While building codes are growing more efficient, some new homes still have problems with energy waste as well as problems with comfort, indoor air quality and moisture. Fortunately, more and more builders are choosing to build high-performance homes. While the initial cost may be a bit higher, the ongoing energy savings may make the monthly payments the same or even less. Special mortgage packages that bundle energy savings are starting to grow widely available.
The design and construction phases of a home are the best time to build in energy efficiency. This is when the most energy efficient measures can be installed at the lowest price. Smart design and quality construction brings a small increase in the initial price of a home, but reduce operation and maintenance costs while providing a higher level of satisfaction for the owner
In arid climates, it’s also important to think about water efficiency by installing drought-tolerant landscaping, drip irrigation systems and low-flow water devices.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Energy efficient green home
While new homes are generally more efficient than older homes, not all new homes are as efficient as they could or should be. Many new homes are built to the minimum code standards, which does not take greatest advantage of energy-efficient construction methods. Homes that meet code requirements may still exhibit problems with home comfort, health and safety, moisture and energy and water waste. Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of builders choosing to build more energy-efficient or “high performance” homes, with typical designs and features attractive to home buyers.
Next to the mortgage, utility costs can be the second highest costs of home ownership. Reducing energy costs can make homeownership more affordable. Many lenders offer special mortgage packages, called energy efficient mortgages, which recognize that owning an energy-efficient home improves a homeowner’s financial picture.
Among the benefits of a high-performance home include:
An energy efficient new home that takes advantage of passive solar design can save provide substantial monthly savings on energy bills of 30 percent or more compared to a standard home.
Comfort problems, such as cold spots, wide temperature differences from room to room, and “drafty” windows that often plague homeowners can be avoided in an energy-efficient home.
Health & Safety
People spend a large portion of their time indoors. Indoor pollutants can cause many health problems. Energy-efficient homes include ventilation strategies that provide fresh, clean air.
Increased Home Value
Homes built with durable materials and attention to construction quality will have fewer problems and better hold their value. Further, according to ENERGY STAR, studies conducted since the early 1970's have consistently concluded that energy-efficient homes earn a higher resale price than average homes. ENERGY STAR offers tips on positioning a new energy-efficient home for high resale.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Silver Hammer event at the Habitat for Humanity house
Homes are responsible for almost 25% of the energy consumed in the United States. About 80% of that energy is used in single-family homes. Conserving the amount of energy used in your home can have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Key features to consider in a high-performance home include:
House size. No matter what size you are planning on for your new home, it’s important to implement efficiency measures. However, the larger the home, the more energy it will consume.
Orientation. It is ideal to choose a site that will allow for good southern sun exposure. In a properly designed home, this orientation can help heat your home in the winter, and protect against heat gain in the summer. In sites that don't permit optimal solar orientation, it is important to pay attention to the details that will keep the home from overheating in the summer.
Windows. Excessive window space drive up construction and energy costs. Energy efficient windows include features like low-e coatings, insulating spacers and low-conductivity framing materials.
Daylighting. You can save on energy bills by allowing natural light to move deeper into your home. Some daylighting options include skylights, light monitors, clerestories, lightshelves, light tubes, atria, courtyards, and glass or glass-block partitions. Light-colored paints and finishes can also maximize light.
Mechanical systems. Choose high efficiency heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment. Ensure that the system is properly sized using industry standard manuals. Centrally located HVAC equipment and improved duct layout design maximize the efficient delivery of conditioned air. Ducts should be run in conditioned spaces where ever possible, be properly sized and sealed with mastic. Return air runs should be hard-ducted, not run in wall cavities. Water heating equipment should also high efficiency and centrally located. Tankless water heaters can supply more hot water and lower energy costs.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, University of Missouri - Rolla house
Air infiltration. The thermal envelope of the home should be well sealed. Techniques include using foam to seal any junctures, penetrations, gaps or holes in the exterior envelope, including electrical outlets, through-wall pipes, around windows, and at wall corners.
Insulation. Wall and ceiling insulation should be closer to climate-based recommendations from Department of Energy than the minimum code requirements.
Energy efficient lighting and appliances that are certified by ENERGY STAR.
Indoor Air Quality. Mechanical ventilation provides fresh air, diluting any indoor pollutants such as VOCs, cooking odors, and unwanted moisture. Fully sealing all walls common to the garage helps keeps dangerous exhaust gases from entering the home.
Other Considerations. Many home builders implement other important practices or products that you may want to consider. Water-saving products, such as low-flow showerheads, faucets and toilets inside and water wise landscaping practices outside. Roofing, siding, decking products that have a long service life and require less maintenance over time.
Renewable energy. If you wish to move towards a net-zero energy home, consider adding solar hot water and solar electric systems.
4 Choosing a New Home
There are several resources available to help you make an educated decision about your new home investment ENERGY STAR (http://www.energystar.gov) is a voluntary, government-backed program that helps individuals and businesses protect the environment through energy efficiency.
The U.S. Green Building Council (http://www.usgbc.org) offers the Leadership in in Energy and Environemntal Design Green Rating system, a third-party certification for homes and buildings. It is considered a more rigorous standard than ENERGY STAR.
The Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (http://www.eeba.org/resources/index.html) offers resources to building professionals.
Greenerbuilding (http://www.greenerbuilding.org) offers resource lists on green products for your home.
RechargeColorado (http://www.rechargecolorado.com/index.php/residential_resources/building_a_green_home) offers more resources on finding green contractors and minimizing construction waste.
References, licensing, insurance
It is always important to speak with previous customers, check with the Better Business Bureau and ask for verification of the necessary licensing and insurance requirements.