Blasts of Air Baffle Homeowner In Energy Efficient House

A blast of air rushes from the basement of Ron Riccardi’s newly-constructed home in suburban Pingree Grove.

The new homeowner said the builder is doing nothing at the moment to address his concerns about the ventilation in his house. And according to an independent home inspection expert and the federal government, a simple air inlet could help resolve the issue.

Riccardi and his wife moved in to their house in the Cambridge Lakes subdivision in April. It’s a “55 and up” community currently being constructed by DR Horton.

The Riccardi family built their house Energy Star-certified, which means it meets the government’s strict energy efficiency standards and could save them around $300 per year in utility bills.

“We love the home. We love the community. That’s why we moved here,” Riccardi said.

His home was built to be nearly air tight to avoid drafts. But he said he noticed the unexpected airflow issues soon after moving in.

Later, independent energy auditor Joe Konopacki of Insight Property Services, Inc., performed tests on Riccardi’s home and said he found a deficiency in air exchange.

“You can literally open the door and you hear, ‘shhhhhh,’ the house is sucking for air,” Konopacki said.

DR Horton said the home is even more energy efficient than the model it is based on.

Riccardi, however, said his house is missing a key feature that he said was advertised on the builder’s show room floor and mentioned by the sales staff: a computerized fresh air system.

The advertisement featuring the builder’s new home Energy Star features, which Riccardi said he photographed in the sales office, showed images of a computerized fresh air system and exhaust fans. And the advertisement mentioned the Energy Star homes offer “tight construction that prevents annoying drafts."

Home airflow experts say in many cases with energy efficient homes, a fresh air inlet would connect to the ventilation system located near a return in the basement.

“This was sold to us saying that, yes, this comes with the house,” Riccardi said. “This system will bring the fresh air in to the house and we found that it’s not there.”

Riccardi has since filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

DR Horton said it no longer offers the system. The company told NBC 5 Investigates that its contractual and promotional material clearly state that home construction material and approaches are subject to change without notification.

In a statement to NBC Investigates, the builder said its homes meet or exceed all local and state municipal construction codes or criteria.

“We subject ourselves to rigorous construction and quality assurance methodologies in the pursuit of providing the highest possible value for our customers,” the statement read.

As far as the ventilation system in Riccardi’s new house, one of the builder’s third party engineers said the home’s bathroom exhaust fans meet current state building code requirements and Energy Star standards for mechanical ventilation.

While the fans alone meet the ventilation requirements, a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency, the department which manages Energy Star, told NBC 5 Investigates that an air inlet would help achieve the required airflow.

Konopacki agrees.

“It’s not an expensive system,” Konopacki said. “It’s very simple.”

Riccardi said a representative of the builder has since inspected and repaired one of his bathroom exhaust fans. But he said the blast of air coming up from the basement continues.

He said he is still concerned about the type of air he is breathing in and said he has no choice but to install an air inlet.

“In the middle of winter, if it’s 10 below zero, I’m not going to be opening the windows,” Riccardi said.

More than 1,000 Energy Star certified homes were built in Illinois in 2014. There are currently 46 active Energy Star certified homes partners in Illinois.

As more homes in Illinois are built to super-efficient standards, Konopacki said it could be beneficial for consumers to have an advocate other than the builder during the home construction process.

“The inspections aren’t much,” Konopacki said. “A lot times it’s just kind of visual inspections just to make sure the right parts and pieces are there when they’re supposed to be there.”

DR Horton said the satisfaction of its homeowners is a top priority and the company encourages homeowners to contact them if they have concerns.

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