Monday, February 25, 2008

Building and Energy Efficient Home for Less - Tip 1

#1 Shelterbelts Surrounding the House Properly positioning trees shrubs and perennials around the house is cheapest, most effective method of achieving energy efficiency in the home. The plants and trees not only help keep the house warm in the winter by blocking the northwest wind, but help keep it cool in the summer by blocking the hot summer sun.

The most important rule of thumb to follow is never plant evergreen trees (including spruce, pine, fir and cedar) on the south or east side of the house. While evergreens in these locations are effective in shading the building against the blistering July sun, they also prevent the solar radiation in the winter from doing its part to mitigate heating costs. In fact the shade produced by a mature spruce tree growing on the south side of the house can increase the homeowner’s heating bill to the tune of $250 or more per year.

Instead of using evergreens to grace the southern exposures leaf trees or vines should be used. The leaves provide a barrier to the incoming solar radiation in the summer, while in the winter, the bare branches allow the sun’s rays to reach the home unabated. The other advantage of using trees and vines extensively around the house is that they provide a seamless transition from the house to the landscape.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less, Tip 2

Have the Main Windows Facing South.

Sunlight shining through a square foot of glass will produce 400 Btu’s per hour of heat in the winter. In fact 200 square feet of glass facing south has the potential to completely silence that 80,000 Btu per hour furnace even on the coldest days. As luck would have it, prairie farmers live in the sunniest part of all of Canada, so to not use it to help reduce the gas bills would be a travesty.

The trouble with windows is that since they have a low R-value, when the sun is not shining at night or on cloudy days, they will lose a lot of heat. Fortunately installing lined or quilted curtains easily solves the window’s low insulation problem. By simply closing the curtains when the sun sets or the clouds build up it is possible to increase the R value of the window by a factor of five or more instantly..

Not only does the additional sunlight in the winter months help reduce the energy bills but it can also make you feel happier. Many people on the prairies suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short) that is attributed to a lack of sunlight in the northern latitudes. The symptoms of the “Midwinter Blues” such as lethargy and irritability can be alleviated by addition of full spectrum sunlight as any one who vacations in tropical climates can attest.

Another trouble with south facing windows is that they let in daylight all year long. Those same windows that saved you from bankruptcy in winter have the potential to turn your whole house into a shake and bake oven in the summer. Providentially, with the correct the placement of shade producing nature of trees and shrubs, all is well again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less, Tip 3

February 11, 2008

No Windows and Doors on the North Wall.

The north wall is the coldest wall on the house and since both windows and doors typically have the low R values, installing them on a north wall makes absolutely no sense from an energy efficiency point of view.

The north wall is the coldest wall on the house for a couple of reasons. From the Autumnal equinox on September 21 to the Vernal equinox on March 21, the sun is always in the southern sky and therefore the north wall never receives direct sunlight and is in perpetual shade for these 6 months. The low insulation values of doors and windows on this side allow copious amounts of heat to leave without receiving any solar gain in return. In fact homeowners can receive the biggest bang for their insulation dollar by adding some to the north-facing wall.

Compounding the lack of sunlight on the north-facing wall is the cooling effect of the northwest winds. Windows and doors are notorious for letting in drafts because due the process of linear expansion. What this two-bit phrase means, is that materials expand when it is hot and contract when it is cold. Since both windows and doors are each made of several different materials that expand and contract at different rates, it means that when the temperature changes, gaps are created between the materials and these gaps let in the cold outside air.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less, Tip 4

#4 No Hallways. Strange as it may seem, it is likely that the most comfortable room in your house will be the hallway, for the simple reason that in most houses, that’s where thermostat is located. All the other rooms will be colder or warmer depending on the apparent temperature immediately outside.

The apparent temperature is the actual thermometer temperature plus the solar gain when the sun is shining (it feels warmer facing the sun) minus the windchill factor (It feels colder facing the wind). In many houses the hallway separates the warm and the cold side of the house making the south facing rooms extremely hot when the sun is shining, and the north facing room extremely cold when the wind is blowing.

By eliminating the hallways air is able to move from both the warm and cold sides of the house and mix at comfortable temperature in the middle and as added bonus, the amount of usable floor space increases by as much as 10% while reducing construction costs.