Top Tips for Building An Energy Efficient House

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Building an energy efficient house is a growing trend in the United States. In fact, it’s one of our key home building trends for 2024, and for good reason. Not only does building an energy efficient house save you money on your energy expenses, which have been on the rise lately, but it’s also beneficial for the environment and a way to future-proof your home given increasing environmental regulations and growing general interest in energy efficiency.

Building an energy efficient house includes those common items you’re likely already aware of like improved insulation and using energy efficient appliances, but today’s energy efficiency considerations go beyond these standards to consider things like home layout, water heating methods, and, of course, adding alternative energy sources. 

Here we’ll cover ways you can build an energy efficient house that can and should be incorporated when making your plans to build a custom home. These energy efficient home building tips apply whether you’re located in Boise or Treasure Valley Idaho or elsewhere in the United States. One thing to note is that some of these considerations are focused on topics that apply more to cold weather climates as opposed to warmer climates as we’re located in a climate zone that sees greater energy use due to heating a home rather than cooling it.

Top Tips For Building An Energy Efficient House

These are the top items to integrate when building an energy efficient house. They range from design aspects like considering the orientation of the house for maximized natural lighting and solar power efficiency to finishing aspects like an energy efficient washer and dryer. 

  1. Improve Insulation
  2. Focus on Air Sealing
  3. Select Higher Quality Windows
  4. Maximize Natural Light & Efficient Lighting
  5. Use a High Efficiency HVAC System
  6. Consider Water Heater & Hot Water Needs
  7. Install Energy Efficient Appliances
  8. Add Renewable Energy

Improve Insulation

Insulation is a key component to building an energy efficient house because it will ensure that you are maximizing the energy efficiency of the heating and cooling system in your home, one of the greatest sources of energy usage. No matter what type of heating and cooling system you use, energy efficient or not, upgrading the insulation in your home will help reduce how much energy is needed to heat and cool your interior space.

In southwestern Idaho around Boise where we build, the climate zone we are in is a cold climate zone. In Boise, you can reference the residential energy code compliance information to understand minimum insulation requirements, but to improve a home’s energy efficiency, going above the minimum R-value requirements can create a much more energy efficient home.

Garage insulation has many benefits, one of which is energy efficiency. Insulation in the garage creates a stronger barrier between extreme outside temperatures and the area of your home being heated or cooled. With a better barrier to a large entrance like the garage door, you’ll save energy on heating and cooling your home just by having this insulated garage space as a barrier. You can think about it as a double door entrance. By creating a secondary space to capture the outside air, it’s easier to maintain the temperature in the main living area, improving the energy efficiency of your house.

To build the most energy efficient house it’s important to consider the insulation in all parts of the home – floor, ceiling, exterior walls, garage, attic, and crawl space. Working with your home builder to plan for the additional insulation will add value and improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Focus On Air Sealing

Air sealing is typically one of the best methods to reduce the heating and cooling costs of a building. This means when building an energy-efficient house it is important to pay attention to air sealing. Although air sealing to a higher level for efficiency can increase the cost, it should also save you more energy in the long run. 

Additional sealing measures to improve the energy efficiency of a new house can include additional sealing on the home’s exterior sheathing, between the exterior sheathing and the ceiling drywall, and additional drywall sealing. Of course, it’s important to also ensure proper sealing around windows, doors, around any attic or crawl space entrances.

With any air sealing, you’ll want to note that additional sealing of the home can require an automatic controlled ventilation system. This system ensures the air in the house remains fresh by refreshing the air supply using outside air at healthy refresh rates. To save heating and cooling costs a Heat Recovery Ventilator or Energy Recovery Ventilator can also be installed. These systems retain the heat from the outgoing air and return it with the incoming fresh air, helping to maintain the energy efficiency of the house. 

When you increase the air sealing when building an energy efficient house, you’ll also want to eliminate as many indoor air pollutants as possible. This means using an electric or induction cooktop and eliminating toxic building materials. Both items are worth considering regardless of your air sealing levels as they will improve the air quality in your house for the added benefit of a healthier home.

Select Higher Quality Windows

Windows are a key component in building an energy efficient house. Installing higher quality windows improves energy efficiency by providing better insulation, incorporating advanced coatings and materials, and minimizing air leakage. Investing in the windows when building can lead to long-term cost savings through reduced heating and cooling expenses.

Higher quality windows typically have better insulation properties. This means they are designed with materials that resist heat transfer, keeping the indoor temperature more stable. Double or triple-pane windows with insulating gas between the panes are more effective at reducing heat exchange compared to single-pane windows. This improved window insulation in turn reduces the energy required for heating or cooling.

