Case Study

In a move to zero energy, New Tradition Homes is testing product innovation.

For 30 years, New Tradition Homes has led the Washington home building market, constructing over 5,000 single-family homes.  Recognized as a top 5 builder in the state for volume, New Tradition is also recognized nationally as a leader in building energy-efficient homes.

Some builders claim to build energy-efficient homes, but very few build to the level of New Tradition. This means all New Tradition homes are certified ENERGY STAR and Built Green Washington 3-star; the only high-volume builder in the state to do so. This commitment to excellence is reflected in company values, which highlight quality, durability, health, and innovation. Family-owned, New Tradition has built homes since 1987. The company’s leadership includes brothers Chris and Kelly Helmes.



An industry leader

Each year, ENERGY STAR recognizes the top energy-efficient builders in America; the highest honour is Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence. New Tradition received this award in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

In 2005, New Tradition made a commitment to meet or exceed the most stringent standards for energy efficiency. At that time, the builder also committed to focusing on indoor air quality, innovation, and continued improvement.  Building to high standards is reflected in the company slogan, ‘We Build Homes for Life!’.

Steve Tapio, Building Science Team Leader, has worked for New Tradition since 2003. Tapio says, “We are proud of our awards, but our home buyer is the most important driver for our company. We deliver a home that we would proudly build for our mom. Kelly Helmes reminds us that every home must pass the ‘mom test’.” The mom test translates into a home that is high quality and durable, costs less to live in, is comfortable, and has healthy indoor air quality; the latter three are directly attributed to building strategies that improve energy efficiency, including mechanical design, duct tightness, and particulate control.

The energy efficiency scorecard

How does the public know if a home is energy efficient? The most recognized energy scoring system is the HERS Index. 

The typical New Tradition home scores a 54 HERS Index. (ENERGY STAR requires a HERS Index of 65). Meanwhile, the average code-built home in Washington state scores a 72 HERS Index. The energy requirement for Built Green Washington requires 10% better than the building code.

Helmes says, “Average, or code minimum, is not an option for us. We are constantly striving for improvement, which includes a lower HERS Index. If budget was not an issue, there are a lot of options. But, when considering a new product or construction strategy, we are challenged to make it standard on every home while remaining market competitive.”

ENERGY STAR and Built Green Washington are third-party verified, which gives home buyers the assurance that all improvements are inspected beyond the builder’s claims.

Beyond buyer assurance, the benefits of a lower HERS Index include lower electric bills and less solar needed to meet zero energy.

Pushing the envelope

Tapio states an airtight building envelope or shell is critical to energy efficiency. He says, “The envelope tightness is measured using a blower door test, which measures air changes per hour (ACH). Our standard home scores 2.5 – 3 ACH. The lower we get the ACH number, the less energy-demand.” (Built Green certification requires 3 ACH or lower).

“Once we reduce energy demand low enough, less solar is required (see Table 3), and a zero energy home becomes financially feasible, giving us the ability to scale.” Tapio says, “If you can remain market competitive and offer a zero energy home, why wouldn’t you do it?” With new product innovations, tightening the envelope and reducing energy demand is getting easier.

Advanced envelope sealing

Tapio and Helmes continuously research new building products and construction strategies on a mission to build the best home. At this year’s International Builders Show in Orlando, AeroBarrier got their attention. AeroBarrier was first brought to their attention by an energy rater Ron Nardozza. Then, at IBS, AeroBarrier was awarded the top product and awarded the best product innovation. (AeroBarrier is a mist that seals the tiniest holes of the home envelope, making it easy and affordable to reduce leakage, lowering energy demand — ACH. Even better, AeroBarrier is GREENGUARD Gold certified, meaning no harmful VOCs or off-gassing.)

Each year, IBS features a demonstration home (TNAH). The demonstration home is constructed using the latest building technologies and innovations. This year, TNAH used AeroBarrier. AeroBarrier helped TNAH achieve LEED Platinum — the highest level of green certification. New Tradition Homes took notice. Furthering interest, AeroBarrier received the Edison Gold award, the nation’s top honour for innovation.

New Tradition’s beta test

The next step was to put AeroBarrier to the test. The timing was perfect. New Tradition was in the process of building a home for Nardozza.  Nardozza has been New Tradition’s third-party energy rater and verifier for the past decade. He is the Founder and President of Four Walls and a self-described energy geek. With over forty years of experience in home construction as a custom home builder and remodeler, Nardozza consults builders, architects, and engineers on maximizing energy performance for residential and commercial projects. 

Excited to make his personal home as energy efficient as possible, Nardozza saw AeroBarrier as the key to reducing envelope leakage and energy demand. Nardozza said, “Within 90 minutes, the ACH went from 2.6 to .6. It was quite remarkable. The application was easy to set up, and the results were immediate. With a .6 ACH, heating and cooling my home just got easier – and cheaper.” Nardozza says the reduced energy demand will mean the 3600 square foot home will require very little solar to achieve zero energy.

With the success of Nardozza’s home, it may only be a matter of time before such design and specs become a New Tradition standard, including the use of AeroBarrier and zero energy ready (ZERH).

Solar ready and zero energy in Tri-Cities, WA

The past year has witnessed an increase in zero-energy homes. The Department of Energy (DOE) zero energy home program is gaining popularity with its ZERH certification. Innovative builders from across the country are embracing the program. In Arizona, Mandalay Homes has committed all of their homes ZERH certified and making them near zero energy. In Utah, redfish is making an entire community zero energy. Meanwhile, California requires solar on all new homes and makes insulation requirements more strict. Innovative products such as AeroBarrier, and the affordability of solar and energy storage, make building zero-energy homes possible for little or no additional costs passed onto the homebuyer.

New Tradition believes the timing is right. If the builder commits to certifying all homes ZERH, it will be a first for a high-volume builder. The state of Washington has a total of 80 homes ZERH certified since 2013. New Tradition builds 300 homes annually.

Helmes emphasizes the challenge of scaling new products in homebuilding while meeting buyers’ wish lists for their new homes and remaining competitive. He says, “As a market leader for energy-efficient homes, our sites are set on making solar or zero energy ready, a buyer option for all homes. And depending on the market response, it may become a standard feature. But, we must stay price competitive.”


New Tradition Homes has become the regional leader in developing innovative and energy-efficient construction technologies. Through ongoing research and dedication, they continue to build healthier, more durable and efficient homes than standard new homes. Every New Tradition Homes is Energy Star, and Built-Green certified. This certification means that every home is third-party verified to meet the highest standards.

About Four Walls

Ron Nardozza is the Founder and President of Four Walls. An Oregon native, Ron Nardozza attended the University of Oregon, where he received a bachelor of arts in construction management. Since 1974, he has been a licensed general contractor (OR CCB). Ron has worked as a custom home builder, remodeler, commercial tenant improvement manager and certified home inspector. As Founder and President of Four Walls, Inc, Ron is committed to advancing energy efficiency in Oregon and Washington’s residential and commercial sectors. Having completed thousands of home energy audits, he is dedicated to improving testing and verification techniques.

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