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Build Your Own Home, Issue #022, Energy Efficient Home Design
August 01, 2006

Energy Efficient Home Design

Energy Efficient Home Design should be one of your key focal points when building your own home.

With the rise in cost of energy, power bills are on all of our minds, and how to lower them is always a consideration. Since you are either building your new home, or considering doing so, now is the best time to consider your options and build in as much energy savings into your house as possible. The optimum time to do this is during the planning and construction phases, not afterward.

When considering any expenditure for energy savings you have to first look at the cost of the initial investment and then the payout. In other words how much is it going to cost you to save the energy and how long will it take to recoup the money you have invested.

I am not even going to try to list all the energy saving options that you can add to your new home, it would take a year and be out of date by the time I finished anyway. But, what I can do is suggest a method to evaluate and find the best energy savings for your home building dollar.

When you build your own home, you not only realize immediate savings over using a builder, but you can also save thousands of dollars in the years to come because you can invest more in energy efficiency. Everyone knows that power bills will continue to go up as time goes on. I know that my home is far more energy efficient because I invested my money in energy saving options. A large portion of that money came from the savings I earned by building it myself.

Here is a list to get you headed towards energy efficient home design:

Break your house down into major energy users by mechanical system.  

List anything here that consumes energy and costs you money to operate. Examples:

  • Heating and Air Conditioning

  • Water Heating

  • Well Pump

  • Refrigerator / Freezer

  • Lighting

  • Swimming pool / spa / pond
Take each one of these systems and spend some time doing some research. The time you spend now may save you thousands of dollars in energy over the life of the system you buy.

Here is an example of the research I am talking about:

Heating and Air Conditioning:

What will it cost you to improve the SEER rating of your AC unit(s)? How long will it take you to recover the money you have invested? Remember these are mechanical systems that only have a limited useful lifespan.

If the payout is 10 plus years, you may want to reconsider. Also if you move frequently it may not make sense to invest in a high efficiency unit. I talk about SEER ratings and what I did on my HVAC page . The key is getting the most efficient units for the lowest price.

OK, back to our list. Take each item on the list of energy users and go thru the process. How much is it going to cost me… and how long to get my money back, until I can reap some savings? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if a piece of equipment cost more it must be more energy efficient.

Now you need to make a list of ways you can save energy when you build your home.  

These are improvements you can make to your house that will help save energy that are not mechanical. Here are some examples:

  • Insulation-What type? Blown or Batt? Foam insulation in all the cracks and crevases.

  • Thickness and materials the walls of you home are constructed of (the thicker the more insulation you can install). Fully wrapped with Tyvek and taped all around the edges of the windows?

  • Windows-double paned glass and tinted?

  • Doors-insulated, double paned glass and tinted? Good seals on the jambs?

  • Roof Sheathing-Kool Ply (Tech Sheild) to reflect and deflect heat?

  • Roof ridge vents vs. fans that cost power and wear out?
Go thru the same exercise as above. What is it going to cost… how much will I save? Here the key difference is these items do not wear out mechanically, so the payout can be longer IF you plan on keeping your home.

Make a list of any items that can potentially PRODUCE electricity in your area.  

Just as short as two years ago, I would not have even considered adding this to the list. At that time, energy was reasonably priced, and any type of power generating systems was just too expensive. This is really beginning to change. Here are a few examples of energy producers for your home:

  • Photo Voltaic Cells (PV cells). These systems are really coming on strong in the western US. The state of California has incentives that help pay for the upfront cost. Many new homes are designed there to generate 50% or more of their own electricity, AND sell back to the grid. How cool is that?

  • Wind Generators. These systems are popular with folks that cannot get hooked up to the grid (they also use PV cells) and need a source of electricity. Usually these are used in rural settings.

  • Water Turbine Generators. These are an excellent way to generate power if you have a continual running water source, such as a stream or river.
Don’t just dismiss generating your own power without a little investigation. Many homes are now completely off of the electric grid and independent of the rising energy costs. My research is proving that more and more people truly want to be energy independent. And I found out that energy bills can cost the average household a whopping 30% of the monthly budget! That’s a lot of bucks not to consider alternative energy sources! And power is going up!

Each area of the country has different systems and methods of construction to help conserve energy and make your home more energy efficient. A good place to get ideas is your electric utility provider. Most have energy conservation showcases that will help you make decisions and get the ideas started. Some even conduct free energy audits.

Also check with your state energy commission or public utilities commission. They usually have a website or websites dedicated to helping conserve energy. They will also list any incentives that are available for conservation efforts when building. You can take advantage of these incentives… and why not?

I believe these tips can really help you. I had no one to really help me. Remember don’t get overwhelmed… take this one step at a time and research each system, or construction item. I know that you can save thousands of dollars in the long run and have the most comfortable, energy efficient home possible because you decided to build your own home.

A Special Request

If you are building your own home I would love to have a picture of it when you are finished. Just attach it to an email and send it to me (you can reply to this newsletter with the pic attached). I am going to post pictures of the houses built by folks like you on Build Your Own Home as examples of what can be done. No personal information will be shared just a picture.

You Can Build Your Own Home
Get What YOU Want
AND Save Money Doing It!

Happy Home Building,

George, from Build Your Own Home.
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