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Energy-efficient home building: Frequently asked questions

May 24, 2021 | 6min read

Having an energy-efficient home is one of those things that’s just a win-win. Of course, there’s the environmental perspective. Taking steps to be more energy efficient is a great way to reduce the carbon emissions and waste produced by your home. But it’s also something that can simply save you money because increased energy efficiency can equal lower power bills every month, season after season. And when an energy-efficient home is coupled with low-cost green energy like residential solar power, you have the key components of cost-effective, low-emission energy independence for years to come.  

If you’re fortunate enough to be building a new home from the ground up, or if you’re looking to do significant renovations, there are some important factors to consider in order to maximize the energy efficiency of your home from the very earliest stages. This article will provide answers to commonly asked questions about energy efficient home building techniques and materials.  

If you already have an existing home and you’re looking for tips on being more energy-efficient we’ve got you covered there too with guides to sustainable remote work and other ways to go green throughout your life.  

How do I build an energy-efficient home?  

There are several elements you need to consider when building an energy-efficient home, and it’s best to follow a checklist like that provided by the United States Department of Energy* or the Zero Energy Project*. 

To start, building an energy-efficient home requires a “whole-house systems approach” that takes multiple forms of energy use and efficiency into account. This approach requires the home designers and building professionals to be on the same page about energy efficiency goals because some of the methods used for maximizing energy efficiency are not the cheapest or simplest ways to construct a home. If you have the option, you’ll want to consider selecting designers and building professionals that specialize in energy-efficient construction.  

At the design and construction stage, one of the most important aspects of energy efficiency has to do with temperature regulation. Building your home properly can potentially reduce the need to use energy-demanding appliances like heaters and air conditioners over time, which can lead to major savings.  

Some of the building techniques you’ll encounter when building an energy-efficient home include the use of super-sealing and super-insulating to maintain desired internal temperature, and designing with solar tempering in mind to gather needed heat from the sun. You’ll also want to pay special attention to the choice of windows and doors to avoid energy-leaking “holes” in your overall design.  

How much does it cost? 

Many people assume that the cost of building a “green” home is much higher than it actually ends up being. As cited by the U.S. Green Building Council*, a 2007 public opinion poll showed that people believed green features added 17% to the cost of a building, while a contemporary study found instead those environmentally friendly features added just 2%.  

“The Cost of Green Revisited” was a 2007 research paper that took a detailed look at the cost of a wide variety of buildings, both energy efficient LEED constructions and “standard” buildings. What the research found was that “comparing the average cost per square foot for one set of buildings to another does not provide any meaningful data for any individual project to assess what – if any – cost impact there might be for incorporating LEED and sustainable design.” In other words, the cost of energy-efficient construction is small enough to disappear when other variables between different building projects are taken into account. 

And it’s only become more affordable to “build green” in the years since that 2007 research was performed. The exact cost today will depend on the size of the construction project, the efficiency upgrades being implemented, and the location where the construction is being done. But as the Zero Energy Project points out, even when energy-efficient homes do cost slightly more to build, they can make up for that difference through their lower cost of ownership.  

What are the most energy-efficient home building materials?  

Energy-efficient home building materials take into account both the energy used in manufacturing the materials and the efficiency gains the materials provide to your home. The best materials include those that don’t take huge amounts of energy to produce, and that save energy over time by providing reliable temperature insulation for buildings, preventing waste.  

According to Highstuff.com, some of the most energy-efficient home building materials include recycled steel, spray foam insulation, thermostat radiant barrier sheathing, bamboo plywood, and insulating concrete forms.  

What is the most energy-efficient home construction method?  

The most efficient possible home construction begins at the design stage. Designers should consider the natural light and average temperature throughout the year for the location where the home is to be built, and plan the construction with these factors in mind. Solar tempering and other energy saving techniques should be considered before any construction has actually begun in order to deliver the greatest results over time.  

After the plan is made, the home should be constructed using energy efficient home building materials, such as recycled steel and spray foam insulation. Alternately, depending on your location and budget, you can consider features like a cool roof or even non-standard home construction methods like earth sheltering or straw bale design, which have their own advantages and disadvantages.  

What are the benefits to building an energy-efficient home? 

The difference between an energy-efficient home and a standard one can be significant, and only grows when you’re considering larger homes with more people living in them. For most homeowners, the biggest reason that an energy-efficient home is worth the investment is the lifetime savings you’ll see from reduced energy waste.  

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that “Of the $2,000 the average American spends paying for energy annually, $200 to $400 could be going to waste from drafts, air leaks around openings, and outdated heating and cooling systems.” And that’s just the start of the story when it comes to the ways a home designed from the ground up for energy efficiency can put money in your pocket. Energy-saving features also make your home more attractive to buyers if you decide to sell,  

Another reason to value energy efficiency is the reduced environmental impact of your home. We’re at a time when more people are paying attention to carbon emissions and climate change than ever. And while it’s possible to perform upgrades to make an existing home more energy-efficient, fundamental choices about construction materials and the orientation of the home relative to the sun can’t be changed without a full rebuild. Because of that, planning and building an energy-efficient house will continue to make a positive difference for the environment for decades to come, for as long as that home stands and people are living inside it. 

How you are paid back back over time  

If you’re building a new home, it just makes sense to take advantage of the energy-efficient techniques and materials that are available. In many cases the cost difference between building for energy efficiency and not doing so are negligible, and the longer you own your home the more money you’ll save over time, thanks to your wise initial decisions. And when you combine an energy-efficient home with solar power, you’re setting yourself up for the potential for maximum energy and cost savings over time, while also building a home with a reduced environmental impact that you can be proud to pass on to future generations.  

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