6 Tips For Designing an Affordable Energy Efficient Home
The average home in the US spends $1,900 a year on energy usage.
You spend so much money to build your home, why not try to save some money while you live in the home?
You may not see significant savings each month on your utility bills, but small incremental savings definitely add up over the course of a year, 2 years, 5 years, and so on… These small savings add up to big savings, saving you hundreds if not thousands of dollars over time.
The great thing about designing a new home from scratch is that you can incorporate these energy efficient design strategies to help reduce energy and water consumption. And since you’re considering these strategies early in the design phase, many of them have very little, if any, additional upfront costs.
Implementing energy efficient design strategies early on is the best and easiest way to reduce your monthly utility bills and make your home more affordable over the long run.
Here’s 6 ways to reduce energy demands, optimize energy performance, and plan for passive and active energy efficiency within your home.
1. Lifestyle Change: Reduce Your Energy and Water Demand Habits
The easiest and cheapest way to achieve a more energy efficient home is to reduce your energy and water demand altogether. Start with a lifestyle change. By reducing your demand you ultimately pay less for power and water and are even able to have smaller mechanical and plumbing systems.
So how do you reduce your demand for energy?
First and foremost, the best way to start reducing and conserving your energy and water consumption is to take a look at your own habits and behaviors to see if there are ways to do things differently that might save resources. Changing your behavior may not be easy for everyone but by repeatedly doing it over time, better habits will start forming.
Here are some examples of things to reduce and conserve energy:
- Take shorter showers. (Showers use more water than any other plumbing fixture)
- Turn the TV off when you’re not watching it.
- Turn lights off when you leave the room
- Turn the heat or AC down when you leave the house
- Close the windows/doors when the heat or AC is on.
- Rely on natural daylight over artificial lights when possible.
- Close off rooms (and registers in those rooms) that you don’t regularly use
These are just a few of the many great habits and behaviors that you can easily incorporate into your day-to-day life and let you enjoy incremental cost savings month after month.
2. Passive Energy Efficient Design Strategies
Aside from the obvious behavioral changes, when it comes to your actual home the first step towards energy efficient design is to find ways to passively reduce your energy and water demands. Designing a home that is compact, well-insulated, and has good site orientation are all great ways of minimizing your reliance on municipal resources.
These passive approaches are usually the easiest and most cost-effective approaches to designing an energy efficient home because they take very little effort on your part after the initial construction is complete. That is why it makes the most sense to tackle these strategies first.
A Smaller Home Uses Less Energy
We’ve already discussed many advantages of designing a compact, space efficient home in our article on efficient floor plans. One of the most important advantages of a smaller home is that it has less volume, which means less air inside to heat and cool. Given the choice between heating a home that has 1,200sf versus one that is 1,500sf, we all would probably choose the smaller home. All else equal, smaller home almost always uses less energy. So why not try to eek out a few square feet here and there to reduce your home’s square footage to save energy?
Consider Your Home’s Envelope Performance
One of the best passive ways to create an energy efficient home is to make sure your home is well-insulated and uses high-performance materials. Ensuring that your home is insulated to the required minimums and is sealed thoroughly for air gaps will help minimize the amount of air that sneaks into and out of your home.
Make sure your home has the required amount of insulation, and if possible design above the minimum insulation requirements. You may also want to consider different types of insulation (batt, rigid board, loose fill blow-in, spray foam). Each type of insulation has different performance characteristics, thicknesses, and costs associated with them. So spend some time deciding which is the best material is best for your specific project.Building codes dictate minimum insulation requirements for your home and vary depending on geographic region. They also list performance criteria for glazing since windows usually have lower performance properties than solid walls.
Building codes dictate minimum insulation requirements for your home and vary depending on geographic region. They also list performance criteria for glazing since windows usually have lower performance properties than solid walls.
Take Advantage of Free Energy and Water
Another way of passively reducing your energy demand is to take advantage of free energy — energy from the sun and the environment.
