Energy! This 6 letter word has easily become one of the most popular words in the world as oil prices, gas prices and energy prices have sky-rocketed! As I write this, oil is over $ 140 a barrel, gas prices where I live are hovering at $ 4.00 a gallon and electricity rates are rough $ 19. kwh. Now more than ever people are looking for ways to cut or slash their energy costs!
Back in late 2004 when I was designing (14) semi custom patio homes, I felt very strongly about energy efficiency and I knew that one day real soon, everyone would be concerned about energy efficiency! During this time, way before it was popular, I was building my homes with radiant barriers, energy efficient cooling systems and managed water systems. At that time these technologies were viewed as expensive alternatives to the standard construction procedures and products generally offered by builders, but the sentiment has now changed. These once overlooked technologies are quickly becoming the standard.
With this increased attention on energy efficiency, the real question is how can you build an energy efficient home without busting your budget! Most builders and contractors are charging premiums for outfitting homes with energy efficient products and it seems that overnight a whole new cottage industry has been created offering a host of high dollar energy saving solutions! Despite the glossy brochures, impressive sales presentations and overly accommodating sales representatives I think some of these products are overkill and their claims of costs savings in many cases are exaggerated at best!
So what is an Owner Builder to do? For starters, the first step in properly planning the construction of an energy efficient home is to consider what your overall budget is for the home you are building and within that budget how much (as a percentage) are you willing to invest in reducing your energy costs. In many cases, this figure could be as high as 10% however the average is anywhere from 5-8.5% of the overall cost of the home.
The first thing you want to consider is the climate for the area you are building in and the building envelope materials. Most homes through the United States consist of brick, Hardi-plank © siding and / or concrete. Concrete is green and energy efficient however it can be costly and there are several additional factors to consider such as lead times, renting pump trucks and higher labor costs. With that said, in places like Florida due to hurricanes concrete homes are the standard in many cases so there are exceptions. Brick on the other hand is a low maintenance product that offers several energy saving benefits when installed properly. Ideally you want an exterior product that will insulate your home from the forces of nature and contribute to your overall plan of lower energy costs.
The next step in building an energy efficient home is outfitting your home with the proper sized heating & cooling system AND choosing a qualified reputable contractor to install it. To ensure you have the rightized system, I suggest you invest in a Manual J analysis on your home plans. This analysis will give detailed suggestions on the type and size of heating & cooling system for your home based on its size and location. The small investment you make in performing this analysis will produce huge dividends in energy savings and reduced maintenance expenses.
Another important thing during this stage of planning is to have an Electrical Technician design an electrical plan for your home. This electrical plan will insure that you have the proper amount of outlets through the home and it will insure they have the proper voltage to ensure that you never overload a circuit or exert unnecessary pressure on any part of your electrical system. These (2) steps by themselves will produce a home that will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year on your electrical bill and produce a more enjoyable living experience for you and the other occupants of your Dream Home.
The next energy saving feature to consider is the insulation system you will use. Recently there have been several foam based products that have grown increasingly popular due to their ability to create an air tight building envelope. This is great for those climates that have extremely fiercely winters and moderate summers but for humid climates like Houston, Texas where I live, these products can create HUGE problems because of mold issues! If you live in the Midwest or Upper East coast then these foam products will work great and by themselves they will cut your heating & cooling costs in half!
However if you are like me and live in the Southwest, I suggest using a battled fiberglass solution in most cases with facing on the side that faces the sheetrock and a blown-in insulation for your attic applications. I usually suggest that you use a razor and cut lines in the facing before covering them up with sheetrock to allow the walls to breathe. This one minor step prevents mold growth as it allows air to freely move through the walls prohibiting moisture.
My next recommendation has become commonplace in the homes of the finer custom homebuilders and in many cases is offered as an upgrade by the tract homebuilders and that is radiant barriers! Quite simply, a radiant barrier is the foil like surface that is on the underside of the plywood-like material that you see in your attic that your roof is nailed to. The purpose of the radiant barrier is to prevent the heat from the sun from coming into the home via the roof.
Usually a radiant barrier blocks as much as 50% of the suns ultraviolet rays theseby reducing your attic temperature by as much as 30% or more in some applications. This feature is not very expensive and usually costs $ 30.00 – $ 35.00 per 4×8 sheet in comparison to the non radiant barrier sheets which generally cost $ 23.00 – $ 28.00 per 4×8 sheet. Again, this small investment will produce huge gains via the lower energy bills and increased comfort and quality of lifestyle it will afford you and your family.
This next energy saving feature is one of my favorite of all features and that is the tank-less water heater! Can you believe it, a water heater the size of a shoe box! These have got to be one of the coolest products on the market and besides the energy savings they provide, you will also like that they produce an endless flow of hot water! Tank-less water heaters are rapidly gaining steam (pun intended) in the custom home market despite being reasonably higher than your standard water heater, but it's a worthy investment to say the least!
Our last energy saving product is a Mana-Bloc © managed plumbing system. This plumbing system will save you money on your water bill as it will reduce the amount of water waste and it allows you to manage every single water feature in your home. So if you have a hot water leak in your half bath, you can cut off the hot water in that area without affecting the cold water or any other water feature in the home. In addition to that you do not have to worry about water leaking until you get the leak repaired which causes water damage and mold!
These managed systems really represent the future of home efficiency products with their ability to customize and manage every aspect of your water consumption and provide a better overall quality of lifestyle for the end user!
I can assure you that if you follow the steps outlined here and consistently considering the products and procedures outlined you will cut your energy costs by half (or more) in your Custom Dream Home! As energy prices continue to rise, this strategic energy planning and thinking regarding building a home will become a standard procedure for Owner Builders and home buyers alike.