When selecting your windows you’ll want to look beyond the number of window panes at the materials used for both the window frames and any coatings on the windows. Windows with Low-E coatings, Low-emissivity (Low-E) coatings are thin, virtually invisible layers applied to the glass surface of the window. These coatings help reflect infrared light, keeping heat inside during cold weather and outside during hot weather. Some high-quality windows also have coatings that block harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. This UV protection not only helps preserve furniture and fabrics but also reduces solar heat gain, improving overall energy efficiency. 

The Prairie Home Plan Kitchen- One Bedroom House Plan - Pathway Builders

The material and design of window frames also impact energy efficiency. High-quality windows often have frames made from materials like vinyl, fiberglass, or wood that provide better insulation than aluminum frames. Insulated frames with thermal breaks further reduce heat transfer. 

We already discussed focusing on air sealing when building an energy efficient house, but this also extends to windows which have a huge potential to either improve or decrease the efficiency of your home because they are a direct contact with the outdoor air. Investing in higher quality windows typically means you’ll have proper sealing, reducing drafts and maintaining a more consistent indoor temperature using less energy.

In all of the custom homes we build in the Boise area, we include vinyl double-pane Low-E windows as a standard for our customers to take advantage of all these energy efficiency benefits no matter what custom house plan they select.

Maximize Natural Light & Efficient Lighting

Solar tempering or daylighting are both design techniques that can help maximize natural light to reduce the use of electricity for interior lighting and save on heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer months. These concepts take into consideration the position of the sun during different seasons to best position windows and home design to maximize these benefits.

In addition to the beneficial window positioning, using window treatments that allow for easy control of natural light such as adjustable blinds, shades, or curtains can further improve energy savings. They can be opened to maximize sunlight and closed to reduce heat gain or glare when needed. Smart home technology like smart blinds and shades can be programmed to automatically open and close to maximize these benefits without having to remember to make adjustments.

An open floor plan also allows natural light to penetrate deeper into the home reducing electricity consumption for lighting purposes. Better natural lighting for any home can be beneficial for all occupants, but as a bonus, when building a multigenerational home or adding an ADU for older family members, this natural light is even more beneficial for improved living conditions of older generations.

According to energy.gov, switching to energy efficient lighting saves 15% of an average home’s electricity use. So, even if you haven’t maximized your natural lighting, incorporating LED lighting into your home will still contribute significantly to your house’s energy efficiency. 

For outdoor spaces, consider using solar lighting instead of traditional or LED lighting for even greater energy savings and efficiency. 

Your home’s orientation, window placement, use of window treatments, an open floor plan, LED lighting, and solar lights can all contribute to more efficiency and are worth considering as you are building an energy efficient home.

Use A High Efficiency HVAC System

As one of the largest uses of energy in any home, making improvements to the energy usage of your HVAC system can have a significant impact on energy efficiency. In fact, many of the energy-saving factors we’ve already discussed are aimed at reducing the need to heat or cool your home by design. From insulation to air sealing and the quality of your windows, incorporating all of these elements works to reduce energy consumption is integral to building an energy efficient home.

After these energy saving measures, you can further your energy savings when building by using an energy efficient HVAC system. 

Look for systems with high energy efficiency ratings. For heating, check the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) for heat pumps and Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) for furnaces. Choose an HVAC system that is Energy Star certified, which indicates the system meets a certain standard of efficiency. 

To further improve, you’ll also want to ensure that the HVAC system is appropriately sized for your home. An oversized system may cycle on and off frequently, leading to energy waste, while an undersized system may struggle to meet the heating or cooling demands of your space.

You should also consider using a programmable thermostat or smart thermostat to control your HVAC system more efficiently. This allows you to set temperature schedules, reducing energy consumption when heating or cooling is unnecessary, such as when you’re away from home. Another consideration is to install an HVAC system with zones that allows you to control the temperature in different areas of your home independently. This can prevent over-conditioning and optimize energy usage.

For longevity and continued efficiency of your system, remember to schedule regular maintenance. Keeping the system clean and well-maintained ensures optimal efficiency and can prevent issues that lead to energy waste long after you’ve built your home.

Consider Your Water Heater & Hot Water Needs

Water heating can be the second largest source of energy use in a home so it’s important to pay attention to your water heater when building an energy efficient house. Energy used for water heating can be reduced in two ways – using less water and maximizing the efficiency of any hot water needs. An energy efficient house should take into account both. 

