Designing an Energy Smart Home is Popular Today
Buying an energy smart home was difficult just ten years ago. Even if you found a home designed to use passive or active solar or one that was designed to use as little power as possible it was hard to build such a property.
These were high cost home designs and often custom built one-of-a-kind properties. Modular homes and mid-price home designs remained much the same as they had been for years. The changes were only in exterior views and kitchen/bath designs to reflect changing consumer priorities.
Fortunately, the availability of energy smart homes is now increasing and even moderately price homes can be built that are energy efficient and use the latest knowledge and technology.
The Ultimate Designs
Underground or berm homes have captured the interest of architects for years. Twenty to thirty years ago states in the northern colder climates in the U.S. featured contests for architects and builders of underground homes and berm homes.
The earth is a natural insulator and building a home into the ground or into the side of a hill provides a house that needs little in the way of heating and cooling.
There are other problems associated with this type of home building. Water tables and runoff can be a major problem in an underground home that is not properly built and few builders have the expertise to construct such a home.
Light is another consideration for underground homes. This has been addressed with tubular skylights that allow sunlight to come in through the surface of the ground over the house.
For berm homes, situating the constructed home with a southern facing glass wall and using an open floor plan easily allows natural light into the house.
The cost of building an underground or berm home is high. It takes a specialized architect and builder and requires quite a bit of excavation. However, such a house will cost little for insurance and the savings in energy are enormous.
Passive Solar Power
Adding passive solar to a home can be as simple as adding a glass enclosed Florida room where the sun can provide warmth during winter months and add heat to the home.
One of the features of a passive solar home is an open floor plan that allows air to flow easily throughout the living area of the home. It is hard to say whether the preference today for open floor plans was driven by esthetics or concerns about energy use.
The open floor plan has become a stable of home design in the U.S. Kitchens are totally open to living areas of the home. Often walls are partial and leave a space open between top of the wall and the high ceilings to allow air to flow through the home.
High ceilings can be energy wasters in cold climates where heated air tends to rise but can lead to energy savings in home designs in hot climates where cooler air stays near floor level and hot air rises to the high ceiling above the occupants of the room.
Design and Materials
When seeking energy smart homes you look for a combination of savings in the walls, roof, windows and doors. Exterior wall construction can have a tremendous potential for energy savings.
Newly popular are pour concrete walls. These are similar to old cheap housing that was built of concrete blocks but the new designs are lovely on the outside and energy efficient, too.
For this type of home, molds are put in place and a concrete mix is poured into those molds. This results in an extremely sturdy home design with thick walls that provide excellent insulating features.
Concrete building systems are used to create hurricane proof homes in some areas of the country. The cost to build is higher than a standard framed house design but the benefits are enormous.
New cool roofs may be costly but can pay for themselves in just a few years. These roofing materials literally insulate the top of your home.
This is the area where heat loss is most common and the sunlight on a dark roof in the summer makes attic space (and often the room below) overly heated.
Installing a cool roof is a potential energy saver for a new home or when replacing the roof of a standard home design.
HVAC systems almost routinely use heat pumps today. These heat pumps use geothermal properties of the earth to reduce energy consumption.
Often, an energy smart home uses a combination of structural energy saving components and solar, geothermal and other alternative energy technologies.