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Elements of An Energy Efficient House
Basic elements of most energy-efficient homes: a well-constructed and tightly sealed thermal envelop...
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Home Energy Magazine
Home performance information tailored to two distinct building and energy-efficiency groups: profess...
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Houses That Work: House Design Recommendations By ...
Building envelopes and mechanical systems should be designed for a specific hygro-thermal region, ra...
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Insulating Foundations and Floors
Insulating slabs, crawl spaces/walls, methods, under-floor insulation, advantages, disadvantages; in...
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Solar Radiation Data for Buildings
For use by architects and engineers, the Solar Radiation Data Manual for Buildings provides solar re...
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Specification of Energy-Efficient Installation and...
This manual is a tool to help achieve energy savings from quality installations of HVAC equipment: p...
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Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Energy
Considerations, commercial status, and guidelines for energy applications e.g. ventilation, renewabl...
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Wall Insulation
Keys to effective wall insulation; air tight construction, moisture control, complete coverage, Opti...
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Pollution Prevention and Residential Construction- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Resource Efficient
Residential Construction

Energy-Efficiency in Home Construction

Non-renewable energy sources are expensive, potentially unstable and create pollution through their development and combustion. Nowhere are the impacts of good residential design and construction practices more apparent than with energy efficiency. The long-term costs of energy to the homeowner are large, financially as well as in health and safety.

  • The generation and use of energy is the single largest contributor to air pollution, and has also been linked to climate change. Source: http://www.energystar.gov/protect.shtml
  • Air leakage from poorly sealed ductwork and building envelope can waste over 50% of a homes heating and cooling energy. Duct leakage (estimated at 30% of waste in some homes) can also create pressure imbalances in a home, endangering health and safety by drawing in outside air and causing backdrafting of combustion appliances. Air leakage also contributes to problems with moisture, noise, dust and entry of pollutants, insects, rodents and reduced fire safety. Source: http://www.southface.org/home/sfpubs/techshts/cheklist.pdf
  • In 1993, more than half of the electricity in homes was used for appliances e.g. lighting, T.V., clothes dryer, freezers, ranges, etc. Electrical consumption due to appliances was shown to be increasing as more households obtained more appliances like microwaves and computers. In 1993, only 23% of households had computers, while in 2000 51% had one or more computers. Source: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/recs/recs2a.html and http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p23-207.pdf

Advantages for the Builder

Higher efficiency equipment, appliances and windows may be more costly up-front, but energy efficient homes generally require relatively small heating and cooling systems. Savings gained from the purchase and installation of such systems can offset other costs. Smaller and simpler mechanical systems can also enhance design and construction flexibility. Along with a tighter, more efficiently vented home comes less moisture. Moisture affects the durability of walls, windows and finishes and produces floor squeaks and drywall cracks. Fewer callbacks will result from these conditions and customers will be happier.

The reputation of builders with satisfied customers will be discussed among homeowners and potential buyers. Greater customer satisfaction will result from less noise, increased durability and comfort, reduced maintenance and operating costs, and the reduced reliance on pollution causing energy consumption. Energy-efficient homes and those with renewable energy systems qualify homeowners for energy and resource efficient mortgages, and incentives for renewable energy technologies.

What Does It Mean For the Consumer?

Energy efficiency is one of the most direct ways that a consumer can realize the benefits of a green built home. By implementing energy efficient techniques, energy bill savings can reach 65%. Source: Green Buildings are Energy Efficient http://www.nrg-builder.com/greenbld.htm . Energy-efficiency can also improve the comfort, health and safety of home occupants through improved indoor air quality, fire protection, noise levels, reduced maintenance and increased durability.

What Makes An Energy-Efficient Home?

"Whole-building design" or a "systems approach" considers the interaction of all elements of the building site, building envelope, mechanical systems, and occupants to help achieve optimal energy performance. The key is to reduce the house load (energy use) using the best combination of:
  • Conservation (insulation, efficient lighting and appliances, house orientation),
  • Insolation (solar gain), and
  • Thermal Storage (mass in walls and floors which helps keep the house a more constant temperature).
    Source: Christopher Borton, Sage Mountain Center http://www.sagemountain.org/

The emphasis on each will vary on a site-by-site basis. Most energy-efficient homes have four basic elements in common:

". . . it has become clear that it is as important to build a tight building envelope in the hot, humid south as in the cold north. Similarly, mixed, humid climates and hot, dry climates also require tight building envelopes. The importance of tight construction goes far beyond energy conservation. Health and durability are the principle concerns with respect to this issue."

http://www.eeba.org/infocentral/criteria.htm Discussion Relating to Criteria

Some specific ways to achieve energy efficiency through a systems approach may include:

  • Optimum use of "passive" solar advantages on the building site (and appropriate overhangs)
  • Efficient lighting
  • Water conservation fixtures and appropriate placement of water heating equipment
  • Design for appropriate insulation levels and reduce labor costs with Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) framing techniques
  • Incorporation of wind, hydrothermal and/or active solar technologies
  • Landscaping (trees, bushes, earthberms provide shading, block a prevailing wind)
  • Thermostat with automatic setback for night and work times
  • Increased insulation in exterior wall, ceiling, floors and foundation
  • Moisture control within the building envelope to control moisture buildup
  • Selection of energy efficient appliances
  • Dampers on all vents, fans and chimneys
  • Use of appropriate colored materials and coatings on exterior or roof (i.e. light colored where summer cooling climates dominate)

Sources: http://www.southface.org/home/sfpubs/techshts/sav_nrg$.pdf,
http://www.eren.doe.gov/erec/factsheets/eehouse.html, and

Assistance with Energy Efficiency

Guidelines, standards and incentive programs abound for energy efficiency in residential construction.

  • Organizations working to promote alternative energy strive to provide tax incentives and guidance that will help builders and consumers more effectively incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency into their homes.
  • Affordable housing and economic development advocates support legislative mandates and establish requirements to include energy efficiency and renewable energy into housing assisted by their programs.
  • Utility companies provide audits and incentives for energy efficiency as well as renewable energy technology development.
  • Certification and ratings programs create partnerships between builders and federal, state, local and non-profit organizations to enhance communities and marketability one home at a time.
  • Energy efficient construction may also qualify consumers for higher than normal debt-to-income ratio when calculating loan potentials, enlarging the market of potential home-buyers.
One rating program that deserves special mention is the Energy Star home labeling program. Energy Star standards are nationally recognized and commonly adopted as criteria for other incentive programs. This program of the Environmental Protection Agency requires homes to achieve 30 percent reductions in energy over the Model Energy Code and obtain a third party verification. For more information on this program see the website located at http://yosemite1.epa.gov/estar/homebuyers.nsf/content/WhatAreESLHs.htm.

Staying Current

Check with the following sites for news, product reviews and current events in Renewable Energy and Efficiency:

The Residential Construction Topic Hub was developed by:
Peaks to Prairies
Contact Laura Estes at Peaks with questions or comments:
406-994-3451 or laurae@montana.edu