BY LES O’DELL
Energy efficiency continues to be a major factor in home design. While better energy bills may be the driver for some homeowners, energy efficiency has many benefits, such as making homes more comfortable, providing a more even temperature or improving quality of life.
“There are a lot of beneficial unintended consequences that happen when you improve the efficiency of a home,” explains Todd Abercrombie, owner of Midwest Building Performance. “For instance, moisture management, prevention of mold, improvement of indoor air quality and more.”
To accomplish energy conservation, contractors and consumers take a variety of approaches. This may include looking for higher efficiency kitchen or bathroom appliances, using LED lighting throughout homes and implementing water-saving features as well as tankless water heaters.
Some of it even comes down to the building materials used during construction or how a home is laid out.
“People want better windows, better insulation and better roofs,” says Donna Youngquist of R&D Custom Homes. “Customers may even want zone systems on their HVAC units to control the temperature in different rooms. This is so that an underutilized room is not heated or cooled as much as rooms that are used more often.”
Benefits of a home energy audit
To make any residence – new construction or an existing home – more energy-efficient, builders suggest a complete energy audit, which looks at various factors that unnecessarily cost consumers money.
“An audit looks at the big picture and analyzes things such as insulation in the attic and walls to pinpoint all of the various gaps and cracks that might need to be sealed,” Abercrombie says. “It’s helpful to have diagnostic equipment such as a blower door and infrared cameras.”
Additionally, an audit will look at heating and cooling systems as well as other systems, including lighting, appliances and electronics.
Value during new construction
Energy efficiency is critical to be kept in mind even during new construction.
“I’ve done blower door tests even before installation to make sure we’re getting things right,” Abercrombie explains. “There are certain things you just cannot get to after the house is buttoned up with drywall, windows and doors.”
Energy efficiency is all about paying attention to details. While sometimes it is about product selection, it is often how things are installed and considering other factors which often get missed during the rush to construct a home.
One place that often gets overlooked when it comes to efficiency is insulation in the ceiling of the home. Abercrombie calls it “leaky ceiling syndrome” because when builders think of an efficient house, they often think about what they can do to make the walls more airtight, but they frequently ignore the ceiling plane.
“The area between the ceiling and the attic doesn’t get sealed as well as it should,” he explains. “This is the most important boundary in the home, and we have more leakage there than we do in the walls.”
Les O’Dell is a special contributor to Iowa Electric Cooperative Living.