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Now about those interest rates; US builders see a sunny (solar) future for housing industry

Even though the mood of US home builders is far from buoyant these days, it definitelym is sunny. A contradiction in terms? Not when the "sunny" applies to solar energy, both passive and active, and its potential for slashing home-energy costs in the future.

Those attending the National Association of Home Builders annual conventional-exposition here were reminded that in 1980, $1 billion was spent on solar installations in the United States. Looking to the future, the opportunities are enormous, according to solar proponents from all over the country.

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Showing the increasing attention now being directed to the sun, a year ago only a handful of the displays were focused on solar. By contrast, the number of solar displays this year exceeded 50.

Passive solar systems especially are significant, say builders. In a passive solar installation, the house itself functions as a solar heating or cooling system with little or no support from mechanical devices.

Large, south-facing window walls, for example, not only bring the view inside the house, but also the heat of the sun. The heat can thus be stored in a "thermal mass," usually concrete, adobe, brick, or water located in the floors, walls, or a south-facing fireplace. Vents or fans circulate the heat when it's needed.

Prospects for the future are high, builders were told. By the turn of the century at least 30 percent of all new houses are expected to include some kind of solar system for heating and/or cooling.

The retrofit market is 40 times greater than for new houses, assert the proponents meanwhile, 10 energy saving homes now are being built across the US in a large-scale project sponsered both by the NAHB and the National Council of the Housing Industry, an organization within NAHB of nationally known manufacturers and suppliers of building products and services.

The houses, located in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, D.C., will be monitored for two years by the NAHB Research Foundation of Rockville, Md., so as to put figure on the actual money saving over a more conventional system. The Department of Energy is cooperating in the project.

Participating builders were chosen in a nationwide competition.

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Energy-saving features are more and more important in new construction, say builders.

In an NAHB survey of recent home buyers:

Sixty percent said that energy features were an important part of their purchase decision.

Seventy-nine percent indicated that energy efficiency will be important when they buy their next home.

Ninety-four percent said they were willing to pay more money for added energy efficiency in their home.

The 10 energy-efficient homes now under construction by NAHB, depending on the area, include such features as energy-collecting skylights, highly insulated glass, high-energy air conditioner controlled by a microelectronic thermostat, pushbutton plumbing system which mixes water to the desired temperature close to the water heater (thus saving up to half the energy required to heat water), and superheavy insulation.

Home builders, both in the North and the South, already have increased the level of insulation substantially in the last few years.

David Johnston, head of the newly formed Passive Solar Industries Council, says:

"With the housing industry in a slump, builders have time to learn how to build houses smarter. When sales pick up again, smart builders can enjoy a competitive edge by offering attractive sun-filled rooms with low utility bills."

A major goal of the Passive Solar Industries Council is to provide accurate technical information on passive solar design to builders so they can put it to work.

Many builders are doing just this. James Leach of the Wonderland Hills Development Corporation, one of the 10 builders now participating in the NAHB energy-saving-home demonstration project, has provided a greenhouse-sunroom which will give both active and passive solar energy for a three-bedroom house in Boulder, Colo.

Sun flowing through a 180square-foot skylight will heat a rock storage bed below the living-room fireplace wall. Part of the skylight acts as a solar collector to preheat the home's hot-water supply. A smaller skylight turns a portion of the basement family room into a second greenhouse.

The 2,800-square-foot home uses an insulated glazing system which consists of clear plastic sheeting sandwiched between two layers of glass.

A two-story, 1,800 square foot, air-conditioned house in Houston, built by Doyle Stuckey Homes, is using interior brick which stays cool longer than the rest of the house. Air circulated by fans in the living and dining rooms will be cooled by the bricks, thus easing the load on the air conditioner.

And so it goes. US builders are turning more and more to higher energy efficiency as they try to climb out of the deep pit which a laggard economy and superhigh interest rates have plunged them.

After struggling through the worst new housing year since 1975, builders are looking for an improvement in housing starts of 5 to 10 percent, compared with 1980, ifm and this is a huge maybem mortgage rates fall to 13 percent or less.

If they do not fall to that level, then 1981 could be another bad year, builders sigh. 52900100027319 NOVEMBER 15, 1981

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