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Value of Energy Efficiency in planning


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2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 Merit Award Winner
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/10/2006


Let me tell you a story of two houses.  House #1 is fairly well constructed, the house I used to live in (and still own).  It is 2,700 s.f., fairly well-built, however typical stick construction, nothing extraordinary but a good example of what you get if you get quality construction.  It uses natural gas heat, natural gas hot water, and natural gas clothes dryer.  In December 2005 it was vacant, so the only natural gas usage was for heat at a low level (~60-62F), no hot water, and no laundry.

House #2 is ICF, R-50 roof, extremely well built (I like to think, it is my O-B house).  It is 4,000 s.f. within the envelope.  This house has natural gas hot water, natural gas laundry, and natural gas heat, all three were being used since we live there.  The heat is up to 72F during the day, 62F at night.  Given the same billing period and the same environment (both use the same gas utility, so billing periods are the same, they are 20 minutes apart driving through the suburbs), even though this house is 50% larger than house #1 it used over 35% less natural gas than house #1. 

I could install a more efficient furnace into house #1, but since the efficiency already exceeds 80% I only have about 12% reduction in gas possible (going to a 90+), and this in no way accounts for the significant difference in gas usage between the two houses (house #1 uses 50% more fuel than house #2, even at less intensive usage).

This example is why you incorporate energy efficiency into your design and consider it along the way.  I don't have the most efficient HVAC (I could have used geothermal), I don't have the best roof insulation (I have blown cellulose, expanding foam would be better), I don't have argon filled windows (although they are Low-E), however none of this is relevant because I have an extremely efficient and tight envelope.  Energy efficiency is not something you add on along the way, it is something built in from the start of construction.

Given the tax credits for energy efficiency, this spring I plan to bring in a blower door and optimize my new house.  I am confident there is another 10-15% reduction in utility usage simply by optimizing the system.


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 1/17/2006


This is a great example of how quality control and attention to trade-offs works. Not sure if you have tested the ductwork work but making sure the duct work is sealed is almost as important as having the envelope tested for leaks.

Its amazing what a little bit of caulking will do.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/17/2006


The only ductwork that is sealed are the exhaust fans and the outside air intake.  The rest of the ductwork is entirely within the envelope (I don't have any HVAC ductwork in the attic for example).  As most of it is still accessible, this is on my springtime projects although I don't expect much here.

I should also add that I don't have energy recovery on my ventilation (ERV or HRV) as I wanted to see how the house operated prior to expending the funding.  An ERV is about $1.7K installed in my area, I want to know that this is a good investment before I purchase it.  I do have ventilation though.  Given the overall energy efficiency, I have other projects that will provide much faster return on investment.

Focus on the building envelope first.  Adding energy efficiency after this is an add-on only, and only has limited results and return on investment.


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By John in Erie, CO on 1/17/2006


Ken,

I did put in the HRV, but with our dogs going in and out, I'm not sure it was worth it...  Opening a 3' door every couple of hours, plus usual entry/exit seems fine.  (i.e. we don't really notice if the HRV has been running or not).  We still have it on a periodic timer, but the air always looks the same. :)



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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 1/17/2006


Not sealing every joint causes you to lose control of your air flow. Our local electric company for their "guaranteed certs" requires a ductwork test.

Balancing airflow in every room so that you don't have high and low pressure areas makes a difference. I dislike "undercut" doors because of sound transmission issues, "transfer" ducts make things work great if properly designed.

 


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