In our post on achieving good site planning, we discussed ways of locating your home on the site to take advantage of passive heating and cooling opportunities. Understanding solar orientation, sun paths, and wind patterns and designing a home to respond to these environmental elements helps. The way you orient, shape, lay out and configure your home on the site directly affects the amount of energy needed to heat and cool it.
Depending on your climate, designing for large roof overhangs, courtyards, operable windows, and even for the placement of trees and vegetation can have a big impact on your energy loads.
Using the sun to help passively heat your home in the cold months and keep it cool in the hot months will significantly help minimize the amount of work your HVAC system has to do.
Another consideration is to maximize your use of natural ventilation and daylighting. Operable windows help achieve this which again results in a reduction in intensity of energy-consuming mechanical equipment and lights.
Another free resource to consider is rainwater. Instead of letting rainwater just drain into your city’s storm water system, why not funnel the water and collect it in a storage cistern for reuse? Use the water to irrigate your landscape and garden, wash your outdoor furniture, fill up water balloons for the kids, or most other outdoor use. Its a lot cheaper to use rainwater for most outdoor activities than to use municipal water services for everything. Sure, you’ll want to use potable water for drinking but for most outdoor activities, rainwater is a great free alternative.
3. Active Energy Efficient Design Strategies
After exhausting passive approaches, consider active strategies to providing energy and water efficiency.
When we speak of active strategies, we are talking about your mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The equipment, the devices, the fixtures, the products in your home that help create and distribute conditioned air, water, and light.
When you design the various systems for your home, try to make them as efficient as possible so you aren’t wasting energy and money. All systems have a certain amount of energy loss, but you still want to try to minimize this loss as much as possible.
Select Energy Efficient Equipment
When selecting equipment and systems, make sure to consider their efficiency. Space conditioning accounts for the most energy usage in a home (about 15% of total usage). Using efficient systems like radiant floor heating can reduce your energy bills and give you the added benefit of a better comfort level.
Selecting Energy Star equipment when possible is always a good idea. To help understand more about operating costs of each product, compare the Energy Guide Labels located on the back of each appliance/equipment. The labels show estimated energy usage in terms of dollars and are a good reference when comparing different models or products.
Consider Life-Cycle Costs (Not Just Upfront Costs)
Consider the various costs of each equipment: upfront cost (purchasing price), operating cost (affects utility bills), and replacement cost. Read product information and learn which products are more efficient than others.
Is it better to buy a cheaper product with a life expectancy of 5 years or a slightly more expensive model with a life expectancy of 10 years? Many factors come into play when purchasing equipment so it’s best to review all the information and see which performance and budgetary criteria are most important to you.
Optimize Lighting Systems
Lighting systems account for about 10% of total energy usage in a home — just behind heating and cooling systems in the total energy consumption. First and foremost, try to rely on natural daylighting as much as possible during the daytime.
Next, as you consider artificial lighting, high-efficiency light fixtures present a good opportunity to lower your energy usage. They are usually slightly more expensive to buy but can save you money in the long run with the savings in monthly electricity costs. They also emit less heat so your cooling load is reduced.
One thing to remember is to check your local building codes. Some codes require high-efficacy light fixtures in certain rooms of the house or as a certain percentage of all lighting. So you’ll have to purchase specific fixture types for these locations no matter what.
You may also want to consider switching out regular light switches with a motion sensing light switch in rooms with low traffic if you have trouble remembering to turn lights off. These switches automatically turn the lights when no movement is detected after a certain duration and are great for rooms where you might accidentally leave the lights on for long periods of time without noticing like guest rooms, utility rooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and closets. Some jurisdictions even required it.
Efficient Water Systems
As you select the plumbing system for your home, select high-efficiency equipment and low-flow fixtures. Low-flow shower heads, toilets, and faucets are ideal for conserving water usage. In addition, high-efficiency washing machines that use less water are also ideal especially if you wash clothes often.
You may also consider “on demand” hot water systems that heat water only when it’s needed instead of traditional hot water tanks that continuously heat water even when no water is used.
