Common Sense Energy Efficiency

By Joyanna Laughlin

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From air sealing to solar panels, green building experts David Johnston and Marc Richmond offer tips on saving time, energy and money when building your energy-efficient home.

Seal It Up Right

Air sealing is as important to your home’s energy efficiency as selecting the right R-value insulation, says David Johnston, president of the Boulder, Colorado-based green building firm What’s Working. “Air seal everywhere that building components come together and/or where something penetrates the walls, such as doors, windows and hose bibs,” Johnston says. 

Right-Size Your HVAC
Most heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are not professionally designed or engineered specifically for your home, according to Marc Richmond, manager of the Austin, Texas-based green building firm Practica Consulting. HVAC systems tend to be oversized by 50 to 70 percent, and the forced air ducts tend to leak at a rate of between 20 and 30 percent.  To avoid this, ask your HVAC contractor to use Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Manuals J, D, S and T to size and install the system. In addition, make sure that your contractor tests the ductwork and ensures that its leak rate is less than six percent.

Use Water Sense
“Water shortages are going to be a much bigger problem for many areas in the United States than climate change,” Johnston says. “At any given time, one third of the country is suffering drought.” Richmond recommends: Purchasing only WaterSense-certified showerheads, faucets, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers, and irrigation controllers. (WaterSense is a partnership program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.) Buying toilets that score higher than 500 on the MaP (maximum performance) scale. (MaP is a voluntary North American testing program that rates toilet efficiency and flush performance).
Installing a drip irrigation system that includes a smart controller (featuring a rain or soil moisture sensor to stop irrigation when the soil is wet), and using micro-spray heads for landscape beds and multi-stream rotors for turf areas. Planting low-water-use plants and turf, reducing turf areas, and hydrozoning landscaping (saving water by grouping plants together that have similar water requirements). Installing a rainwater collection system.

Get Certified
When shopping for energy- and water-saving products, don’t assume that all product claims are true or that product savings are additive, Richmond says. Do your own independent research, talk to experts, and buy Energy Star- and WaterSense-certified products. These certifications don’t add to the products’ cost, and they save energy, water and money immediately.

Going Solar?
“Do everything you can to save energy in the home itself before you purchase expensive solar panels to create new electricity,” Richmond says. Johnston agrees. “Solar is sexy and insulation is invisible,” he says. “Typically you get a better return on investment on the invisible items.” And if you do decide to put solar panels on your roof, the size (and cost) of the system is determined by your home’s energy use. Reducing your energy use at home first means that you can purchase a smaller solar system, and that saves you money.

For a wide variety of advice and a comprehensive listing of energy-efficient products go to

May 6, 2014

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