New Home Design in Rhode Island and Massachusetts
Author: Ed Beauchemin
Recently I attended a conference in Boston sponsored by The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESA). There were many workshops and lectures pertaining to the concept of the energy efficient home and renewable energy. Attendance this year was greater than in previous years. Based on the conversations I had with colleagues and others most believe the time to start seriously looking at how we use energy is upon us.
Energy conservation measures which are addressed during the design stage of a new home or major renovation will require homeowners to pay upfront costs once during the construction process, and avoid paying excessive energy bills for the rest of their lives. This column will focus on the energy efficient home. Renewable energy (solar, wind etc.…) will be a topic for another time.
The ingredients of an energy efficient home:
- Add insulation to walls, attics and floors that exceed the amount required by the building codes. Popular insulating products listed in order of their effectiveness and price (from least to most), include spray foam, cellulose and fiberglass.
- Today’s building codes require all new construction projects to be built with 2×6 exterior walls rather than 2×4, thus providing more room for additional insulation. Whenever possible avoid unnecessary wood framing at corners and over openings (headers) allowing those areas to be filled with insulation instead.
- Building with double exterior wall construction. As the name implies, two parallel exterior walls are built while maintaining a half inch space in between. Two walls offer the opportunity for twice the normal amount of insulation. The space between creates a thermal break, stopping the transfer of conditioned air.
- Sealing air leaks (usually with expanding spray foams and caulk) in the building frame before sheetrock is installed. This includes holes in top and bottom plates created for plumbing and wiring; the underside of bottom plates where they meet the floor; holes in the exterior shell caused by electrical wires, plumbing pipes, staging brackets etc.…; cracks around window and door frames and more.
- Use windows and exterior doors rated high in heating, cooling and air infiltration tests. Reduce or eliminate windows on north facing walls. Orient windows and building overhangs to allow sunlight to flood the home interior in the winter while blocking the sun in summer.
- Install an insulated cover for folding stairways. Insulate and weather-strip attic access hatches.
- When mechanical equipment is located in an unconditioned (not heated or cooled) attic, build a platform that raises the equipment high enough to allow insulation to be installed underneath.
- Ductwork and plumbing pipes should not pass through unconditioned spaces. Always locate them within the building envelope (conditioned area). If, this is unavoidable, be certain they are properly sealed and insulated.
- Always purchase appliances and other mechanical equipment that have the highest energy rating available (ENERGY STAR)
Whenever insulation, air sealing, weather-stripping and other energy efficiency measures are employed, proper ventilation measures must also be applied. As a rule of thumb, whenever you insulate, ventilate. Ventilation can either be fixed, (soffit vents, ridge vents and gable vents) or mechanical (attic fans, bath fans and heat recovery ventilators).
Design Tip: Do not consider using any renewable energy technology until energy efficiency measures have been thoroughly addressed.