Going Green: Energy-Efficient House Design

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Many people dream of having their own energy-efficient houses.  It’s great to buy a house build using an energy-efficient design. However, you can make your existing home more energy-efficient, using energy-efficient appliances and step by step home improvements starting with small, low-cost and medium to large-sized.

Recent technological advances in building materials and construction technology make the process of building energy-efficient houses less challenging. This can be quite an investment but it the long run, it will save homeowners money on monthly electricity bills for many years to come.

In addition, energy-efficient house design will also benefit to house owner because such a home may be eligible for an energy-efficient or “green” mortgage.

Energy-Efficient Homes Features

Designing and building a new house or renovating an existing house to ensure high energy efficiency requires careful planning and attention to detail.

Most of the energy-efficient homes or net-zero homes have several features in common, such as solar panels. First of all, the entire house needs to be viewed as a whole system rather than looking at each part separately. The whole-system approach allows the efficient use of electricity, water, and minimizes waste and materials.

The energy-efficient design of the house is crucial but can only be fully implemented if it is complemented by energy-efficient appliances.

Well-known factors that make a house energy efficient are its framing construction, type of insulation, quality of windows, and heating and cooling systems. While each of these components is important, when used together, it is the most important component for creating a truly energy-efficient house.

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energy efficient house with solar panel roof
Black solar panel home. Image credit: Vivint Solar/Pexels

Energy-Efficient House Framing

House design and frame is a major factor in energy efficiency. While some houses are built using standard 2×4 framing, others are built using staggered 2×6 construction. Staggered framing methods allow for less continuous space inside the walls. When looking at house plans, be sure to consider the type of framing used.

It’s important to pay attention to a proper framing for electrical wires as a very important detail of the overall energy efficiency. Another important area to consider is the framing between trusses and walls as well as between the walls and the foundation of the house.

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Energy-Efficient House Insulation

The first step you need to take to maintain the energy efficiency of your home is to install high-quality insulation.

Isolation is most effective when blocking conductivity or heat transfer through an object. The extent to which insulation blocks conduction is called its thermal resistance value, or R-value. There are various types of insulation materials such as spray foam, fiberglass, and cellulose. Thus, the purpose of insulation is to stop thermal bridging and increase the effective R-value as well as eliminate air bridges and condensation.

In addition to the insulation R-value, there are many other types of insulation, including its resistance to air and moisture in the house. The higher the resistance of an insulating or building material to heat flow, the greater the resistance to heat flow. Usually thicker and denser insulation has a higher R-value and therefore better insulates your home.

A Cool Roof of an Energy Efficient House

A cool roof of an energy-efficient home protects against solar heat gain and keeps the house and attic space cool. Typically, cool roofs are made of low thermal mass materials such as tiles, slate, or clay which are reflective or have light-colored pigments that reflect the sunlight.

Several countries and cities around the world mandated green roofs or solar panels for new commercial buildings. Green roofs include anything from simple plant cover to a rooftop garden. Cool roofs improve indoor comfort, reduce energy losses, and extend the roof’s service life.

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Solar panel roof home. Photo credit: Pujanak/Wikimedia

Energy-Efficient Windows and Doors

Windows and doors are another important part of the overall energy efficiency of the house. Windows and doors come in all types of qualities and are another way by which you can save a lot of money on utility bills over time.

When considering the different types of windows for your home, you should also consider whether or not they need to be opened as continuous windows can be more energy-efficient than sliding windows.

Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling System

The house’s heating and cooling system accounts for 48 percent of the energy consumption in a house and represent a major portion of a household energy bill.

Most homeowners recommend packages that not only reinsulate the attic but also clean the air ducts. Having clean air ducts improves the air quality and efficiency of the heating/cooling system.

The most efficient heating and cooling systems such as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) system, is 95 percent efficient. Other high efficient heating and cooling systems include VRF and variable speed HVAC systems.

Energy-Efficient Water Heating

Water heating accounts for 15 percent of energy costs and is one of the largest energy expenses in a home. You can use High Energy Efficient Water Heaters and save energy and money. There are several options for Energy-Efficient Water Heating such as a tankless water heater, a high-efficiency water heater, a high-efficiency heat pump water heater, and a high-efficiency solar water heater.

Tankless Hot Water Heaters 

Tankless water heaters do not store warm water like a traditional tank water heater and can use gas, electricity or propane. These heaters with energy efficiency up to 99 percent can save from 10 to 40 percent of heating costs.

Solar Hot Water Heaters

Solar water heaters can be used to heat water and save energy. They can be used as the main source for hot water or as a back-up to other nonsolar heaters.

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solar water heater
Domestic solar water heater. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Energy-Efficient Lighting

Lighting accounts for up to 15 percent of a home’s annual electricity costs, so it is important to ensure that lighting is energy efficient and well optimized. Energy-efficient lighting can only be achieved with simple and cost-effective strategies that will benefit you with lower energy costs and save the environment.

The most common types of energy-efficient lighting are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and halogen incandescent lamps.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

A CFL is a fluorescent light bulb that fits into a regular light socket. The CFL bulb burns cool and uses much less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb. However, the cons of the CFL is it may take a minute or more to reach full brightness and CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which makes recycling difficult.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LED light bulbs are the longest-lasting bulbs: they last 50 times longer than an incandescent bulb, 20 – 25 times longer than a halogen, and 8 – 10 times longer than a CFL. They contain semiconductors diodes that convert electricity into light. LEDs are about 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, however, they are more expensive.

Halogen Incandescents

Energy-efficient Halogen bulbs are the least expensive energy-efficient lighting option; however, they do not have the longevity of LED and some CFL bulbs. Halogen incandescents have a capsule inside that holds gas around a filament to increase bulb efficiency. They are similar to traditional incandescent bulbs but use less electricity.

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A photovoltaic roof installation filling the entire roof. Photo credit: Roy Bury/Wikimedia

Energy Efficient Ventilation

The ventilation control of an energy-efficient home is crucial because of the air-tightness trap pollutants (such as radon, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds). It is important to install a ventilation system with energy recovery that controls ventilation and minimizes energy loss.

Proper ventilation can prevent bacteria and mold and keep your home dry and protected from damage, saving you money on expensive repair bills. Spot ventilation helps reduce water vapor and moisture, such as exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as natural ventilation.

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Alternative Energy Resources

The design of an energy-efficient home should strive to create as much energy as it uses by installing renewable energy options. These are solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, a wind system, or a small “hybrid” electrical system.

Renewable energy sources can save money and energy and maybe even eligible for Federal Tax Credits and local and/or national tax incentives.

The ultimate goal of an energy-efficient house is to achieve net-zero energy use. The design should also strive to comply with the Energy Star sustainability requirements, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC).

Summing up, achieving these standards will significantly save owners’ money over the lifetime of the house, create a high degree of comfort, and ultimately increase the resale value of the house.

Updated 03/19/2020

Author: EcoDesign&EcoLifestyle

Researcher, entrepreneur, and artist at heart.

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