Energy efficient building design

Energy efficient building design involves constructing or upgrading buildings that are able to get the most work out of the energy that is supplied to them by taking steps to reduce energy loss such as decreasing the loss of heat through the building envelope.[1] Energy efficient homes, whether they are renovated to be more efficient or a built with energy efficiency in mind, pose a significant number of benefits. Energy efficient homes are less expensive to operate, more comfortable to live in, and more environmentally friendly.[2]

Inefficiencies that are not removed in the building process can pose issues for years. However, keeping energy efficient building design in mind when construction is underway is a more effective way to approach making a home more efficient, which is less expensive for a homeowner in the long run. Building codes exist around the world to ensure that buildings are energy efficient to a certain degree, however sometimes it is wise to go above and beyond these recommendations to have an even more energy efficient home.[3] As well, since a house operates as a system, a home must be looked at as a whole in order to fully increase the energy efficiency. For example, expensive heating and cooling equipment do nothing to improve the energy performance of the house if insulation isn't keeping heat in during the winter and out in the summer.[4]

Building an Energy Efficient Home

There are numerous ways to increase the energy efficiency of a building, and many different parts of a building that can be improved to boost this value. Better insulation, more efficient windows, doors, and skylights, as well as high-efficiency air conditioners and furnaces can all contribute to a more efficient home by keeping warm air inside or outside the home. As well, being able to properly regulate the temperature of a home through the use of a thermostat is a major part of having an energy efficient home, as having the right equipment is just as important as using it properly.

Overall, there are numerous strategies to increase energy efficiency. These steps include:[1]

  • Using proper amounts of insulation in the walls and roof, being sure to reference regional standards
  • Properly weatherizing the building using weather stripping and caulking
  • Installing high quality windows that utilize low-e coatings and gas filling, while choosing the glazing and window frame material that will be most beneficial in the environment
  • Installing high-performance systems and appliances and evaluate their performance over their life cycle
  • Monitoring and verifying performance through energy audits to see where energy is being wasted in a building and where it is most cost-effective to make improvements through retrofitting

Overall, the general approach to achieving high efficiency buildings includes cutting the energy demand of buildings, producing energy locally from renewable resources, and sharing energy by creating buildings that generate a surplus of energy that can be fed back into an advanced grid structure.[5]

Buying an Energy Efficient Home

There are numerous ways to determine if a home is in fact, energy efficient. One of the simplest things to do is to check what the Energy Star ratings are on the appliances in the home. If the home was constructed with energy efficiency in mind, it is likely that the appliances will have a good Energy Star rating. R-2000 homes are designated as extremely energy efficient, this includes high levels of insulation and other measures to help protect the environment and save energy. These homes are built to standards developed by Natural Resources Canada, and typically contain high efficiency heating, windows and doors, water conserving fixtures, as well as mechanical ventilation.[6]

Importance

Having an energy efficient building is becoming more and more vital as energy emerges as a critical economic issue due to high demand for energy and unsustainable supplies of energy. This means that even households must evaluate how well energy is being used to heat and light a home. Energy efficient buildings offer opportunities to save money as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[1] As well, the reliance on non-renewable fuels is not sustainable, and it involves using more and more destructive processing means to obtain these fuels. Homes and other buildings account for nearly 40% [1] of total US energy use (Canada is lower with just under 29%[7]), and thus increasing their efficiency will improve the reliance on non-renewable fuels for the future. This environmental benefit of reducing the number of greenhouse gases is both local and global. There are local benefits due to the fact that a buildings energy demand requires a local supply of energy, which causes local pollution and negative health side-effects. This allows communities to focus on investing funds in other places instead of in building power plants.[8]

In addition to overall environmental benefits that arise from a more energy efficient building, there are also personal benefits. Reduced heating and electrical bills are one major benefit to upgrading a home or building a more energy efficient home. As well, installing these energy-efficient technologies effectively works to "future-proof" the building by making investments that will be selling points well into the future.[9] Overall, even though there is an initial amount of money that must be put in to improve energy efficiency, homeowners will often recover these costs in a short period of time due to the reduced energy expenses. This payback time can be short, taking only a few years.[8]

As well, if there is more support and interest in energy saving technologies, associated prices will go down on certain devices while encouraging more and more developments in energy saving technologies to occur. Along with this, the more new practices that are adopted in construction, the more these measures will become standard practice and this in turn will lessen the environmental impact of buildings by making more efficient buildings necessary by law.[9]

The best time to focus on energy efficiency is when a building is first being built, as this new construction offers opportunities to integrate new energy efficiency measures more simply than in a building that is already complete. As well, building a more energy efficient home to begin with is more cost effective than renovating a home to be more energy efficient.[9]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 US Green Building Council. (May 4, 2015). Green Building 101: Why is energy efficiency important? [Online]. Available: http://www.usgbc.org/articles/green-building-101-why-energy-efficiency-important
  2. Natural Resources Canada. (May 4, 2015). Energy Efficiency - Homeowners [Online]. Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/housing/home-improvements/5009
  3. Natural Resources Canada. (May 4, 2015). Building Efficiency [Online]. Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/buildings/eenb/4035
  4. Natural Resources Canada. (May 4, 2015). Energy Efficiency Renovations [Online]. Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/housing/home-improvements/17026
  5. World Business Council for Sustainable Development. (May 4, 2015). Energy Efficiency in Buildings [Online]. Available: http://www.c2es.org/docUploads/EEBSummaryReportFINAL.pdf
  6. Natural Resources Canada. (May 4, 2015). R-2000 Homes [Online]. Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/housing/new-homes/5085
  7. Natural Resources Canada. (May 8, 2015). Canada’s Secondary Energy Use by Sector, End-Use and Subsector [Online]. Available: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/corporate/statistics/neud/dpa/showTable.cfm?type=HB&sector=aaa&juris=ca&rn=2&page=0
  8. 8.0 8.1 International Energy Agency. (May 4, 2015). Energy Efficiency Requirements In Building Codes [Online]. Available: https://www.iea.org/efficiency/CD-EnergyEfficiencyPolicy2009/2-Buildings/2-Building%20Codes%20for%20COP%202009.pdf
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 National Resources Canada. (May 4, 2015). Energy Efficiency is Important for New Buildings [Online]. Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/buildings/eenb/4033

Authors and Editors

Jordan Hanania, James Jenden, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: August 26, 2015
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