If you’re looking to build a high-performance home, you might be wondering exactly what makes a home energy efficient. Purchasing a home is a massive investment, and building one even more so. You want your home to not only fit your expectations aesthetically, but functionally too. A high-performance, energy-efficient home will perform in a way that’s dependable and affordable for many, many years to come.
A home has to have a high energy rating system (HERS) index score if it’s to qualify as high-performance. The HERS index indicates a home’s energy performance and it’s an in-depth measure of all of the variables affecting a home’s energy consumption. Some examples of variables are roofing material, air conditioning, renewable energy sources, etc. The index works on a 100-point scale, where a lower score is better as it equates to a higher efficiency.
There are many features of an energy efficient home that turn it from just a regular home into a high-performance one, and that’s what we’re going to dive into today.
Methods of keeping heat in the Home
The amount of heat you’d like to keep in will of course depend on where your home is, but a lot of people lose money on heating, especially in colder regions. One of the biggest features of an energy efficient home is efficiently keeping heat inside the house. Heat loss can be one of the trickiest parts of building an efficient home. Conduction, convection, and radiation can all cause heat to escape. Here are some house design elements that can help to prevent heat loss:
- Insulation installed without gaps, voids and compressions
- Building system with continuous insulation coverage
- Radiant barrier under roof decking (if there are A/C ducts in attic and non-reflective roofing)
- Insulated window and door headers
- Roof framing for full insulation above exterior walls
- Insulated corners and T-wall intersections
- All glass low-e insulated; nonconductive framing
- Insulated, air-tight attic access door
- All insulated doors
Meanwhile, there are also great options for generating heat, such as:
- Gas furnaces
- Air source heat pumps
- Geothermal closed loop heat pumps
- Geothermal heat pump with water heating
- Integrated gas space and water heating system
- Variable speed air conditioner or heat pump
- Tankless gas water heater
- Heat pump water heater
- Solar water heater
There can also be strategically placed windows, sunrooms and skylights to let in as much sunlight (and therefore heat) as possible. However, if you experience winter or colder temperatures in your region, these options might not be as good for your home as the others provided. Once the temperatures start dropping, you’ll lose a lot of heat through any openings in the roof or walls.
Methods of keeping the House cool
Keeping cool doesn’t just mean air conditioning. There are many solutions for cooling your new high-performance home, such as:
- Reflective roofing (with a minimum of 0.25 solar reflectance)
- Light color siding or brick
- Windows that allow cross ventilation
- Reflective windows or windows with effective shade screens
- Air conditioner: > SEER 15 matched system
- Variable speed air conditioner
- Ceiling fans in areas that are frequented rather than air conditioning
Beating the heat in an energy efficient home can also come from landscaping.
- Deciduous trees’ shade (best on the W, SW, E and SE sides of house to block the sun most effectively)
- Large shrubs or trellis with vines on the W side of the house
- Avoid unshaded pavement near house, and none under windows
- Ground cover, mulch near house to reduce reflected heat
- Evergreen shrubs and trees grouped as windbreak on the North side
Additionally, lighting that is lower wattage and produces less heat can make your home more energy efficient. Lighting throughout the house should be high color but low wattage. Fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent lamps in standard fixtures, and LED lamps in standard fixtures are great solutions for lighting your space without negatively impacting performance.
Outdoor lighting can also be high efficiency by using photovoltaic solar lights, outdoor fluorescents, or high-pressure sodium or metal halide.
Lights can also be timed or have motion sensors applied so that they are only on when needed.
Air quality control
Ensuring that the air inside your home is healthy is key. Like the other concepts we’ve discussed, there are many ways to control the quality of air. Here are some of the best ways that it can be done for an energy efficient home:
- There should be sufficient exhaust fans. These fans (as well as clothes dryers) shouldn’t vent under the house or into the attic. Examples of places where exhaust fans are needed are cooktop hoods and bathrooms.
- Humidity control systems help avoid mold spores in the air which not only may smell bad, but may also cause serious health problems.
- The air conditioning should be sufficient for the size of the home and energy efficient as well.
- Dehumidifiers and ventilation systems can help keep air conditioning costs down as well.
- Surfaces and applications should be easy to clean to keep dust to a minimum.
Minimized environmental impact
Of course, a high performance or energy efficient home isn’t just great for your wallet – it’s great for our planet too. The great news it that almost every aspect of a home can be optimized to have a minimal environmental effect in some way. Here are some examples:
- Heat, cold, sun and water-resistant materials as well as scratch and stain-resistant materials or finishes last a long time, which means less upkeep for you but also less strain on the environment.
- Similarly, you can also source materials that are mildew, mold, and algae-resistant and have easy to clean surfaces to reduce health hazards.
- Using locally sourced materials, labor, decorations, and furnishings means that you’re not only supporting local businesses, but also reducing carbon emissions that come from getting these items from further away. There are the added benefits of uniqueness, quality, and longevity.
- Walls that are painted with lighter colors often have a cooling effect as they don’t absorb as much heat, but for rooms that you’d like warmer, darker paint is a great choice. There are also certain paint brands that offer heating or cooling effects. This can offset how much electricity you use to control your home’s temperature.
The ways in which a home can be energy efficient aren’t limited to those that we’ve covered in this post. There’s always something else that you can do to be kind to your budget as well as the Earth. We hope this has been a helpful starting point, however, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us!