to be solar ready. New Tradition has already built 80 homes in the community. And soon, New Tradition will break ground on another 35 homes in Badger Mountain, some of which may offer ZERH certification and feature AeroBarrier.

Testimonial – Steve Tapio

Testimonial – Ron Nardozza

New Tradition Homes has become the regional leader in developing innovative and energy-efficient construction technologies. Through on-going research and dedication, they continue to build homes that are healthier, more durable and more efficient than standard new homes. Every New Tradition Homes is Energy Star and Built-Green certified. This certification means that every home is third-party verified to meet the highest standards.

Ron Nardozza is Founder and President of Four Walls. An Oregon native, Ron Nardozza attended the University of Oregon where he received a bachelor of arts in construction management. Since 1974, he has been a licensed general contractor (OR CCB). Ron has worked as a custom home builder, home remodeler, commercial tenant improvement manager and a certified home inspector. As Founder and President of Four Walls, Inc, Ron is committed to advancing energy efficiency in the residential and commercial sectors in Oregon and Washington. Having completed thousands of home energy audits, he is dedicated to improving testing and verification techniques.

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