Zip Up the Coat of Your Home – Energy Efficiency Basics

Door Blog 080416Thank you to Nick Brouk for the initial write-up of these podcast notes.

While there is much more to a green home, energy efficiency is often the most discussed and a large part of the whole package. The anatomy of a typical green home, along with the basics of energy efficient practices and features helps people understand the terminology associated with building an energy efficient home; as well as provides guidance for maximizing energy efficiency within your home.
Starting with the walls or the “skin” of your house, it is important to make sure to control air-movement throughout the confines of your home. Air will always go from hot to cold areas, as well as wet to dry. So the barrier that makes up the outside of your house must be able to keep hot air out when its cold inside, and moist air out when its dry inside. Make sure your builder or remodeler understands this concept, as air sealing is needed to maximize your home’s insulation efficiency. For instance, check to make sure your builder caulks and seals the seams and joints of your walls and home. Without air-sealing, you will not be able to take complete advantage of your insulation. “Like wearing a down coat with the zipper open”.

green-gab-play-ghc-300x300Windows and doors also play a very tricky role in controlling your home’s airflow. There is a trade-off between the insulation of walls and the natural light provided by windows. Consulting a contractor or builder about the formula for calculating the window-to-wall ratio for your home can help you maximize insulation and air tightness, while still maintaining the proper amount of natural light.

On to the foundation and base of the house where there is a growing trend among builders to spray-foam the joints and seams near the foundation of the house, which is incredibly beneficial to the general insulation of the house as a whole. Some people insulate under the floor of the basement, or even wrap the foundation in a foundation blanket, for a more complete insulation around the envelope of the house. Remember the envelope of the house is all of the sides providing protection from the elements – foundation, walls (with windows and doors) and roof.

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At top of your home, your attic is a critical source of heat transfer. As we recall, heat rises, and subsequently in a home, becomes trapped in the attic. If your attic is not properly insulated and air-sealed, it can be one of the biggest sources of unwanted heat, and cause your utility bills to climb. This is such a major and common issue in homes, that most heating and cooling companies offer some variation of financial assistance in order to help properly air seal and insulate your attic. Be sure to air seal your attic before adding any extra insulation. Unless you know that your attic is has R38 or more of insulation, (which translates to around a foot of blown insulation), you should have your attic checked and properly sealed.
In some homes, some of the heating and cooling system components are in the attic, garage or other unconditioned space, which can cause the system to less efficiently, increase your bills, and potentially fail sooner. Proper air sealing and insulation for the climate and the home will help with this. If at all feasible, install your heating and cooling system (properly vented of course) in conditioned space (a place that is treated as a living space, even if there are not finished quarters.) In the correct operating environment, your heating and cooling system will run much more efficiently, and last much longer. As for the heating and cooling unit itself, you also need to inform your contractor about the specifics of your home, as well as any air sealing and insulation work that you have had done, in order to make sure the heating and cooling contractor fits your home with the right sized unit. A lot of times, the contractor will be unaware of several aspects of the house, and may install a unit that is much too large.
Finally, lighting and plug loads (electronics, appliances, etc.) affect energy efficiency throughout your home and can be easily remedied to save money and energy. Switching to LED lights and bulbs is huge for efficiency, and with their recent popularity, their price has been lowered to a point of legitimate cost-effectiveness. Appliances are another good area to make sure you buy smart. Check the energy guide or look for the Energy Star label. Refrigerators are one of the biggest energy guzzlers, given they are constantly running. Choosing an energy efficient refrigerator is crucial. Recycling the old fridge in the garage will also save you money and energy.
Overall, upgrading basic aspects of your home when you replace, remodel or build allows you to upgrade energy-efficiency which not only saves you money, yet also helps do your part for the world and the environment.
Resources about Energy Efficiency Basics on today’s podcast

Energy Efficiency – Homes, Department of Energy

Energy Saver, Department of Energy

Energy Star, EPA – click on Energy Savings at Home

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