Energy efficiency is on everyone’s minds these days, not only because of the desire to reduce energy costs but also because helping homes lower their carbon footprint is a necessary part of slowing climate change. With the proliferation of zero-energy homes and the rise of the Passive House movement, the 21st century has seen a revolution in home building, but here we focus on energy retrofits rather than new homes. This is a content-rich topic, and in this guide we present a full spectrum of information on heating and cooling systems, air-sealing and insulation, and solar power and all-electric homes. The guide also features over 50 deep energy retrofits and other energy-efficient homes to give you inspiration for your own project.
As energy costs continue to spiral, energy efficiency at home becomes increasingly important. Yet the goal is not only to save money, but also to make a home more comfortable and to improve indoor air quality. This introductory chapter provides an overview of what you can do to make your home more energy efficient. The logical place to start is with a home energy audit, which will help you identify where you're using—or wasting—energy and choose the right upgrades for your home. From there, we’ll give an overview of net-zero energy homes and Passive Houses, which we’ll look at in greater depth in later chapters.
HVAC Systems and Water Heaters
Heating and cooling systems are at the heart of an energy-efficient home, but with the new generation of high-performance HVAC equipment now available, the choices can seem overwhelming. Air-source heat pumps appear poised to be the go-to choice for most heating and cooling needs in future new homes and remodels, and we'll cover the various types of ducted and ductless heat pump systems. We'll also delve into the world of ventilation and dehumidification, which are both critical for indoor air quality. You’ll learn how to choose efficient water heaters and understand why ductless minisplits are ideal for retrofits and well-insulated homes.
Air-Sealing and Insulation
Air-sealing and insulation are intimately linked. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to set up and use a blower door to detect air leaks in your house and find options for other home-energy testing equipment as well. We’ll explain why air barriers are essential for comfort, energy efficiency, and building durability, and we'll outline some simple air-sealing strategies. Insulation is the other side of the energy-efficient envelope equation, and we’ll touch briefly on choosing and installing insulation here. For in-depth coverage, follow the link to our separate Insulation Project Guide.
Solar Power and Electrification
Solar power is the fastest-growing sector of the energy market. With rapidly improving technology, the performance of residential photovoltaic (PV) systems is getting better and better, and the costs are falling. In this chapter, you’ll learn how solar panels work, what’s new in PV, and how to prepare your home for rooftop panels or the newer solar shingles. We evaluate the various backup energy options, including advice for choosing a generator, and look at some new battery types and renewable fuels that will move modern energy systems forward. The chapter ends with a section on the benefits of making a home all-electric.
Deep Energy Retrofits
A deep energy retrofit aims to cut a home’s energy use by at least 50%, but do the rewards of super energy efficiency really merit the expense? In this chapter, we’ll look at what a deep energy retrofit entails, and also offer some practical, phased approaches whereby the costs are not as prohibitive. The last 15 years or so have seen a surge in interest in deep energy retrofits, and there are plenty of examples to choose from—including (as featured here) a retrofit of a timber frame in Connecticut, a historic brick warehouse in Philadelphia, and a rundown ranch house in upstate New York.
In this final chapter, we’ll take a tour of over 40 energy-efficient houses across North America, with something here (we hope) to suit everyone’s design sensibility and geographic location. You’ll visit a net-zero Victorian retrofit in chilly Minneapolis, a solar-powered prototype for a net-zero neighborhood in Maine, and a LEED-certified home in British Columbia. But energy efficiency is not only a priority in cold climates, of course. Also featured are a ranch house in Central Texas, where staying cool is the issue in a hot, humid climate; a solar-powered home in Sonoma, California, built with fire-resistance standards foremost in mind; and three passive houses in the Southwest that seamlessly fit the style of the local New Mexican architecture.