by BETH ALTENA
New state energy codes are forcing builders to more efficient homes, but Rockford’s Dan Vos has been using new energy-efficient techniques and more for years. He is the creator of the most energy-efficIent home in the state of Michigan—a second feat for him following last year’s home he built that scored highest at that time.
“I graduated from college 22 years ago when we were in the energy crunch of the seventies,” Vos said. “You had to buy your gas on odd or even days and OPEC had an oil embargo.”
Vos said gas quickly became plentiful again, but it made sense to him that using less energy when possible was a good thing. He has built his professional career with energy use in mind. “I’m also kind of Dutch,” he noted, and designed and built his own energy-efficient home 12 years ago.
Vos is ahead of the game as Michigan residents, and the rest of the country, struggle with energy supplies. He has a bachelor of science degree in renewable energy and has taught college courses in solar and climate-specific designs. He is passionate about saving energy, but the concept is now becoming more prominent in his field and many others. On the verge of statewide compliance in the elimination of traditional light bulbs in favor of the compact energy fluorescents, wise energy use is becoming less of a personal choice and more of a fact of life. All new commercial buildings in the City of Grand Rapids are required to be LEED-certified, Vos stated.
The house Vos just built for architect Eric Hughes of Image Designs, is one of a kind—so far. It is certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum, the highest rating. When tested, Vos said he thought the home might score a 30 in the Home Energy Rating System (HERS). Low scores are best, with a zero meaning the owner will never spend a dime in energy costs. To his surprise, the new building scored the highest in the state at 12.
Building energy-efficient involves nearly every aspect of a home design and construction, although Vos often helps homeowners increase the energy efficiency of an existing home. With his latest house, he had been asked by Hughes to create the most efficient home possible. Hughes’ home was built with a newer type of frame, created by concrete poured through foam forms. Concrete is an excellent building material that not only results in a home that is probably pretty safe in a tornado, but also retains temperature.
Windows, doors, ducts, and all parts of the house that are designed to seal completely, are another temperature-retaining feature. The floors all have radiant heat and the house is built to use passive solar energy—letting the sun shine in for heat—as well as more typical solar panels for heating water.
More often now, builders are asked to create LEED-certified buildings such as the new Goodwill store across from the Rockford Meijer. Vos said the process is exacting and not only requires the finished building meet standards of energy efficiency, but monitors the whole process of building.
“They also keep track of how much you throw away,” Vos noted.
A recycler, Vos said he recycles the extra drywall in a building by providing it to a farmer who has special equipment to crush the sheets and fertilizes his farm fields with the powder. His trash at a construction site is minimal—a more common practice these days. “Nobody ever used to do that,” he said. “They all used to bring in big dumpsters while a house was going up.”
Now is the time to have energy on the mind as the state and federal government are offering incentives and tax breaks for energy-saving products. Although building a house like the one Vos just finished can cost more than a traditional home, homeowners won’t have to wait long for their payback.
The home in Saranac that Vos built, like several in Rockford, sells the energy from solar panels to the utility company. When the owner buys energy, he pays 11 cents and when he sells it, he receives 65 cents per kilowatt. It’s a sweet deal that was offered for a limited time to encourage people to sign on as energy suppliers.
Vos said people are excited about embracing solar power for generating energy, but believes solar for water heating is being unfairly ignored. Solar panels can be installed on nearly any home and cost about $7,000. A 30 percent tax credit takes about $2,000 off, and eventually the savings will pay for the cost.
The home is a small one, just 1,200 square feet. Vos said that is another industry trend. “The days of building the biggest house you can are over,” he said—except for that one going up on Lake Bella Vista. “A lot of people are realizing they just don’t really need that much space.”
“I’m pretty proud,” Vos said of his completed job.
Vos looks forward to his next chance to build green and clean, and also to helping people improve the energy efficiency of existing homes. He said part of his business is going into older homes and testing them for energy wasting problems. It’s a career for which he has a true passion, and he considers saving energy important to the world. “There are changes in the climate. Our rain forests are disappearing. No one knows why the climate is changing, but if it is us, we’d better figure it out.”
Vos added, “If there are people out there doing this to help the Earth, I’m in favor of that. I’m trying to do my part.”
Dan Vos is the owner of Vos Energy Concepts, located right here in Rockford. He can be reached at (616) 874-1133. A link to the blog of one of his energy efficient homeowners can be viewed at www.100kriverescape.blogspot.com.