I get a knot in my stomach when I drive around and routinely see wasted opportunities to make homes and buildings more energy-efficient. ‘Specifications that can be easily folded into a new home or remodel at the beginning of the project.
These things can have a huge impact on how the home will feel when you’re living in it, and what the utility bills will look like. Most of these are simply a matter of your design professional at the right time specifying better features or construction materials for your property. Cost? Their vigilance upfront and YOUR intention.
ELECTRICIANS & INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULBS – I run into very few residential electricians who bother to install high-efficiency light bulbs like LEDs. Most slap in incandescent light bulbs because they’re cheap to buy. But those crummy bulbs cost YOU, owner, a lot to operate. Multiply them by 30, 40 or 50 light fixtures in a home, and your bills can get big quickly.
ACTION – Have your design pro specify that your electrician bring ONLY HIGH-EFICIENCY LIGHT BULBS ONTO YOUR JOB SITE. NO INCANDESCENTS. What gets placed tends to stay forever. There are often utility rebates in your area to help offset the cost of better bulbs. And lighting upgrades usually pay back in two years or less.
BURY WESTERN AND SOUTHERN WINDOWS UNDER SHADE – Windows without shading, especially on southern and western orientations, get pounded with sunlight, and once heat is inside, it costs money to cool down.
ACTION – Have your design pro bury west-facing windows under awnings, overhangs, porches or pergolas – at least three feet deep or more. This is especially true on southern and western exposures. If you need to skip a side, north is it.
TILT AS MUCH ROOFTOP TO THE SOUTH AS POSSIBLE – Hands-down, this is the biggest burr under my saddle, and I see it all the time – rooftops tipped with no thought for solar systems. I get it – architects have to build within a “bulk plane” – a bigger invisible box that contains a house. You may not opt for solar, but designing for this gives someone the chance to snap it in later.
ACTION - Angle as much rooftop to the south as possible, and have your builder run a solar “conduit” – basically a PVC pipe from the roof to the electrical panel. If someone wants to add solar later, the design and system guts are there. And while you're at it, have your design pro bundle all roof penetrations in one or two areas of the roof. When vents are scattered across the roof, it's harder to load up solar panels.
TILT ROOF ANGLES CLOSE TO YOUR LATITUDE – Another way to plan for solar is to have your designer provide roof pitch as close to your home’s latitude as possible. That provides a perpendicular angle for sunlight to hit the array and thus, maximize solar production.
ACTION – This also can work with flat roofs as the solar arrays must have some tilt anyway. When you’re designing the house or remodel is when you want to work this in.
FRAME 24 ON-CENTER – Builders have traditionally built 16 inches from stud center to stud center, but this limits the amount of insulation that can go into wall cavities. Most framers don’t like building 24 “on center” because they have to do additional field calculations to shore all loads.
ACTION – Have your design pro specify 24 on-center, and make sure your general contractor and framer understand this. Not only does this provide for a better-insulated building, it costs less to build because less lumber is needed.
INSULATE HOT WATER PIPING – ‘Know how you turn on the shower, and brush your teeth while you wait for hot water? Insulating hot water lines is one of the cheapest, easiest things you can do in new construction, and it reduces water wait times and heat loss.
ACTION – Make sure your GC knows you want this done while walls are open. Have your contractor photograph insulated pipe runs if you can’t see them yourself.
COOL ROOF – Gone are the days when black flat roofs, like commercial membranes, are standard. Black membrane roofs generate as much as 50 degrees (F.) higher temps than white ones. That heat transfers to building interiors. White roof membrane is at cost parity with black, and it’s a no-brainer for non-shingled roofs.
ACTION – Tell your design pro you want white roof membrane. If they balk, reach out to me, and I’ll help you find a provider in your area.
SPRAY FOAM “RIM” & “BAND” JOISTS – Spray foam envelopes can be pricey, but you can target spray foam at the rim and band joists – critical areas where above-grade walls sit atop foundations and floors. If you spray foam those bands, you can reduce air leakage a lot.
ACTION – Make sure your design pro gets bids to spray foam these critical areas for your inspection. It may not be offered if you’re buying spec, but it’s probably not as expensive as you think.
INSIST ON REBATE PROVIDERS – Not all mechanical and appliance contractors offer utility rebates for their products.
ACTION – Insist that your design pro specify rebate-providing contractors. Utility rebates can help you pay for upgraded efficiencies at low or no added cost.
Reach out anytime with questions or for help. Nothing makes me happier than seeing these things built in from the gitgo.
IMAGES: TOP, by Chris Fertnig from Getty Images. MID (Townhouses with LOST OPPORTUNITY - roofs facing north and missing solar opportunity AND park views. What a waste.) MID (Framing 24 on-center at Denver's Clarkson Green development) by author. BOTTOM, from CalsRoofing.com.