Recently, I spent time with clients discussing the best ways to improve the energy efficiency and comfort of their home. Like many consumers, they had a number of contractors provide them with suggestions for each system. What they had found was that a heating contractor could give them a quote on a heating system, but the contractor had no clue about the other systems of the house. Traditional building trades, designers and engineers tend to focus on a specific system without much thought for the overall relationship of how theses systems integrate into the whole system. Critical to building a high performance and economical home or building is to approach the over all function and use of the building as an ecosystem and organic system, a “whole system”.
There is great loss in functionality and enjoyment if all systems are not address together. The “whole system” approach incorporates the use and functionality of the space and all the systems: windows, walls, roof, water collection and use, heating, cooling, power generation and use, appliance efficiency, and lighting, that make up the overall environment to build an efficient and economical living habitat. Whole system designs address and match each subsystem with the “whole system” to incorporate the best of each system as they relate to the whole system to create a super functioning and efficient environment.
The single system approach fails to understand the aesthetics, enjoyment and comfort that a home brings to a family. After all, a home or building is a place where we spend our time, if the space is poorly designed or built with mismatched systems it will be less enjoyable to be in.
Of course, any competent HVAC contractor can install a heating system, but if the home has drafty inefficient windows then the heating system is not going to work very well. Likewise, a subpar electrical system will cause the appliances to underperform or a leaky roof will lead to structural failure of the walls and foundation.
Through a whole system approach, all systems can be sized correctly, typically smaller and less expensive than when one system is designed without consideration for other systems. For instance, with the installation of high energy efficient windows and a super insulated outer structure, the HVAC system can be right sized to efficiently heat or cool the area. A smaller HVAC unit will provide efficient climate control, cycle less often and lower utility costs.
The best approach to building or renovating your home is to have an expert in general building technologies assist in the design of all the systems. A well designed and built home will provide years of energy savings and enjoyment for your family.