Building an energy efficient home

With the rising cost of heating your home, building a home that is as energy efficient as possible is becoming ever more important.  By using less energy in the day to day operation of your home, you not only save money, you benefit the environment as well.

Wherever you live, your home will be affected by its surroundings. Are your summers hot and dry or humid? During winter is the weather mild or are there long periods of biting cold? Your home protects you from these external elements and creates an environment on the inside at the same time.  Your home is really a combination of systems that must work together to be efficient.

R-2000

The R-2000 Home has been the Canadian standard for energy efficiency in construction for twenty years. The standards, for an R-2000 Home have been revised over time as new technologies and materials have become available in the industry.  The standards that have to be met to be considered an R-2000 Home are high, based on the amount of energy the house consumes and the efficiency of things like heating systems, insulation, air flow, ventilation, materials chosen and the amount of water used by the home.

HEATING SYSTEM

When considering what kind of heating system to purchase for your new home, don’t look at just the cost of the unit itself.  You should also consider the cost of installation and operation over the life of the unit.  A more efficient system may cost a bit more initially but will save you money everyday as you heat your home.  There are also a wide range of fuel choices available including electric, oil and natural gas.  Though not yet in the main stream, solar power is becoming more and more cost effective and is being used to support traditional systems more and more.  Along with fuel choice there is also the decision about the delivery of heat in your home.  Choices include forced air, electric or hot water baseboard or radiant heat.

Heat pumps are becoming more popular as well and offer the added benefit of providing air conditioning during the warmer months as well as heating during the winter.

INSULATION

Since you are trying to save money heating our home, you want to keep that heat in.  The R-2000 Home requires increased insulation in walls and attics and spaces where heat can escape.  That same increased insulation will help keep your home cool in the summer.

AIR TIGHT

Controlling the air that can escape or enter the structure is essential to reducing heat loss. An R-2000 Home is wrapped in a specialized plastic fabric on the outside (just beneath the siding) and protected again on the inside be a plastic vapour barrier.  Both plastic barriers are taped and sealed at the joints to maximize their air retention.  Since heat moves from warm to cold, small areas where air and heat can migrate such as around electrical outlets are sealed with expanding foam.

A major area where air and heat can be lost is around the doors and windows.  The air seals on these products have been greatly improved.  Long gone should be the days where you stand in front of a window and feel a draft.  Most quality windows now have double panes filled with gas to increase the R-value and they are coated with an ultra violet film to protect your furniture. Quality levels have increased to also reduce condensation and thus lessen the areas where mould or mildew can grow – a major health concern.

Weather stripping and construction on the doors you choose should be of the highest quality and many steel entry door systems have an increased amount of insulation in their core construction.

VENTILATION

With the focus on air flow management and increased insulation in new high-efficiency homes, a need for a system to change the air within the home becomes necessary.  If the air inside the home were too tightly sealed, a build up of moisture from cooking and taking showers would quickly cause mold to multiply and damage the structure of the home.  Chemicals present in common items like furniture, carpeting and household cleaners would pollute the interior air.

Mechanical ventilators are designed to run continuously and exchange a low amount of fresh air from outside with interior air.  Having paid to heat the air in your home, you don’t want to lose that warm air to the cold air from outside and so a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) is made with a series of filters and intake and exhaust fans to adjust the temperature of the air coming into the home.

THE MATERIALS YOU USE

There are several concerns to be aware of relating to the materials you choose to build you home with.

Are the materials made from recycled materials or by-products of the creation of other materials? Some strand boards and parallam beams can be manufactured from chips created as by-products of other process – reducing the need to cut down trees for these products.

Be conscious of the waste produced during construction.  Not only does maximizing the materials you are using reduce the requirement to cut trees to create more (and the quantity you have to purchase) but also reduce the waste produced which in most cases you have to pay to have removed from the job site. Can the waste material you are producing be recycled? While some may end up in the local landfill, much can be recycle if you are careful about keeping it separate. If metal is kept separate from wood from the start, it is little trouble to recycle it properly than if everything is thrown in a dumpster together.

In places where wood is used in your home consider using types that come from faster growing trees.  Spruce and maple can replenish themselves much more rapidly and will mature and will mature and be ready for the manufacturing process for more quickly than species like oak.

Some materials that you use to construct your home such as carpeting use chemicals in their manufacture.  Over time, these will emit small amounts of vapour into your home.  While your HRV system will assist in removing these vapours, try to choose alternatives that contain fewer of these chemicals.  Other products to be conscious of are some types of paint and solvent based surface finishes, some sheet materials, adhesives, preformed shelving and cabinetry.

Choose products that use energy efficiently.  Deciding on compact fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent can save you money over the life of the product. And don’t forget simple things like turning off the lights, radio or television when you leave the room.  If there are electrical appliances that are not in use for long period but still plugged in – unplug them. Many appliances draw a small amount electricity even when turned off. Over time this small amount adds up.

WATER

Conserve water in your home is just as important as conserving energy. When deciding on faucets, shower heads and toilets, look for those that use less water.

APPLIANCES

The appliances in our home all run on power that we have to pay for, so if you’re going to buy new appliances for you new home, make them as energy efficient as possible.  Not only will this save you money, but it will also help protect the environment.  The electrical power that comes into your home is generated be a variety of means from burning fossil fuels, hydroelectricity or even nuclear and all these methods have an impact. Whether it’s global warming, loss of animal or plant habitat or dealing with the waste products produced in generating power, when we waste electricity we waste more than money.

When buying new appliances, look for the Energy Star Symbol. Products with this symbol meet standards for energy efficiency that can help you save money and electricity over the years you use the appliance.

Refrigerators: Refrigerators use the most energy of any appliance in the home since it is running all the time, and by opening the door, you let out some of the cold from inside.  When designing your kitchen work triangle, keep the refrigerator as for away as is manageable from heat sources, light, the stove or direct sunlight.  Buy only the features that you will use.  It may be attractive to buy a model that offers an ice dispenser in the door, but this type uses more power so if you never use this feature it is wasteful.

Dishwashers: Your dishwasher uses the most power to heat the water during washing and the amount of water used can’t be altered, so to be most efficient, wash only full loads.  If you can, air dry the dishes after the wash cycle is complete rather than the dry mode. This reduces the amount of energy required to dry the dishes.

Laundry Washers: Energy Star washers use less energy than older models.  They also need less water and more water is removed from the clean clothes during spin cycle which reduces the time they need to dry. Like the dishwasher, you should try to wash full loads and cold water is best. New style front-loading tumble washers use less water than the more traditional top-loading models. Always remember that after the wash cycle is complete, the waste water goes out into the environment. Choose the detergent that you use carefully. There are several types that have less impact on the environment.

FINAL WORD

So now that you are in your new home with new energy efficient appliances, it’s the perfect time to make a few simple changes to your lifestyle. Participate in recycling programs in you community, include a recycling center in your kitchen to separate food waste from your garbage.  Have a place in the house to sort and store cans, bottles, paper and plastic for short periods until pick-up or taking them to a recycling centre.  If you are a gardener, the benefits of a composter can greatly improve the health and vitality of your plants and make your landscaping flourish.
 

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