As we mentioned above, collecting and reusing rainwater helps reduce water usage. In addition, installing a gray water system in the home for indoor use can reduce water usage as well. Gray water systems take the waste water from sinks, dishwashers, tubs, and showers and use it to flush the toilets which means less reliance on potable water from the city municipality.
4. Consider Ways To Recover Energy
Finding ways to recover energy will also help lower utility bills. So much energy is spent heating and cooling the air and water in your house. Why not try to capture some of this energy and reuse it before it goes down the drain or exhausts out the vents?
One strategy is to consider equipment like heat recovery ventilators. Heat recovery units pull heat or cool air from the exhaust air and transfer it to the incoming supply air. This process passively conditions the incoming air so your mechanical system doesn’t have to work as hard to heat or cool the air to the appropriate temperature because the heat recovery ventilator gave it a head start.
Another similar process involves capturing the heat from wastewater and reusing it. Drain water heat recovery systems capture heat from your shower, sink, dishwasher, and washing machine waste lines and transferring it to the hot water supply lines before they reach the water heater. This allows the water to get heated up some so the water heater has to do less work.
5. Consider Alternative Energy Sources
If, after reducing your energy demand with the above energy-efficient design strategies, you want to consider other ways of reducing your reliance on municipal utilities consider alternative energy (self-generation) sources.
Many people don’t like the idea of relying on the power grid for all their energy and municipality for all their water. This is understandable. You have little control over the cost and availability of each resource. Should the power grid go down or a chemical spill contaminate the main water supply, you will be left fending for yourself.
Many people have decided to take matters into their own hands by using alternative methods to get power and water. If you can get the payback period to work in your favor, alternative energy sources can provide independent energy and free you from being tied to the municipality’s power grid. We won’t get into the details in this article but solar power, solar thermal, geothermal heat pumps, and wind turbines, offer opportunities to generate alternative power for you and your home.
You don’t have to necessarily try to power your entire home with alternative energy. You can combine solar power with power from the grid as a backup. If your alternative energy system does produce more energy than you use, your utility company may buy the excess power from you. So instead of getting a bill from the utility company, you’d get a check in the mail.
Alternative energy is usually a big upfront cost but if you can find a way to finance the investment it will provide you savings down the road and make you less dependent on the power grid… something many people are trying to do.
6. Control & Monitor Performance & Usage
With advances in technology, there are more and more ways to monitor and control energy usage and power. Programmable thermostats are great because you can configure them based on your schedule and lifestyle. You can have preset temperature adjustments during the day when you’re at work and different ones when you’re home.
There are also technologies to connect your thermostat to your smartphone and adjust it on the fly from anywhere. This is now becoming more common with many different devices around the home. Lights, garage doors, and alarm systems are now more easily controlled wirelessly from mobile devices and can help you control energy usage.
Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Or put another way: What gets measured gets improved.
Many studies show that the act of monitoring and measuring performance has an impact on the process and the results. Simply put: it’s a form of accountability. Looking at your utility bills each month to monitor usage is a good way of understanding how effective you’re becoming/have become at optimizing your energy and water usage. It’s also nice motivation to see how much you’ve improved and how much you’ve saved compared to the previous year.
Many of these energy efficient strategies are common sense. And many more are becoming more popular over recent years. It’s hard to even shop for equipment without seeing the Energy Star label these days. But some of these strategies are not so common or familiar and may require a little extra planning and design on your part. This shouldn’t be a deterrent but rather an opportunity to try to design a home that is more energy efficient in a passive way so as to reduce demand on municipal resources later.
Not only do these energy efficient design strategies achieve significant savings on your operating and utility bills, they also increase the value of your home. If you later decide to sell your home, you’ll have documented proof in terms of lower utility bills to show future homebuyers who are usually more willing to pay more for sustainable building features.
Also, since you’re designing a new home, its a lot easier and more cost-effective to implement these strategies into your design from the start. You may even be able to take advantage of possible Federal, State, or local tax credits, as well as manufacturer or utility company credits. Dig around online and see what additional savings you can find!
If you want to focus on the right tips and strategies to create an affordable home, check out this guide:
This article was originally published at www.yr-architecture.com.