Ask Eartha: What are some green building techniques for an energy-efficient home?
July 20, 2017
I'm building a house this summer and want to be sure that I'm incorporating green building techniques and energy efficiency into the project. What construction products and methods should I be considering as I start down this road?
Thank you for you timely question this week Dan. We are in the heat of construction season here in Summit County, and as always, our homeowners and builders are looking for ways to build better homes. As I tour new construction sites across the county, I'm consistently discovering new technologies and techniques to reduce energy consumption, maximize efficiency and help our homes withstand centuries of abuse.
Over the past several decades, building science has made impressive progress in developing new energy-efficient products and even improving the recipe for how we construct a home. We really start to see these advancements take off in markets subject to higher energy costs or in harsh climate zones. Driven by client demand, builders are tasked with an ongoing challenge to build homes that last longer, cost less to own and operate, and promote heathier indoor living environments. A prime example of such a community of builders is right here in Summit County.
There are many challenges to building in Summit County's climate zone 7. We need to engineer our structures to withstand heavier snow loads and winds, while at the same time build an air-tight, well-insulated envelope that is ventilated to promote building durability and occupant safety. Now that's a lot to juggle! Building an air-tight structure is typically at the top of our energy efficiency hierarchy for this climate zone. Ensuring that the heat we create for our building remains in our building, is paramount to energy efficiency. Getting this step right the first time will save homeowners time and time again on energy costs while creating more comfortable indoor living environments.
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As energy code standards continue to push for tighter homes, we face a paradox of supplying fresh air for our occupants. This is typically where mechanical ventilation comes in.
High-performance homes will feature nicer bathroom ventilation and even heat recovery ventilation systems to circulate fresh air from outside while recovering any potential heat lost through this exchange of air.
An energy-efficient new home starts at the first stage of planning. Building orientation should maximize passive solar heat gain in the winter and mitigate it during the summer. Larger roof overhangs and southern exposure help to address this want.
A homeowner with energy efficiency in mind also considers either installing renewable energy during initial construction, or simply planning for it in the future by designing roof pitches that will easily accept solar systems down the road.
The more time you spend with your architect and design team in the planning stages of construction, the smoother things fall into place once your team breaks ground.
Use the expertise and experience of your architect to plan for energy efficiency wherever possible. Consider using products like a foam backed engineered sheathing to eliminate gaps in insulation in your wall systems.
While you're at it, discuss ways in which your architect can plan for some advanced framing techniques to boost the insulation levels in the walls. These techniques include engineered headers to allow for insulation above window and door openings, or framing on 24" centers to pack in more insulation.
Perhaps a traditionally framed home is not for you, and you'd like to consider a home built of structurally insulated panels (SIPs) to maximize insulation without sacrificing rigidity.
Furthermore, consider forming your foundation walls with insulated concrete forms (ICFs). This technology eliminates the need to strip foundation forms after they are poured and set, often saves on labor and immediately creates well insulated foundation walls.
Finally, oversize your ridge vent on your roof to maximize attic ventilation.
This will go a long way in preventing ice dams and promoting longevity in your roof system.
Ultimately the goal in building a green home is to reduce operating costs, conserve resources and live in a healthier environment.
Utilize reclaimed or recycled building materials wherever possible, and spend the time to plan out all the moving parts of your home.
A home is a system, and its occupants are a major component of that system, so make sure the whole picture works best for you.
Building a high-performance home will yield many years of low-maintenance, comfortable living and will keep my team of energy auditors out of your home for many years to come.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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