We All Have a Role to Play in the Future of Housing
Energy efficiency in the home is the process of making energy use in the home more efficient. There are many ways to do this, including switching light bulbs to LEDs, using energy-efficient windows and doors, and installing smart thermostats. It all starts with how we design homes and includes construction processes.
Why is energy efficiency important in housing?
Energy efficiency is important when designing homes because it makes sure that the construction methods are sustainable. It also delivers the desired outcomes of the environmental impact of energy efficiency and allows for more comfortable living.
Energy efficiency solutions are generally a little more expensive than traditional construction. However, the cost disparity is closing. Furthermore, homes with high energy efficiency ratings are less costly to live in, and more environmentally friendly than conventional designs. These solutions can reduce energy costs by hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year, thus delivering more affordable housing.
Therefore, when considering overall costs, there is little difference between owning an energy-efficient home and a traditional home in the medium term. In the longer term, lower energy bills and the use of more sustainable materials is not only good for the pocket, but it’s also good for the planet.
Considerations when designing energy-efficient housing
While designing an energy-efficient home, designers must ensure that the design is not only energy efficient but also practical. They must also think about how to make the design appealing and comfortable.
There are numerous drawbacks that designers must overcome when designing energy-efficient homes. For instance, designs with large windows may not be practical as they require more insulation material which makes it difficult to fit into a smaller home.
The cost of materials can also be detrimental to construction, making homes too expensive to build. This can be avoided by using cheaper materials that are still energy efficient. Another solution would be to use prefabricated homes and modular construction methods. This strategy helps to reduce environmental impact on the construction site, and decrease time to build, therefore directly impacting cost to build.
Energy efficiency strategies to utilize in housing design
Energy efficiency can be achieved in many ways. It often starts with understanding the different types of energy and how they are used in our homes. With this understanding, designers can start creating houses that are more efficient with less energy usage overall.
To create a space that is more efficient for its specific needs, a designer should consider the following:
- What type of heating and cooling system does this space need?
- How much lighting is needed?
- Is it better to use natural or artificial light?
- What types of appliances are on hand throughout the space?
- How often will occupants use these appliances?
Answering these questions will allow designers to create homes that are sustainable and long-lasting, reducing the use of resources in terms of energy, water, electricity, and materials.
Some of the leading energy efficiency strategies for housing include:
- Installing solar panels on roofs or on ground-mounted photovoltaic systems that generate power for the building’s needs
- Adding insulation and ventilation systems to maintain indoor air quality during hot and cold weather seasons
- Utilizing smart features such as occupancy sensors, thermostats, and smart heating and cooling systems, among others, so that occupants can have control over how they use their space with minimal impact on resources
It is these types of considerations that should lead the design, and inform the choice of materials and construction methods.
The role of government in energy-efficient housing design
Creative builders have found ways of making energy-efficient homes easier to construct by combining various building techniques and materials to create seamless energy-efficient homes.
There are also various policy options for local governments who would like to increase energy efficiency building. These include:
- Increasing the minimum energy efficiency requirements for new homes
- Incentivizing the construction of energy-efficient buildings
- Mandating those new homes are constructed to meet certain efficiency standards
- Enforcing property tax incentives on efficient home building
- Increasing demand-side financing options
Indeed, the role of government in the development and implementation of energy-efficient design is important. Without a proper and strong regulatory framework, it would be difficult to move towards energy efficiency.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal agency that oversees residential energy efficiency to mitigate the impact of climate change, and help curb the damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions. They promote low-cost and easy-to-develop green design solutions which can be implemented in many ways.
The EPA also provides incentives for homeowners to reduce their fossil fuel consumption, both through rebates and tax credits. They have also introduced various other programs which assist with solar panels, weatherization, and building retrofits. (You can read more about EPA’s work and incentives for energy-efficient new construction on the EPA website.)
Demand will drive the design of energy-efficient housing
Energy efficiency is the current hot topic in sustainable design. Consumers want to live more sustainably and use less energy, so building designers are responding to this demand by designing new homes which have modern features and low greenhouse gas emissions.
As more people seek out energy-efficient housing, there are many different motivations for home builders to construct energy-efficient homes. However, government policy can also enable energy efficiency to become the main objective of new home construction. The EPA has a significant role to play, as do we all.
The EPA suggests that one strategy for local government to increase the move toward designing and constructing energy-efficient housing may be to offer:
- Discounted or delayed permit fees
- Priority with code processing
- Increased density allowances
- Expedited plan approvals
- Priority field inspections
- Discounted utility hook-up fees or rate
Clearly, while there’s no one-size-fits-all policy, it’s possible for local governments to implement some policies that can increase home building with more efficient materials, while also increasing affordability. The EPA has a significant role to play, as does the local government, designers, and construction companies.
To learn more about our commitment to building energy-efficient design and construction, contact ACB Consulting.