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Elements of an Energy Efficient House (2000) US Dept of Energy

Elements of an Energy Efficient House (2000) US Dept of Energy

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You have much to consider when design-ing and building a new energy-efficienthouse, and it can be a challenge. However,recent technological improvements in building elements and construction tech-niques also allow most modern energy-saving ideas to be seamlessly integratedinto house designs while improving com-fort, health, or aesthetics. And eventhough some energy-efficient features areexpensive, there are others that manyhome buyers can afford.While design costs, options, and stylesvary, most energy-efficient homes havesome basic elements in common: a well-constructed and tightly sealed thermalenvelope; controlled ventilation; properlysized, high-efficiency heating and coolingsystems; and energy-efficient doors, win-dows, and appliances.
Thermal Envelope
Athermal envelope is everything aboutthe house that serves to shield the livingspace from the outdoors. It includes thewall and roof assemblies, insulation,air/vapor retarders, windows, and weath-erstripping and caulking.
Wall and Roof Assemblie
Most builders use traditional wood frameconstruction. Wood framing is a “triedand true” construction technique that usesa potentially renewable resource—wood—
Elements of anEnergy-Efficient House
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This document was produced for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a DOE national laboratory.The document was produced by the Information Services Program, under the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Energy Efficiencyand Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC) is operated by NCI Information Systems, Inc., for NREL/ DOE. The statements contained herein are based oninformation known to EREC and NRELat the time of printing. No recommendation or endorsement of any product or service is implied if mentioned by EREC.
Printed with a renewable-source ink on paper containing at least 50% wastepaper, including 20% postconsumer waste
DOE/GO-10200-1070FS-207 July 2000
This house in Illinois has many energy-efficient features, including advanced framing tech-niques, insulated sheathing, and an advanced ductwork system. It was built by Town and Coun-try Homes as part of DOE's Building America Program.
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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.
Insulation 
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.
Air/Vapor Retarders 
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
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Foundation wallsand slabs should be aswell insulated as theliving space walls.
Workers install a structural insulated panel.
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attics. The air condenses as it cools. Thesame can be said for southern climates, just in reverse. As the humid outdoor airenters the walls and encounters coolerwall cavities, it condenses into liquidwater. This is the main reason why some buildings in the South have problems withmold and rotten wood after they’re retro-fitted with air conditioners.Avapor retarder is a material or structuralelement that can be used to inhibit themovement of water vapor, while an airretarder can inhibit airflow, into and out of a house’s envelope. How to design andinstall vapor retarders depends a greatdeal on the climate and on the chosen con-struction method. However, any watervapor that does manage to get into thewalls or attics must be allowed to escape.Regardless of climate, water vapor migra-tion should be minimized by using a care-fully designed thermal envelope andsound construction practices. Systems thatcontrol air and water vapor movement inhomes rely on the nearly airtight installa-tion of sheet materials on the interior asthe main barrier.The Airtight Drywall Approach (ADA)uses the drywall already being installedalong with gaskets and caulking to create acontinuous air retarder. In addition, seamswhere foundation, sill plate, floor joistheader, and subfloor meet are also care-fully sealed with appropriate caulk or gas-ket material.Consult your local building codes officialon the best vapor retarder method to usein your area.
Windows 
The typical home loses more than 25 per-cent of its heat through windows. Evenmodern windows insulate less than a wall.Therefore, an energy-efficient house in aheating-dominated climate should, in gen-eral, have few windows on its northern,eastern, and western sides. Total windowarea should also not exceed 8 to 9 percentof the floor area for those rooms, unlessthe designer is experienced in passivesolar techniques. If this is the case, thenincreasing window area on the southernside of the house to about 12 percent of the floor area is recommended. This isoften called solar tempering.Aproperly designed roof overhang forsouth-facing windows will help preventoverheating in the summer. North, east,
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The best windowsare awning andcasement stylesbecause these stylesoften close tighterthan sliding types.
This house in Arizona features a passive solar design with overhangs above the southfacing windows.
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