photo by Christina Kiffney Photography
Green building has been a popular topic for almost two decades. But what does “green” mean? There’s no simple answer to this. “Green” can refer to using sustainable and/or local materials. It can mean ensuring a home has good indoor air quality. Most often, however, when we’re talking about Green Building, we’re talking about energy efficiency. This post focuses on energy efficiency and what that means for your home.
Energy efficiency refers to how much energy it takes to operate the home. All building jurisdictions have different rules and thresholds for how energy efficient a home must be. Energy efficiency can be broken into 2 main components:
A home’s building envelope is the separation between inside and outside. It’s comprised of your exterior walls, windows, ceiling/roof, and foundation.
Why is the building envelope important? A well sealed and insulated building envelope is the key to your home feeling comfortable during extreme seasons. In summer, your home is like a cooler: your food stays colder longer, the nicer the cooler is. In winter your home is like a travel coffee mug. Your coffee stays hot because the mug is insulated and there's a tight fitting lid. A poorly insulated and drafty house cooks in the summer and is chilly in the winter. You’ve got to consume more energy to run the furnace and air conditioning to keep the house comfortable.
Your home’s appliances in this case refers to the devices that heat and cool your home. There are dozens of ways to heat and cool a house. Some use more energy than others. Some use electricity, some use natural gas, and some use the constant temperature of the earth. You can offset the use of electricity with solar panels to create a home that has a very low or zero net energy use. We also consider your water heater and refrigerator because these run 24/7/365. Not all appliances are created equal. High efficiency appliances use less energy than standard or older appliances. Lighting is another component to consider. Old school incandescent light bulbs create quite a lot of heat and use a lot of electricity.
Every home on the planet has to reconcile these 2 components to create a comfortable place to get away from the weather. A tepee has animal hides around a conical frame on the ground, and a small fire in the middle. This isn’t that different from your ranch home with a forced air furnace in the middle of the basement. What’s important is that the heating/cooling for the home is matched to how well insulated your home is. Oftentimes on whole house remodels, we’re replacing all the windows in the home and improving the insulation and air sealing. This usually means the heating/cooling system will be oversized for the improved house. If the equipment is older, this would be a sensible time to replace the home’s heating and cooling and right-size the equipment to the home.
There is so much advice out there and so many things you’re “supposed” to do to be a responsible homeowner. How do you begin to implement any or all of these ideas? There’s no one answer to this. Here’s a few approaches we commonly see:
Energy Efficiency is a huge complicated topic. Unless you’re building a new home from scratch, your home will have certain components that are better than others and it can be confusing how to approach things. Every project we do is different. There’s no magic bullet to making your house “efficient”. Every home is on a continuum. I enjoy working with people to figure out the most sensible way to keep your house as tight and efficient as possible within the context of the project you want to do.