Energy Efficiency

The Energy Efficient Home: What Makes It So?

Everyone wants a cleaner, safer environment. If given the choice, no one would choose not to have an energy efficient home. But not everyone knows exactly what that entails or how to go about making their own home more energy efficient. The US Department of Energy has set forth four aspects of energy efficient home design: a tightly sealed thermal envelope, a high R-value, proficient ventilation, and, best of all, lower heating and cooling bills. If you’re not an engineer and the idea of saving money sounds good but the first two or three aren’t familiar, we’ll look at each one and break it down.

The thermal envelope is simply what separates the inside of your home from the elements outside. It includes the roof, windows, foundation, siding, finishes, framing, and vapor barrier. Proactive upkeep and maintenance is key to making the thermal envelope of your home as tightly sealed as possible. If you are building a new home, there are new alternatives to the traditional stick (wood) frame that are significantly more energy efficient, such as optimum value engineering (OVE), structural insulated panels, and insulating concrete forms.

R-value is simply the ability of your home to resist heat loss. The more effective your insulation, the higher its R-value. The building codes of many regions require a minimum R-value, but a home that is energy efficient will exceed that value with the insulation. While standard building code requires insulation in the ceiling and walls, the energy efficient home also has a well-insulated foundation and flooring. When foundations aren’t insulated, homes suffer a loss of energy efficiency and comfort, particularly in lower-level living spaces. An insulated foundation also provides the ability to make use of ‘waste’ heat from appliances such as washers, dryers, and water heaters, which are usually situated in the lower level.

Proper ventilation to control the air flow is necessary in any home to prevent moisture build up. Without controlled, mechanical ventilation, the indoor air quality can cause health problems and the integrity of your home’s building materials is at risk. Any water vapor that gets in to your home through your thermal envelope has to be able to get back out. The proper air/vapor retarder system for your home will vary according to your climate.

So how do these factors save you money on your utility bills? When your well-insulated home’s thermal envelope is tightly sealed, less heat escapes during cold weather and less cool air escapes during warm weather. Proper ventilation helps to ensure steady, healthy air flow. The energy efficient home is easily heated and cooled with smaller than usual air conditioners and furnaces. It’s a win-win situation for the environment and your finances.

It’s easy to see why energy efficient home design is quickly becoming the new standard. Higher criterion for energy efficiency and air quality benefit everyone. Homes that are well insulated with controlled air flow are more comfortable, practical, and economical. Anyone can learn more about sustainable home design and start on the path to a healthier environment and a brighter future.

Going Green on a Budget: Low-Cost Energy-Saving Tips

Anyone can implement small changes that can make their home greener, even on a limited budget. By just making a few low-cost changes around the house, you can contribute to a cleaner environment and end up saving even more money on lowered utility bills. Here are a few ideas that make sense both environmentally and economically:

• If most of your day is spent out of your house, energy is being wasted to heat or cool an empty space. When you know you’re not going to be home for hours at a time, adjust your thermostat to save energy. It will only take about a half an hour to reach a comfortable temperature when you arrive home. This is an environmentally-friendly habit that will also bring down your utility bills.

• For less than $50, you can also purchase a programmable thermostat that can be set to kick on your heating or cooling system around 30 minutes before you arrive home.

• It’s a good idea to change your HVAC system’s air filter at least every three months. This will improve the quality of your air, keep dust out of your furnace, and ensure an energy efficient, cost-saving system.

• Even if your washer has settings to adjust the water level, it wastes electricity and water to run small loads. Waiting for a full load isn’t just an excuse to avoid doing the laundry. It’s prudent for both economical and environmental reasons.

• In the same way, don’t run your dishwasher until it contains a full load. Another energy-saving tip is to skip the heat setting for drying the dishes and let them air dry to save electricity.

• Keep your freezer and refrigerator energy efficient by checking for loose seals on the doors. Replace and install new seals whenever they’re needed and you will be keeping your refrigerator at peak energy efficiency.

• Your refrigerator’s location is an important consideration as well. Make sure that it is positioned correctly, away from any source of heat if at all possible. If it must be placed next to a dishwasher or stove, use fireproof insulation in between.

• Keep your refrigerator out of direct sunlight. This can be as easy as putting up a shade or curtains. Keep your refrigerator set at no less than 35 degrees and no more than 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer should be consistently set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

• As you work around the kitchen, try not to leave the doors to the refrigerator or freezer open, even for a short time. Close them as soon as you have what you need or have put something back.

• The second largest expense in home energy, after heating and cooling, would be the hot water heater. The easiest, least expensive way to improve the energy efficiency of your water heater is to buy an insulating jacket to conserve heat. An insulating jacket typically costs less than $20, and outfitting your pipes is even cheaper.

All of these ideas are little things that anyone can do with little or no cost, but great savings. They are investments into a cleaner, more sustainable environment that will pay off when you save on energy bills.