Reduce Hot Water Consumption

To reduce hot water consumption, install water-saving faucets and showerheads, which slow the flow of water versus a traditional faucet and in turn lower water consumption. When selecting appliances that use water like your dishwasher or clothes washer, make sure to select options that use water, and therefore hot water efficiently. For more information on energy efficient models, you can use the list of appliances from Energy Star.

Use A High Efficiency Water Heater 

The water heater you use will go a long way in improving the energy efficiency of your house. Several factors contribute to the efficiency of your water heater including the type and the EF rating. 

The EF rating, or Energy Factor,  measures the overall efficiency of a water heater. Higher EF ratings indicate better energy efficiency. When building an energy efficient house, install a water heater with higher EF ratings for better performance and energy savings.

The type of water heater you select will also affect the efficiency of the house. Here are a few options to consider. Your plumbing contractor and home builder can help you decide what type would be most suitable for your home based on location, size, expected water consumption, and design.

Whole Home Tankless Water Heaters

This type of water heater only heats the water when needed. This on-demand method helps to cut the energy use of water heaters because hot water isn’t continuously sitting (and cooling) in a tank when not needed. Instead, you’ll only heat the water if and when you need it. 

Heat Pump Water Heaters

This type of heater often offers the best benefit in moderate and warmer climates where the air is already warmer. Heat Pump Water Heaters can be 2-3 times as efficient as a standard water heater, so they are worth considering depending on your climate.

Solar Water Heaters

As the name suggests, this water heater uses solar power to heat the water in your home. Depending on your home’s layout, location, and expected water usage, this option can be one of the lowest cost types of water heaters.

Traditional Tank Water Heaters

This type of water heater keeps a tank of hot water ready for use. If using this type of water heater you can improve efficiency by insulating the tank and using a high-efficiency model.

To increase efficiency further it’s best to locate the water heater closer to where the water will be used. This will save efficiency as the hot water will lose less heat in its path to the faucet. Insulating hot water pipes will also improve efficiency by keeping the water hotter with less energy use.

Install Energy Efficient Appliances

Energy-efficient appliances are designed to consume less energy while providing the same or even improved performance compared to standard appliances. This helps in reducing overall energy consumption in your home. The best option for building an energy efficient house is to use only energy efficient appliances. 

Energy Efficient Appliances Installed in A Pathway Builders custom home

However, if this isn’t possible, make sure that all key appliances, in addition to the water heater and HVAC system  are energy efficient including your refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer, oven, TVs, and other entertainment devices. To find energy efficient appliances you can use a tool like Energy Star’s product finder

There are a few additional benefits of energy efficient appliances that go beyond their efficiency. Energy-efficient homes are increasingly in demand, and having energy-efficient appliances can enhance the resale value of your home. Potential buyers are often attracted to properties with lower operating costs and a smaller environmental footprint.

Energy-efficient appliances are also often designed with advanced technologies that not only save energy but also improve overall performance and user experience. This can contribute to a more comfortable and convenient living space.

Additionally, energy-efficient appliances are often compatible with smart home systems, allowing for better control and optimization of energy usage. Smart features, such as remote monitoring and scheduling, enable even more efficient operation.

Add Renewable Energy: Solar Panels

tips for building an energy efficient house - solar panels on a roof

Any discussion on building an energy efficient house wouldn’t be complete without mentioning alternative energy sources, namely solar panels, although there are a growing number of alternative energy applications for residential properties. Although solar panels are still a significant investment, the cost of installing solar panels on a house has gone down in recent years.

If you plan to add solar panels to your custom home, the best time to consider this is when designing your home as the orientation and layout of your home can impact how and where you add solar panels. Building a custom home on your land allows you to enhance the ability to use solar power because you can factor in the best orientation for your home to maximize the power and capabilities of solar energy based on your lot and your custom home’s design.  

Solar panels harness energy from the sun, which is a renewable and virtually limitless source of power. By using solar energy, you reduce dependence on finite fossil fuels and contribute to a more sustainable energy future in addition to improving the energy efficiency of your home.

Summary

There are many items to factor in when building an energy efficient house. When building a custom home you have the benefit of not needing to retrofit your home to improve energy efficiency and can take better advantage of the factors that are impacted by your home’s orientation, layout, and design. You’ll also save money in the long run by investing in these energy saving measures right from the start.

If you are interested in the process of building a custom home or have questions about building an energy efficient house in the Boise area, contact us for a free consultation. We’d love to talk with you more about your homebuilding goals.