How to Design an Energy Efficient Home

Energy efficient seems to be a buzzword in the consumer market. It promises to help the environment and save homeowners money in the long-term. But what exactly does it mean to be energy efficient?

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Energy efficiency means using less energy to provide the same service. For example, a compact fluorescent bulb is more efficient than a traditional incandescent bulb as it uses much less electrical energy to produce the same amount of light.

Similarly, an efficient boiler takes less fuel to heat a home to a given temperature than a less efficient model.

The phrase energy efficiency is often used as a shorthand to describe any kind of energy-saving measure, though technically it should be distinguished from energy conservation—a broader term which can also include forgoing a service rather than improving its effectiveness. Examples of energy conservation include turning down a thermostat in the winter or walking to the store rather than driving.

Why is This Important

Knowing what it means to be energy efficient is important, but many homeowners today are increasingly curious as to why it’s recommended. The Department of Energy summarizes the answer to this concern quite clearly:

“Every year, much of the energy the U.S. consumes is wasted through transmission, heat loss and inefficient technology—costing American families and businesses money, and leading to increased carbon pollution.

Energy efficiency is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, clean the air we breathe, improve the competitiveness of our businesses, and reduce energy costs for consumers. “

So, designing a home that is energy efficient isn’t just trendy and a temporary buzzword, but has positive effects inside and outside of the home.

Where to Start

Whether designing a home with energy efficiency in mind like us at New Tradition Homes, the leader in energy-efficient home design, or turning a standard home into one that is energy efficient, there are so many options that it can become quite daunting.

Does this mean a complete overhaul of appliances, lighting, heating, and air-conditioning? Do solar panels need to be added to every square inch of the property? While those upgrades might be the route for the devout energy saver, many find taking smaller steps in the direction of energy efficiency a more practical approach. The following are ways, both big and small, that one can design, or redesign, a home with energy efficiency in mind.

Perform an Energy Audit

A great place to start when learning where your money will be best spent as you “green” your home is to have an energy audit conducted.

Consider inviting a professional energy auditor to your home to evaluate the inefficiencies and wasted energy in your space. A certified and trained auditor will inspect in and around your home to pinpoint savings opportunities and identify areas that need improvements.

If designing your home, turn to professionals for advice on where money is best invested for money-saving energy efficiency and best resale value.

Upgrade Your Light Bulbs

With electric lighting consuming 25% of the average home energy budget, changing out all of the standard bulbs with more energy-efficientlighting is an excellent starting point on the road to going green.

The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself. However, Light Emitting Diode (LED) and Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) bulbs have revolutionized energy-efficient lighting.

CFLs are simply miniature versions of full-sized fluorescents. They screw into standard lamp sockets and give off light that looks similar to the common incandescent bulbs—not like the fluorescent lighting we associate with factories and schools.

LEDs are small, very efficient solid bulbs. New LED bulbs are grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses which have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. LED technology is advancing rapidly, with many new bulb styles available.

Initially more expensive than CFLs, LEDs bring more value since they last longer. Also, the price of LED bulbs is going down each year as the manufacturing technology continues to improve.

Whether to choose CFL or LED lighting is a matter of personal preference. The main goal here is to move away from the energy-consuming standard bulbs.

Add Insulation

Adding new or additional insulation to your ceilings, attic, and walls, along with using caulking or weather stripping to make sure doors and windows are properly sealed, will prevent cold drafts and air leaks will help prevent cold air from leaking in and warm air from leaking out during the cold winter months. Similarly, this improvement will help trap the cool air from air conditioning inside your home during the sweltering summer.

Don’t Forget About the Windows
Your windows are a major source of heat loss in a home. Replace aluminum frames. Aluminum window frames let heat transfer very easily. Vinyl frames are much more resistant to heat transfer. Double- or triple-pane argon gas-filled windows are great for keeping the heat in and the cold out (the argon between the glass acts as an incredibly effective insulator). While tinted windows on the front of a home may not be very attractive, you can always do it to the back windows. Quite a bit of unwanted heat and cold can be kept out with this simple addition.

Add a Storm Door

Even if you have an energy-efficient front or side door, adding a storm door gives you an extra layer of protection from the weather year-round.

Storm doors typically have low-emissivity glass or a protective coating that can help reduce energy loss by up to 50%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most storm doors last between 25 and 50 years and can cost as little as $75.

Plant Shade Trees and Shrubs Around Your Home

If your house is older, with relatively poor insulation and windows, good landscaping (particularly deciduous trees) can save energy, especially if planted on the house’s west side. In summer, the foliage blocks infrared radiation that would warm the house, while in winter the bare branches let this radiation come through.

Of course, if your house has very good insulation and Energy Star or better windows, the effect is much, much smaller because the building shell itself is already blocking almost all of the heat gain. Either way the shade from trees is an effective and appealing way to, quite literally, go green.

With so many options for building a dream home with energy efficiency in mind and making adjustments to improve a current home, it makes sense that this is not just a fleeting trend, but a mainstay design concept with innumerable benefits.