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Omaha Magazine

Acting Sustainable

Sep 22, 2023 11:22AM ● By Sara Locke
green acting sustainable Omaha homebuilders  and owners taking steps to  ‘go green.’

Photo Provided.

It’s not always easy being ‘green,’ but it’s increasingly becoming chic. Higher-end homebuilders and remodelers in Omaha are offering a growing menu of eco-friendly design options and amenities, and homeowners are—very slowly—coming on board. We spoke with Matt Kronaizl and Myles Gardner, both with Sierra Homes, and Carmen Bunde, Realtor with BHHS Ambassador Real Estate, and got their takes on this emerging trend.

Kronaizl, Sierra Homes’ president, said technology is key to energy conservation in their builds. “A large remodel we just finished south of Ashland is a fully automated home. Every blind, thermostat, TV, light switch; everything that can be automated is,” he said. Blinds that automatically open and let warmth in, or close to keep the room cool, and a thermostat that regulates temperature to avoid the HVAC from working too hard during peak energy times can greatly reduce a home’s energy needs.

“In the Midwest, [homebuyers] aren’t demanding too much in the way of green technology in homes, yet,” attested Bunde, in part because of the bigger pricetags these homes carry. “Most energy-saving features are added by consumers themselves [after the sale]. Smart thermostats are the most common.” 

“A lot of the most sustainable practices are happening from the framing of the house,” said Gardner, Sierra’s project manager. “One of the first things I did [in building my own house] was choose 2x6 studs with 24-inch spacing to allow the maximum insulation between studs. Then added an inch of rigid foam outside of that. My parent’s house is comparably sized to mine, and their energy costs are between $500 and $600 a month. My total energy bill each month is right around $200,” Gardener added. 

Geothermal heating systems, which absorb heat stored in the ground and transfer it to heat pumps that send warmed air into the home, are also being used in some new builds.

“One Omaha builder I  know—Ken Oster Homes—installs geothermal heat throughout the home. It costs [homebuyers] more up front, but has savings long term,” Bunde said.

Water Conservation
High-efficiency dishwashers and washing machines do more than save on your electric bill; they  reduce water waste with every wash. While water conservation never feels as urgent an issue in Nebraska as it does in states experiencing major water shortages, such as Arizona, efforts are gaining steam.

“About 50% of the homes we do have dual-flush toilets… I feel like some of that is becoming more mainstream in the custom home market,” Kronaizl said.

H2O conservation efforts remain stagnant in landscaping, however. “Most people [in the Midwest] still prefer grass lawns,” Bunde said, with many suburban homeowners believing a well-manicured, lush yard is a point of pride. Though native grasses and flowers and trees requiring less watering and chemical treatment are gaining popularity among environmentally conscious homeowners. 

“There is no way to a perfect zero carbon footprint [in homebuilding], but starting with some recycled materials and investing in well-insulated windows and doors goes a long way,” Gardner said. “We also look at where we are placing windows, trying to avoid trapping heat by positioning windows to avoid letting in too much sun at the hottest part of the day.”

Ken Oster Homes also offers low-emissivity (Low-E) windows and patio doors in its builds. The windows feature a glass coating that blocks harmful UV rays while also reflecting heat away from a home in summer, improving energy efficiency.

Solar Energy 
“We are still at the front end for demand for solar panels [here in the Midwest)],” Bunde said, “though some HOAs [home owners associations] are still resistant,” to allowing panels for aesthetic reasons, although some solar roof panels these days are attractive as well as reliable. Sierra Homes recently installed a sleek Tesla Solar Roof on a home just south of 192nd and Highway 370 in Hidden Hollow in Gretna, Kronaizl said. The roof comes with a 25-year warranty, guaranteeing both structural integrity and clean energy production for decades. And though it has a higher price tag, just like geothermal heating, its return on investment is strong.

Electric Power
Gas fireplaces and ranges continue to be popular, said Bunde, but electric versions are gaining popularity in Omaha. “A recently built townhome complex—Rowhaus Elmwood Park Townhomes by Noddle Homes—advertises energy-efficient design that uses no fossil fuels. They have induction ranges instead of gas, and electric fireplaces.” Bunde said project developers also built in electric power capacity in the townhome garages that could accommodate EV charging stations, should a homebuyer decide to add this later.

Bunde said she, too, is making the move away from gas in favor of electric appliances. “Next on my wish is an induction range, because it’s the most energy efficient and because I would like to reduce gas emissions in my home in general." 

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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