Award-Winning Builds … Even at the Low End

Here’s the inside look at building energy-efficient homes affordably.

For the second time in three years, North Carolina Builder Shawn Jessup has won a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Housing Innovation Award. While Jessup’s scale may be small, at two to three builds per year, he is in high demand. S.D. Jessup Construction fields constant requests from potential customers in Raleigh, N.C., and other areas more than two hours away from their Pilot Mountain, N.C. base. Insulation Institute reached out to Jessup to get the scoop on his formula for constructing award-winning homes.

The Housing Innovation Award-Winning Homes

D. Jessup Construction’s 2019 award-winner is a 3300 square foot (including the conditioned basement) high-performance home that’s Energy Star, Zero Energy Ready, and EPA Indoor airPLUS certified. The home boasts a HERS score of 42 and an air leakage rate of 0.37 ACH50. His 2017 Housing Innovation Award winner is a 4,215 square footer with a HERS score of 41.

In addition, that home has a high-performance insulation system that includes R-40 blown-in fiberglass insulation in the walls (roughly three times the code requirement in the state) and foam for air sealing. The 2019 home has a more traditional, budget-friendly wall system consisting of R-15 fiberglass batts plus R-6 continuous rigid foam board insulation to reduce thermal bridging.

Building for Health, Comfort, Energy Efficiency and Durability

For Jessup, code-built homes just didn’t cut it, primarily because of comfort complaints and durability issues that always lead to callbacks. In his mind, there just had to be a better way to make homeowners happy and add more value to their lives.  After years of learning and improving his product, demand has started to materialize.  The continued demand is keeping him as busy as his operation can manage. Thus, expansion is on the horizon.

“I gave up code-built completely, at least as long as there is demand for high performance. I’m seeing more demand here than we can handle currently. We’re trying to expand to meet it though,” says Jessup.

“Nobody else around here is offering high-performance homes. I’m starting to get phone calls and emails from people 2 hours away wanting to talk to me because they can’t find anybody else to do what they want.”

A common misconception of high-performance homes is that they always come at a price premium. Jessup says he’s built high-performance homes between $275,000 and $750,000. The 2019 award-winner cost about $275,000 to build.

Health, comfort, efficiency, and durability are the stated priorities for S.D. Jessup Construction, according to the company website. It’s one thing to state your commitment to high performance. Often builders’ commitment to quality high-performance construction is marketing spin without verification and validation, which is why the designations matter to Jessup. To keep an edge in the high-performance home building arena, Jessup says ongoing building science education is a priority.

Committed to Ongoing Building Science Education

Jessup recently attended Building Science Corporation’s Building Science Camp. The invitation-only event is for builders, building science enthusiasts, and others in the industry who are interested in a deep dive into the nerdy underpinnings of how houses work and how to get optimal home performance.

“Most homes built today are built very similar to the same way they were built 20 years ago, with the exception of minor upgrades in building code requirements,” Jessup states. “Building science and building products have come a long way in 20 years, which is why it’s so valuable to invest in education and training.”

A side benefit of his recent Building Science Camp attendance was meeting Texas custom builder Matt Risinger (we can relate)!

“We’ve been following one another on Twitter, so it was nice to get to meet him in person finally,” Jessup says. “I almost fell over when he wanted to get a selfie so he could say he met me.”

The Next Big Thing

Jessup’s next big moment for the year will be accepting his 2019 DOE Housing Innovation Award at the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance’s High-Performance Home Summit in October.

“It’s wonderful to have the recognition and accolades from the energy efficiency arena, and we’re very grateful for that,” Jessup says. “But, it’s even more rewarding to have customers recommend us and provide testimonials on how happy they are with their home.”