Energy-efficiency standards are often at the bottom of the list of priorities. What moves many people and determines their decisions is "small" issues like a fancy and big kitchen or a big living room, or the number of bedrooms and interior design details, or nice views.
Many people confuse home energy efficiency with fancy home equipment, or with buildings with solar powered systems, but energy efficiency is a lot more than that, or a mere way of reducing electricity and natural gas consumption to a small fraction; it's also a way of getting comfort, quietness and healthy indoor air, while avoiding the huge CO2 emissions associated with conventional buildings.
Make sure that you are well informed on energy-efficient homes and its importance and features. It's mostly up to you to define the size of the house and its shape, or where it will be located, or the type of foundation and attached areas (garages), or levels of insulation and the type of roofing and so on.
Make sure that you make the right decisions; do not be fooled by your own ideas or those of the designers, builders or real estate agents...
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Size, shape of the house, orientation, landscape, home layout
Large homes are difficult to heat and to cool; there isn't an easier way to squander energy and money than a large home.
Basements and crawlspace may also not be the best type of foundation, while the orientation and the shape of the house, or its layout, are also critical for the home's energy efficiency and comfort.
And it is this type of analysis that you should consider. There are features should be at the top of your priority list, like very high levels of insulation, or the size of the house and the windows, and the type of foundation and attic.
Choosing a very good architect and builder
You need a good team of professionals to help you accomplish your home building or remodeling project. And it should be knowledgeable, and well informed on energy-efficiency.
Do not expect high results without a good team. Even if you are well informed on home energy construction, the knowledge and the passion of building professionals are critical.
Low-energy homes & Whole House Approach
Building an energy-efficient home requires close attention to detail, and a whole-house system approach.
What does this means? It means that high levels of wall and attic insulation, will not provide the expected results without high-performance windows; that small and inexpensive ductless heating systems or ductless air conditioners will not be possible without very high levels of insulation all over the home's envelope, and proper landscaping strategies, and so on.
In other words: your project should be seen as a whole, involving fundamental options about home construction and design, but also attention to details and relationships. That's the only way of reducing energy bills to very low levels (or even to zero, in a net-zero home approach). Each part of the construction (or renovation) project affects the whole performance.
You should involve yourself, and your designer and builder, in a whole-house system approach, by considering all the elements of the building/renovation project as a system: insulation and air sealing, lighting and daylighting, landscaping, heating and cooling systems, water heating, windows, roofs, walls, doors and skylights, home appliances and electronics, the colour and materials used in walls and other parts of the house envelope, according to your climate, and the siting of the house and its shape and orientation/protection from the sun and other elements
Integrative design & renovations: upgrade packages
Integrative design is an approach similar to that of the whole-house systems, especially advantageous in renovation projects. Typical integrated packages include insulation, sealing, windows and HAVC systems...
When upgrading major building systems such as facades, or heating and cooling systems, or windows, that's a big opportunity to make changes in other structural elements of the building - and a great opportunity for higher energy savings at lower costs.
Integrative design and the whole-house system approach use computer simulation of key variables of the construction project. The aim is to achieve the best energy-efficient options, with the least costs. Your designer should have the means and the knowledge to provide it.
Traits of Low-Energy homes
All energy-efficient homes share a common set of traits:
- Modest sized homes, with the right shape and layout, oriented to the winter sun (or protected from the sun and oriented to the breezes, in hot climates).
- Airtightness and proper levels of insulation all over the walls, attic and floors.
- Small heating and cooling (preferably ductless) systems, possible thanks to the insulation and airtightness approach.
- High-performance windows, properly sized, oriented and protected.
- Energy efficient appliances and electronics.
- LEDs and CFLs lamps, and low-energy light fixtures.
- Use of solar hot water systems and PV (photovoltaic) electric systems.