How energy efficient is your home design?

House leaking energy through windows, doors, and thermal bridgingEnergy efficient, sustainable homes aren’t adapted on the job site with insulation upgrades or Energy Star appliances. The critical time to consider energy efficiency, comfort, and sustainability begins at the design phase. Budget and site characteristics should determine the initial considerations for the size, style, orientation, and shell type of the home. The square footage and construction methods are closely linked to the overall cost of a home and significantly affect the total efficiency.

Budget largely dictates the size of the home as well as the quality of finishes and level of detail. Many stock plans waste precious square footage in hallways or poorly planned common areas. Smaller homes that effectively use all of the space well and even take advantage of unused attic spaces for vaults or rooms can seem spacious while saving the budget.

Site characteristics and setting should aid in determining many factors of the proposed home. Neighboring homes should be a cue to the style and general size. The house plan will do well to be harmonious with the surrounding architecture. One should also consider passive solar at this point. Passive solar design takes advantage of the heat from the sun. Orientation of the building and windows are critical. Other factors such as eave extensions, and solar collectors may help determine the construction style.

When considering the shell of the home, one has several common methods. The different types all have varying costs and advantages that should be weighed in light of what has already been discussed. Structural Insulated Panels, Insulated Concrete Forms, Timber Frames, Advanced Framing, and conventional 2X6 construction are all discussed in greater detail on this web site.

Beyond the scope of size, style, budget, and location, there are easy, inexpensive ways to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient. Locating plumbing penetrations on interior walls or in the floor instead of exterior walls allows for more insulation. Minimizing utilities in exterior walls also helps. Small modifications in the trusses can dramatically increase the attic insulation near exterior walls. Framing contractors will often order up a pile of 4×10 headers for every exterior opening. The designer should minimize the header size and all wasted lumber so common in typical homes. This prevents temperature spikes by increasing insulation and minimizing thermal bridging. Another easy focus is the preplanned design and location of the heating and cooling system. Typically this is completely overlooked until the house is framed. The heating system will have the best efficiency and comfort level when placed in conditioned space near the center of the home. The ducting will also be more efficient in conditioned space.

These are only a few ways that a new home can be dramatically improved. Stock plans simply cannot address these important considerations. When spending several hundred thousand dollars on a new home wouldn’t it be a great idea to get just the right design by spending a fraction of the cost on a purposeful home plan?

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