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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2001

Wai'anae home promotes saving energy, cash

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mike Inafuku of Wai'anae peered up into the attic of Hawai'i's "GreenBuilt" model house yesterday to see how the builders had installed sheets of silvery bubble-wrap radiant barrier insulation.

"Look how cool the attic is," said Inafuku, who was gathering ideas to use for a new house of his own. "I like the way this is designed; I like the cross ventilation," he said, pointing to the bigger windows and louvered doors.

The architectural, energy and construction experts who put together the demonstration house in the Wai'anae Valley hope Inafuku and the more than 300 residents who visited it over the past two weekends represent thousands more who want more comfortable living and lower energy costs.

"The house is based on a standard package by Honsador, one of the biggest suppliers in Hawai'i," said project architect Nick Huddleston. Honsador offers builders a package with energy-saving features; Huddleston hopes they will pick up some of his design tweaking as well.

If such an approach clicks, Huddleston feels, other suppliers and developers will offer the same features.

Over time, said Stephen Meder, a University of Hawai'i School of Architecture researcher who has been consulting on the work, the energy savings could mount to millions of dollars, and thousands of families could enjoy more comfortable living in the bargain.

Few if any of the features of the house on a Hawaiian Home Lands lot in Wai'anae Valley are really new, said Dean K. Masai, information specialist at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. But they can save an owner $17,000 to $28,000 over 30 years.

Many developers and builders shy away from even slight extras if they increase the up-front cost, no matter how much an owner may save in the long run, he said.

"The big one is solar water heating," Meder said. With reduced utility bills and a tax break from the state on the initial cost, a solar system will pay for itself in 3 1/2 years, and save the typical homeowner $650 every year at today's energy prices.

To help make such systems standard in new construction, Meder said, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has started a program to show mortgage lenders they can afford to allow lower down payments or better terms to the buyer of such a house, because that buyer is saving money on the electric bill. Information on the Energy Star Homes mortgage program is available from Hawaiian Electric Co.

Many buyers discover how hot a house is only after moving in, and then try to overcome the heat with window air conditioners, Huddleston said. Because the houses weren't designed with insulation and other features to support air conditioning, it doesn't work very well.

The better course, he said, is to design a house that doesn't need air conditioning. "I've always figured that once you turn on the air conditioning, you aren't living in Hawai'i any more," Huddleston said.