Fundamental Energy Saving Ideas for Your New Home
Perhaps the easiest, cheapest, and most overlooked way to save energy when building a home is to ensure that it is oriented on the land for maximum benefit. Many builders and architects fail to incorporate intelligent site orientation in their plans, so you should insist on it if you're having a house built. You can have an energy analysis done, for example, that will show how to position the house to gain the most value from passive solar heat in winter and passive cooling in summer. Just doing that one thing will provide sustainable energy conversation for the lifetime of the building.
Another way to create passive cooling is to landscape with shade trees that are ideally situated. Install energy efficient windows, too, because these will consistently block the transfer of heat - reducing cooling bills in summer and minimizing heating bills all winter.
Choose energy-saving home systems, too, like Energy Star rated appliances, water-saving faucets and showerheads, and on-demand water heaters. Power the house with natural gas, for example, to get a cleaner and more efficient form of fuel that will save you money in a sustainable manner while also helping to reduce your home's carbon footprint.
Added insulation can be a great step toward increased energy savings, because proper insulation will keep your home more comfortable in winter while conserving heat and it will similarly make it more affordable to cool your home in summer by keeping the cool air inside. Insulation can be achieved in a number of ways, including using special insulated panels made from concrete or other materials.
But one of the simplest ways to create more insulation value is to employ so-called Optimum Value Engineering methods. These include smart strategies for framing the house or creating its skeleton. The result is more insulation per square foot and greater attention to fully insulating corners and other tight spots in the design that are normally neglected by conventional framers or builders.
You can also use a geothermal heat pump, which basically transfers the natural heat of the earth that is below the surface of the ground and pipes it into your home while using a relatively small amount of power. Geothermal energy can be used in tandem with radiant flooring systems or connected to your hot water supply to reduce energy consumption by substantial amount.
Investigating the Best Practices of Your Green Home Builder
When talking to builders about a home that will be more energy efficient and help to reduce your carbon footprint, there are lots of areas for discussion.
Here are some tips to help you have that conversation and choose an exceptionally qualified green builder:
- Those who specialize in green building and stay updated in the latest green building practices and technologies will be members of green building trade organizations. So start the dialog by asking for credentials and references that are directly related to green building.
- Although most homeowners think only of architectural details and construction materials when they envision a greener home, it is also important to examine actual worksite strategies.
- How are the building material deliveries scheduled to ensure that they arrive on time, for example, so that they are not spoiled and wasted by exposure to inclement weather and do not contribute unnecessarily to the carbon impact of trucking and transportation?
- Is the lumber used to build your home sourced from a sustainable forest and certified by a reliable organization or watchdog group like the Forest Stewardship Council?
- Some excellent buildings components can also be pre-fabricated, and that can consolidate production under one roof to drastically reduce the carbon footprint.
- Accurate drawings, measurements, and estimates can also reduce waste caused by, for example, cutting lumber the wrong size or ordering materials in excess of what is actually used. Many construction outfits ignore these details, but a committed green builder will incorporate best practices into every aspect of the job.
- Will the builder or landscape contractor create a more sustainable landscape? Believe it or not lawn mowers are one of the biggest polluters in the USA. So installing a landscape that requires less maintenance thanks to an intelligent design and discriminating choices of plants and grasses can not only add greenery to your yard but can be part of your green home initiative.
These kinds of green builder policies run the gamut from simple things like carpooling workers to and from the job site to save gas to more complex strategies like insulating corners to reduce energy loss in the building. Talk them over with your builder and find out how he or she plans to create a truly greener new home from start to finish.
Resources for Green Home BuildingIf you want to make sure the new house you're building or the renovation you're undertaking is as green as it can be, the first step is learning what you need to know.
With all the information out there, this can be a confusing task, but there are a lot of great resources to get you started.
For practical information, check out the U.S. Department of Energy's "Energy Savers" page, a very well organized overview of everything energy-efficiency. Next, skip over to the EnergyStar home improvement section and read some of their publications. There's even a podcast to educate you while you're on the move.
- The Homeowner's Handbook to Energy Efficiency: A Guide to Big and Small Improvements by John Krigger and Chris Dorsi
- Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings: Save Money, Save the Earth by Jennifer Thorne Amann, Alex Wilson, and Katie Ackerly
- Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction (Builder's Guide) by David Johnston and Scott Gibson
- Insulate & Weatherize from Taunton's Build Like a Pro
If you've read all you can read and are ready to delve deeper, there are a number of educational programs and courses available.
The Energy and Environmental Building Alliance offers a program called "Houses That Work," which is a "turnkey, multi-platform" course that imparts sustainable building principles that apply to entire building process.
The "Houses that Work" course can be done online through the Green Builder College, which allows you to learn even more with various levels of study, including certification programs.
Check out the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)'s course catalog, which features online and in-person educational programs. For a return to the basics, try out their K-12 curriculum. Or, for a little light reading on green building, check out USGBC's research publications and project case studies pages.
With a little gumption and few good resources, you can be just as-or more-knowledgeable about green building practices than your builder. Maybe you'll end up in the field yourself!