This was the third person I’ve talked to in the last couple of weeks so I thought it was a good topic for a blog post. Also, I’m hopeful that this means the economy is starting to turn around and people are finding the money to invest in their homes.
If you have the opportunity to build from the ground up, there are a number of things you can do that most of us (renovating or just making a few fixes) cannot do. I have listed some that I think are important below. I’d love to hear from you to expand this list.
New house construction, energy saving ideas:
- If possible orient the house so you can take advantage of the sun for passive solar heating — south facing windows with an awning to restrict the higher, summer sun, but let as much winter sun in as possible.
- A south facing roof with little or no penetrations is great for solar electric or solar hot water collectors. Dormers create shade on the roof as does a chimney and vent stacks. If possible, place roof penetrations on the north roof.
- Inside chase to the roof — often electrical or plumbing need to get from the basement or utility area to the roof. Both solar electric and solar hot water would need to run wires or pipes down to a utility area, so designing in the chase and possibly roughing in the plumbing are good ideas when starting new construction.
- Double or triple the amount of insulation you are thinking of using. R40 walls and R80 in the roof may seem like a lot, but they aren’t unusual any more. The additional cost for insulation will be the fastest return on the investment over almost any other choice you make in the house. The air barrier is also very important to reduce cold air infiltration.
- If you are willing to seal up the house tightly and use good insulation (dense-pack cellulose, foam, or a combination of foam/cellulose), then you will need to design in a heat exchange ventilator to bring in the proper amount of fresh air.
- If you are doing a central heating system (not just heating with a wood stove), then insist on a low-temperature heat distribution system. Low-temperature radiant floor, low-temperature hydro-air (circulating air), or low-temperature wall panels. If the heating system only requires water or air at 100F, you have the potential to save a lot of money from reduced fossil fuels.
- Consider all your alternatives for a heating system — oil and gas are not local products that we can budget for. Wood and solar ARE local — which means you won’t be dependent on foreign countries to heat your house if you can minimize the fossil fuels. Wood boilers come in very efficient models now, and a combination wood/solar system with a small generator backup might be good solution for you. [If not, then go back to #4 and insulate better to reduce your fossil fuels]