We all want our investment in a new home to include beautiful finished surfaces, maybe a nice view (let’s put the wall of windows there to see the view of the snowy mountains to the north!), maybe just more space. And as readers here know is possible, we want a comfortable, durable home that is safe and doesn’t waste a lot of energy.
And in a high-performing home, you’ll have unmatched comfort and quiet, not to mention, reduced operating costs. Following a mortgage, energy bills are often the next biggest expense in a home. Reconsider what the “building blocks” of a good home are. Starting new with the key elements we use retrofitting older homes, health and safety, efficiency, durability make sense. A rock solid “foundation” is one that everything else is built upon. That means you are building a home for the future. And with concerns about the price of gas or oil in 10 years, in 30 years, a well-performing home is something you can bank on.
Even for those in the know, workhorses of the home, insulation and air sealing, windows and efficient mechanical systems remain unseen and too often these important features are shortchanged, they quickly play second fiddle to flashier items, even some touted as “green” which unfortunately is often at best putting the cart before the horse.
What to do? Certainly there are building codes and new energy codes as well as ventilation standards in place that will make new homes better for us and for the environment. Keep in mind though that building codes are what a builder has to do. If I made it through school doing just what I had to, I wouldn’t have failed. That’s it. A home that just meets the code gets a D-, just one step above failing.
When building or looking for a new home, consider at a minimum one that is or could ENERGY STAR qualified. This is one that will have an efficient home envelope with effective levels of properly installed insulation, a proper air barrier, and high-performance windows. There will also be efficient equipment for heating, cooling, and water heating as well as efficient Lighting and appliances that meet the ENERGY STAR guidelines.
How can you do better? Look for a home energy rating. A rating from a certified Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) rater can tell you how your home scores. The Index they use is a scoring system in which the Reference Home scores a 100, while a net zero home scores a 0. The lower a home’s HERS Index, the more energy efficient. If it is above 100 it would not meet the energy code. (You can get a rating for your older home, too, but a rating doesn’t tell you what to fix. Before you spend money on a rating, read Mike’s post on the subject or visit the GreenHomes America website to learn about what to expect from a home assessment.
There is also LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. But it has been a system that has encountered criticism over the years. Buildings can earn silver, gold, or platinum designation depending on how many of the possible credits they collect. Some argue it is a point system that can be gamed making a building look good on paper but perform miserably, especially from an energy perspective. And a cornucopia of other labels makes it even more confusing. We expect this to improve over time, but labeling a home “green” doesn’t always mean it’s a top performer.
The Department of Energy has good climate-specific recommendations and case studies. It’s worth reviewing these before you buy or build to get an idea of the possibilities.
It always makes a lot more sense to do it right the first time. Insist on that if you’re buying a new home—or insist on the concessions needed to make it right. Have the home verified with a rating. Set ENERGY STAR as the minimum target.
And if you want your current home to perform better, don’t think that you’re stuck with an energy hog. We can help on that front.