Building an energy efficient home does not have to be a scary endeavor. There are a few things that you must know when embarking on such a project, but do not let it scare you away from having the home you are seeking. Many times, it is easier to build a home with energy efficiency in mind than it is to take an already standing home and make it energy efficient.
The basics of building a home that is energy efficient is to think of it as building a thermal envelope. Basically that everything you use will be used like a shield, shielding you from the outdoor weather. So every type of material you use to build the home, you will need to ask yourself if it will be proficient at holding in the cool air during the summer, or keeping out the cold air in the winter.
The first thing people think of when building a house would be the walls. A sustainably harvested wood would be the best way to go if you can find it. Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) is another method that is commonly used when constructing an energy efficient home. The person that installs this type of wall will need to be well versed in this type of wall construction to make sure the house is built right, it can be slightly tricky. Another option would be Structural Insulated Panels (SIP’s). In this case, you will have your wall and insulation all in one.
When choosing the right insulation for your project make sure to check with the US Department of Energy Insulation Fact Sheet. They advise how much insulation is needed depending on your weather zone. This is crucial because the higher the “R” value, the better it is at resisting any heat transfer. The lower the value the faster you will lose your heat. Insulation is extremely valuable. The entire house should be well insulated, even the basement so that the home is buffered from cold ground temperatures.
Windows are a tremendous problem when you try to keep the heat in. A lot of your heat will escape through windows. The less windows the better when it comes to keeping your house as energy efficient as possible. You do not want the total amount of window area to be over 8 or 9 percent of the total area of the floor. You can try this project best if you are working with someone or know a lot about solar tempering.
Remember to weather-strip your home and caulk it well after it is built. You want to seal any areas that warm air could be escaping through. Many people will caulk around all your light fixtures, electrical wires, joints, vents from the bathroom or chimney. Every area that you can think of should always go over with caulking to make sure your home is the best it can be.
Once your home is built you will want to choose the furnace and other systems you need to heat or cool your home with. The good thing is knowing that if you have weatherized your home, or build a highly energy efficient home you will not need as large of a heating system. It will take less to heat your home and to cool it off, than if it were not sealed tightly and well-insulated.
Some great resources on energy efficiency:
Energy Star, energystar.gov
Energy Savers, energysavers.gov
The Midwest Renewable Energy Association, the-mrea.org
US Department of Energy, www.eere.energy.gov
Energy-Saving Homes, Building & Manufacturing at Energy.gov.