Construction Techniques That Save On Energy Costs
Energy efficient homes start with construction techniques. Learn what techniques can cut your long-term energy costs and how they affect the comfort level of your home.
Builders have several techniques that they use to save on energy consumption and we'll share a few of them with you here.
Examples Of Construction Techniques That Save Energy
Many of the most well known efficiency features involve the mechanicals -high-efficiency appliances, A/C units and hot water heaters, for example. But the way the building is actually constructed, the materials that are used and even the orientation of the building in relation to the sun all have an impact on its efficiency.
Any material that has a high thermal mass is going to provide a great, no-cost insulating effect on a house. Double brick construction, stone, and mud or rammed earth are all examples of materials that take a long time to warm up and just as long to cool off. What that means for the owner is the material will absorb the sun's warmth by day and radiate that warmth off at night. Inside, you're protected from the heat thanks to this natural insulating effect. Outside, it can be quite comfortable to enjoy the radiant warmth as the building cools off on a cool evening.
Insulated walls and ceilings
Any energy-efficient design is going to have insulation in the walls, ceiling and even the floors. Like in the materials section above, insulation that is put between you and the external environment is going to affect the temperature inside the building. Insulation reduces heat loss in winter and limits heat-gain in the summer, helping to keep the house cooler and not tax your A/C unit so much.
Windows are one of the biggest sources of heat loss and gain in a home. Single panes of glass, for example, allow heat to transfer from outside of the home to inside very easily. This can lead to overly warm rooms in summer and get the A/C working overtime. Efficient windows will be dual or even triple-paned, have insulating gas trapped between those panes, and may even have a protective film to reduce heat transfer between the house and the outdoor environment.
Ventilation. Ventilation is important for letting hot air out and bringing cooler air in. It's something our ancestors relied on heavily before A/C was invented. Reversible ceiling fans push warmed air down in winter and draw it up in summer. Louvered vents allow you to direct the cooled or warmer air where you need it to go. High windows that can be opened allow heat to escape. Simple steps like closing the windows and drawing the curtains against the sun's warmth and then opening them up at night when it has cooled down outside are no-cost ways to keep a house cool in summer. Likewise, leaving the curtains open in winter allows sunlight to enter the room and warm it up.
Window and door seals
Door and window seals prevent cold air from entering around your door and window frames. Even the smallest crack in the seal can affect the inside comfort of the home and force your heating and cooling system to work harder to do its job. The more the system has to work, the more you're going to be paying in energy bills.
A truly energy-efficient design will be oriented to maximize sun exposure to the north. This is where the sun is strongest so you'll want to capture solar in winter by allowing it to enter through the windows. You can prevent the stronger summer sun from heating up the inside of your home too much by adding eaves and pergolas to the exterior of the home and drawing the curtains or blinds during the worst heat of the day. Even planting trees along the north and west sides of the house can help cut costs. Deciduous trees will shade the home in summer, but still allow the sun's rays to warm the home in winter.
Talk to your builder about what energy-saving techniques they use in their construction practices and what additional devices are available to make your new home more efficient.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
WA Housing Centre has been helping first home buyers in Perth create energy-efficient homes for 20 years. The builder includes insulation standard on all of their home designs and has implemented many other energy-saving devices and techniques in their homes. For more information contact them at 08 6555 7585.