(ARA) - What would you do with an extra $2,200 per year? That is the annual energy bill for a typical American home, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE). Dramatically reducing that cost, or even selling power back to the utility company, could mean having enough money for a vacation, a down payment on a car or a boost to your child's college savings.
If you are wondering how this can be done, a trend emerging in new home construction, "net-zero energy," is helping homeowners keep energy dollars in their pockets. Builders construct such homes with highly energy-efficient materials, and with the means to generate their own power. The goal is to reduce the yearly total energy bill to zero, and perhaps make the meter run backwards at times.
Lowering heating and cooling costs is critical to achieving net-zero energy, since these typically account for nearly half of a home's energy use. Keeping warm air in during the winter and cool air in during the summer is key, along with adding on-site power systems. Steps can include new construction methods for greatly improved insulation, using energy-efficient windows, and installing solar panels or other renewable ways to heat water or create electricity.
1. Build with SIPs
Most homebuyers are familiar with "stick framing" - construction using numerous individual sticks (boards) with the insulation added between them. Yet an increasingly popular building method for high energy efficiency involves a different approach.
Known as structural insulated panels - or SIPs - the body of the house is made of large-size prefabricated wall, ceiling and floor sections with built-in insulation. SIPs work like a giant insulated cooler. They are made of wood panels sandwiching a rigid insulating foam core. The result is fewer gaps in the home and more continuous insulation. Homes built with SIPs are 15 times less leaky and have 47 percent greater insulating capacity than conventional construction, according to DOE.
"SIPs can be used to build any style of home, and are generally stronger than stick framing," says James Hodgson of Premier Building Systems, North America's largest SIPs manufacturer. "They can cut heating and cooling costs up to 50 percent, and can even help save money by speeding construction and allowing for smaller furnaces and air conditioners." SIPs also contribute to healthy indoor air by sealing out pollutants, and create up to two-thirds less waste during construction. (For more information on SIPs, visit www.pbssips.com or call (800) 275-7086 to speak with Premier Building Systems).
2. Install energy-efficient windows
In addition to well-insulated walls, ceilings and floors, another key consideration for net-zero energy homes is efficient windows. Such windows may have double or triple panes with gas fillings and special coatings to help resist heat gain or loss. Specially constructed frames help seal against air leaks.
How the windows are installed in the wall is also important, since much of the heat loss can occur around the window rather than through it. Proper mounting and sealing of the window in the wall can help protect against air leaks.
"Installing windows for high energy efficiency can be tricky," says Jim Crowley, owner of Crowley Builders in Grass Valley, Calif. "If the window opening isn't right, it's like putting a round peg in a square hole; there are going to be gaps."
Crowley addresses this by using SIPs for the walls. "In addition to providing insulation, SIPs have pre-cut window openings that are straight, square and properly sized. Combine this with proper sealing of the window and it's the best way we've found to get a tight fit."
3. Generate your own power
More new homes are using environmentally responsible, renewable energy sources on-site to further reduce reliance on utility companies. These systems can include geothermal heat pumps that obtain warmth from the ground, solar panels for electricity or heating water, and windmills that convert wind to energy. When combined with home construction methods like SIPs and energy-efficient windows, such systems can help the home achieve net-zero energy use. In some cases, homeowners have even reduced their consumption enough and generated sufficient power to make the meter run backwards - in essence selling electricity back to the power company.
"Achieving energy self-sufficiency in homes and other buildings seemed pretty radical not too long ago," says Hodgson. "But building methods have advanced greatly in recent years, saving energy without homeowners having to sacrifice comfort or style. Why build with methods that have been around for a hundred years, when newer, proven methods are available that will outperform what can be done with conventional framing?"
Courtesy of ARAcontent