Thursday, January 20, 2011

Building more energy efficient homes

It’s a sad fact that most homes built today could easily be more energy efficient. And by more energy efficient, I mean at least 20% more efficient (or more) with very little effort or additional cost. And sadly, the main reason we do not build more efficient homes lies with builders and developers. The majority of builders simply do not want to spend the effort, time or money to offer more efficient homes. There are some builders who have embraced energy efficiency upgrades and provide them as their standard offering or as an upgrade package. But why do most builders not offer more energy efficient designs? It mainly boils down to the bottom line, their profit margin or money in their pocket. They have no or very little concern for what it will cost their customers to live in the home or the amount of energy that will be wasted during the life cycle of the building.

I know the above paragraph will greatly anger some builders and I expect to get some hate mail for it, but sorry, it is simply the truth! The common argument from builders, developers and even the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) is that energy efficiency upgrades will add too much cost to a home. Their claim is that the extra cost will be $800 to $2500 per home. These numbers are inflated or simply not true. The truth is, with smart design, improving the energy efficiency of a home can range from $0 to maybe $1000 to attain significant improvement. Sure you could spend more than $1000 to attain a much higher efficiency level, but that is another subject. I want to be clear and state that builders are typically good people but they are just very reluctant to change the way they do things, especially if change has the potential to impact their profit by increasing the cost of a building and/or reducing the salability of a home.

So why should we care about energy efficiency? There are a number of very good reasons including reducing our overall energy consumption as well as improving our national security by reducing our usage of foreign energy, but the best one starts at home and is how much your home costs you to live in every month. Here are some numbers to give you an idea of the potential savings. Lets say you spend $200 per month on energy for your home. This would include all energy used in the home for heating and cooling (HVAC), water heating, cooking, washing, lights and appliances. Now, only a portion of this can be impacted by energy upgrades to the home, but it is a significant portion. The typical home uses about 73% of its total energy usage for HVAC, water heating and lighting. So if we take that $200 per month times 73%, times 12 months, we get $1752. With simple, off the shelf upgrades and small changes to the way the home is built as well as changes to the HVAC system, water heater and lighting, we can easily reduce the energy usage by 20% (the savings could be more depending on the changes made to the home).

This works out to $351 saved per year at today’s energy costs. The savings per year will increase as energy costs increase over time. While $351 per year is not a huge number, the savings would pay for typical energy upgrades within three years. After that, it is simply money you don’t have to spend to live every year while making no changes to your lifestyle. Over the life cycle of the home, this adds up to a significant total savings as well as a significant reduction in energy used. These savings are simple to accomplish. Below is a laundry list of simple upgrades that can easily designed into any new home:

Thicker walls, more insulation (min 2x6 framing). Don’t use fiberglass batt insulation ever (it’s difficult to install correctly and not dense enough to reduce air circulation). Use foam sheathing on the exterior walls. Utilize roof trusses with an energy heal. Use roofing materials that reflect more of the suns energy. Insulate the rim joist. Insulate the basement walls. Insulate under the slab floor. Insulate between the main floor and an unheated basement. Use more insulation in the attic. Use slightly better windows and doors. Minimize or eliminate sliding windows and doors. Eliminate un-needed windows. Reduce the number or size of windows on the north, east and especially the west sides of the house. On the east and west sides, use window glass that blocks more solar gain. Use triple pane windows on the north side. Use a more efficient HVAC system and water heater. Use more efficient appliances. Use more efficient lighting. Orient the home to take advantage of natural solar gain.

These are just simple suggestions that can make a home more energy efficient without adding much (or maybe nothing) to the cost. You will notice that I mentioned nothing regarding solar panels, solar water heating, LED lighting, hot water conservation or heat re-capture etc. All of these would be additional options.

The bottom line is, You do not have to accept a home with poor energy efficiency! Talk to your potential builder about the energy upgrades he uses or has available and what your cost will be. If the extra cost seems unreasonable, it is! Find another builder. Good builders are out there, you just have to look.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this perspective, which is something that I agree with. I think that building energy efficient homes is the way to go these days mainly because they can save you money in the long run. I have been living in one for a few months now and I am have been paying less monthly than I did at my previous home.