to provide a structurally sound, long-last-ing house. With proper construction andattention to details, the conventionalwood-framed home can be very energy-efficient. It is now even possible to pur-chase a sustainably harvested wood.Some of the available and popular energy-efficient construction methods include thefollowing:
Optimum Value Engineering (OVE).
Thismethod uses wood only where it is mosteffective, thus reducing costly wood useand saving space for insulation. Theamount of lumber has been determined to be structurally sound through both labora-tory and field tests. However, the buildermust be familiar with this type of construc-tion to ensure a structurally sound house.
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs).
Thesesheets are generally made of plywood ororiented-strand board (OSB) that is lami-nated to foam board. The foam may be 4to 8 inches thick. Because the SIPacts as both the framing and the insulation, con-struction is much faster than OVE or stick framing. The quality of construction isoften superior because there are fewerplaces for workers to make mistakes.
Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF).
Housesconstructed in this manner consist of twolayers of extruded foam board (one insidethe house and one outside the house) thatact as the form for a steel-reinforced con-crete center. It’s the fastest technique andleast likely to have construction mistakes.Such buildings are also very strong andeasily exceed code requirements for areasprone to tornadoes or hurricanes.
An energy-efficient house has much higherinsulation R-values than required by mostlocal building codes. An R-value is theability of a material to resist heat transfer,and the lower the value, the faster the heatloss. For example, a typical house in NewYork might have insulation of R-11 in theexterior walls and R-19 in the ceiling,while the floors and foundation walls maynot be insulated. Asimilar, but well-designed and constructed house will haveinsulation levels that range from R-20 toR-30 in the walls and from R-50 to R-70 inthe ceilings. Carefully applied fiberglass batt or rolls, wet-spray cellulose, or foaminsulation will fill wall cavities completely.Foundation walls and slabs should be aswell insulated as the living space walls.Poorly insulated foundations have a nega-tive impact on home energy use and com-fort, especially if the family uses the lowerparts of the house as a living space. Also,appliances—such as domestic hot waterheaters, washers, dryers, and freezers—that supply heat as a byproduct are oftenlocated in the basement. By carefully insu-lating the foundation walls and floor of the basement, these appliances can assistin heating the house.While most new houses have good insula-tion levels, it is often poorlyinstalled. Ingeneral, gaps and compaction of insula-tion reduce its effectiveness.
Water vapor condensation is a majorthreat to the structure of a house, no mat-ter what the climate. In cold climates,pressure differences can drive warm,moist indoor air into exterior walls and
Foundation wallsand slabs should be aswell insulated as theliving space walls.
Workers install a structural insulated panel.
P h o t o b y C r a i g M i l l e r P r o d u c t i o n s , N R E L / P I X 0 2 4 5 2