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Dow houses: Can you spot the differences?

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February 20, 2013

LAS VEGAS — Dow Building Solutions, a unit of Dow Chemical Corp., has created a "test community" of 12 houses in Midland, Mich., designed to capture comparative data on high-performance, energy-efficient homes.

The project — dubbed TEETH, for Twelve Energy Efficient Test Homes — consists of a neighborhood of houses built uniformly to precise standards, like orientation to the sun and grade, to make them as close to identical as possible. The houses are comparable in size, floor plan and other key features.

The only variables are each house's "envelope" — the outer walls, doors, windows, floors and ceiling — and how the home is built, said James Morey, residential market manager for Dow Building Solutions, in an interview at the International Builders' Show.

The homes are built to one of three standards: a baseline model, a mostly Dow house and one given "the steroid approach," Morey said.

The project will give Dow a "standardized, baseline way" to compare data on energy-efficient housing. And because the homes are nearly identical, people won't be able to discount the results, he said.

The project will generate comparative data on home energy efficiency based on whole-house insulation, air-sealing systems and real-world living conditions. It will also offer data on energy consumption, humidity, moisture levels, heat flow and temperature, according to Dow.

The houses were built by Cobblestone Homes of Saginaw, Mich. The builder purchased the materials for the homes through regular retail channels — though Dow reimbursed costs — so Dow could also compare the price of building the homes.

It's about a $5,400 difference between a home built at 2006 green building standards and one built using 2012 standards, Morey said.

The homes are also being rented. As part of Dow's five-year partnership with Cobblestone, the firm is given access to information like the tenants' energy bills, utility costs and electricity consumption.

Dow also will periodically survey and interview the homes' residents about the comfort and durability of the house and each home's various features, Morey said.

"We'll get to see what they have to say. It might not be in our favor, but that's what's fun about the project," he said.

Dow will also be able to compare the demographics and lifestyles of the residents, and see the impact of a family with teenagers compared with the impact of a childless couple, he said.

The tenants will not know what model home they are living in. They will all pay the same flat rent.

The project gives Dow a combination of scientific data, cost data and occupant feedback — information the "industry's always wanted, but hasn't been able to get," Morey said.

Dow promoted its energy-efficient home projects — including TEETH and the firm's Net Zero houses — at the International Builders' Show, held Jan. 22-24 in Las Vegas.