There are many ways of building an energy efficient home. Some work better than others, but combinations of these ideas can save a lot of money on your utility bills for years to come.
A smaller home is much more efficient to heat and cool. It is also cheaper to build, and uses fewer materials in its construction. Many people say the key to sustainable living is a smaller home. Still many families want or need a larger home. When choosing a smaller home the floor plan can be arranged to make it seem spacious. Built in storage is also a lifesaver in a smaller home. With sensible built-ins and cabinetry a smaller home can seem much larger than it is.
A square home is easier to heat and cool than one which branches off into a lot of long thin Ls. It’s much more economical to keep your design square or rectangular. Remember though that if you are planning a traditional gable roof, expanses of more than 32 feet in width are more expensive to build. Therefore keep your widths standard at 16, 20, 24, 28 or 32 feet, for best results.
Gambrel roofs (barn roofs) can also be more economical and give you more livable square footage than a traditional attic. The cost is lower than a two story but it gives a lot more square footage similar to a two story. This would save on heating, cooling, and the size of the foundation. This style is also very easy to build on to. Include double doors or glass patio doors in the center of each end to add to the length. Narrow porch width extensions can be built on to the front and back as well.
Insulation is evolving quickly, even in the traditional market. Closed cell foam is currently a leading insulation material for both walls and roofs. Pink fiberglass is still widely used but this old industry standard is being squeezed out by newer products. Radiant barrier insulation products for the attic are rapidly taking the market by storm, and can reportedly save up to 97% of radiant heat transfer loss.
There are many new building materials which are far more energy efficient, economical, and easier to build with than traditional lumber. Among these are Insulated concrete panels, insulated concrete blocks, and pumice blocks. Pumice is great insulation, and makes a concrete like block that is light. Pumice block is so light it can be used for roofs.
Another alternate material, which is probably the inspiration for all these materials, is Ferro Cement. Portland cement and various wire mesh have been used for decades, in many applications, but it was never easy to get it to pass code, due to its vastly varying forms, and shapes. Many of the new materials have served to standardize the basic idea of Ferro Cement. These materials are stronger, endure earthquakes better, and insulate far better than wood, and they are also much cheaper. They are also your best shot at getting efficient green materials through code, and the permit process. Natural Materials such as rammed earth or straw and adobe can also be efficient. It can be difficult to get these past the traditional building regulations though.
Energy efficient appliances make a huge difference in energy consumption. Get the best ratings even if they cost a little extra money to enjoy fabulous savings. One of the major advances in HVAC is the geothermal heat pump which can save up to 40% on electricity consumed for heat. Modern air conditioners are also undergoing new engineering to make them more efficient as well, but so far the results have been a little less astounding. Look for the energy star label on all your appliances, heating units and air conditioning units.
I hope you found this article on building an energy efficient house useful.