Homeowners know that winter heating bills, like the price of gasoline, will be rising.
That's why increasing attention is being paid to home insulation and airtightness. There is also a mounting awareness of what builders are doing to conserve energy use in new homes. For some owners, monthly heating bills are nearly as large as their mortgage payments.
Almost all builders here have increased wall and ceiling insulation and tightened seals in their houses to prevent heating and cooling losses. Many are also installing heat pumps.
In the Allegheny mountains of western Maryland, small-volume builder Richard A. Morris is also paying attention to home energy problems. He builds prefabricated houses and is an innovator in passive solar heating and energy conservation.
President of Shelter Inc., in Oakland, Md., Morris said that his own recently completed, 3,000-square-foot house in Garrett County was heated by direct sun rays last winter for a total cost of $162 - for electricity to power a back-up baseboard heating system. He said the electric bill was based on a charge of 3.8 cents per kilowatt hour.
"Up here in in Garrett County, we had eight feet of snow and an average winter temperature of 14 degrees," he said. "But our south-facing windows collected heat from the sun and our 'panel drape' window insulating panels enabled us to close off the windows when there was no sun or light. We also had a zoned interior so the heat could be shut off in rooms not being used. Normally, we heated only two-thirds of the house."
But that's not the whole story. Morris conceded that the temperature in his two-story, $130,000 home was held between 60 and 60 degrees. The family wore sweaters throughout the winter, he said.
In addition, the hexagon-shaped house was equipped with a heat saver for the clothes dryer that vented exhaust air from the electric dryer inside the house, adding to the humidity.
"We also saved some heat loss by building our house into the side of the hill and having the north side of the lower floor below grade," he said.
But back to the Morris-designed panel drapes, which he describes as mobile window-insulating panels on tracks. They are pulled out of their wall pockets to be used as barriers against heat loss when the sun isn't out.
"Panel drapes greatly retard the loss of heat back through the 28 window areas in our house," Morris said. He pointed out that even double-panel windows normally lose as much heat as a wall space 15 to 30 times larger.
He said that the panel drapes, a sandwich of plywood and insulation material, have an R value of 12 and "are double weatherstripped to reduce air infiltration."
In addition to preventing heat loss, the panels also provide privacy and security, according to Morris. It takes about 10 minutes a day to open and close the panels, which look like small sliding doors.
He said the sliding panels can be varnished, stained, painted, wall-papered or painted with murals. Most of the panels in the Morris house are decorated with woodsy scenes. Closed panels might induce cabin fever for some, but Morris said that's not much of a problem with the three children at his house.
The Morris house and others built by the firm have R 38 insulation in the attic with two layers of six-inch fiber glass batts, plus R 22 insulation in the walls and six inches of fiber glass between the first and second floors. Another energy-saving feature of the Morris house is an air lock entry," an unheated and insulated area between the outer and inner doors that reduces heat loss through infiltration. Thomas jefferson built such an entry at Monticello.
"Monticello has south-facing windows, interior insulating shutters and interior zoning," Morris noted. "Our houses are getting back to those basics, thanks to Mr. Jefferson."
Morris, who has a master's degree in business from Harvard and a bachelor's in sociology from Haverford College, is a native of Pittsburgh who spent summers in the resort areas around Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, Md. His wife, Barbara, is a school teacher in Oakland, which they decided was the kind of small town in which they wanted to raise a family and start a business.
Morris when into general contracting eight years ago and began assembling prefab houses four years ago. He said six Shelter houses are currently under construction.
The office of Shelter, Inc., which has 13 employes, is in a large barn where panels and sections of manufactured houses are built.
"Business is slower this season because of a lack of mortgage loan money," Morris said. "Most lenders want 40 percent down now for a second home."
He said that the firm has built 80 package houses. A minimum package for a vacation house costs about $20,000 when it is completed on a lot already purchased by the buyer. Some of the larger houses cost about $65,000; the houses are sold by dealers in DuBois, Bedford and Johnstown, Pa.
What about the use of solar-heating equipment?
"I can't get too excited about it in this area," Morris said. "The initial cost is so much. I think passive solar with innovations such as panel drapes makes more sense." CAPTION: Picture 1, The south-facing windows in the Oakland, Md., house of builder Richard A. Morris collect heat from the sun. By Richard A. Morris; Picture 2, Barbara Morris adjusts panel drapes. By John Kuykendall