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Home efficiency goes beyond heating and electricity

More contractors are using energy-saving techniques in the construction of new houses and buildings.

More contractors are using energy-saving techniques in the construction of new houses and buildings.

In today's world of rising oil and gas prices, restrictions on energy output and a greater need for conservation, many contractors are taking on the challenge of building efficient, low-emissions buildings from the ground up. This is not the same as retrofitting a solar array or a heat-pump system – although those are valid options for those looking to decrease their existing building's output. Rather, architects are "taking a holistic approach to building design and construction," according to Sherlon Ferguson, energy solutions manager at Shapiro and Duncan, Inc. This approach considers a number of important factors, such as lighting, water usage and electricity, and requires specialized construction tools and fasteners to get the job done.

This new wave of 'green buildings' is a positive trend. Not only are they aligned with more stringent building codes and regulations on efficiency, they are also more comfortable for the tenants, in greater demand leading to higher rents for the landlords, and easier to maintain going forward.

In Utah, solar energy company Vivint and residential development company Garbett Homes partnered to build the Zero Home, "the first single-family smart home to be certified as net-zero energy-efficient." The ingenious design plan features meticulous forethought every step of the way:

  • Framing: the team used 2×6 studs rather than the more common 2×4, and spaced them at 24-inch intervals, rather than the typical 16-inch. The frame of a house easily conducts warm and cold air from the outside in, so using fewer studs reduced the amount of unwanted heat transfer – as well as reducing the cost of building.
  • Insulationafter completing the frame, Garbett wrapped the structure in Tyvek – a common practice – but also used a sealant at every point where wood met wood. This created an effective barrier against air and moisture. Additionally, the team blew in spray foam insulation between the interior and exterior walls.
  • Windows: one of the goals was to ensure a comfortable living experience, so there were plenty of windows to let in light. The glass was double-paned with a layer of argon gas in between and sealed shut, thus protecting the interior from the elements.

The team covered all this even before considering heating and cooling – which featured solar hot water, solar voltaic, and 95 percent efficient furnace and air-conditioning. Houses and buildings like this one will likely become more ubiquitous as contractors employ these energy-saving strategies at the foundational level.