This is part one of a series on the various “green building technologies” available today to improve homes and buildings that are ecologically and economically sound.
When “green” technologies are discussed the conversation is typically framed around saving the planet. Lost in the discussion is the economical advantage of building green. A recent discussion about energy production was filled with presentations on how we can “save” the planet by installing wind turbines or solar panels to produce power. What was not presented was the fact that wind and solar power production can be MORE cost effective compared with the polluting alternatives AND will make the utility and the state more money over the life of the project. Of course it will help “save” the planet also.
Most of us, would love to put into action improvements that help keep our world healthy and vibrant. What most do not know is that ecologically smart living IS economical. Builders and real estate professionals can increase their bottom line profits. That’s right; earn more money by building and selling smart, “green” technology buildings and homes. As we progress through this series on the available smart “green” technologies, it will become clear that instead of a “cost” to building green it actually can be a profit center for the builder, real estate professional AND the end user.
Traditional building trades, designers and engineers tend to focus on a specific system without much thought for the overall relationship of how to 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”. The “whole system” approach incorporates the use and functionality of the space and all the systems (windows, walls, roof, water use, HVAC, lighting, etc.) 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 as they relate to the whole to create a super functioning and efficient environment.
One part of the whole living environment is windows. The installation of high performance windows with thin film technology and triple pane insulated glass will provide more then a great view. Active thin film technology improves natural light or day lighting, allows in more warming sun light in the winter and reduces solar heating in the summer. Triple pane insulated glass lowers heat transfer and improves energy efficiency, the loss of heating/cooling through windows accounts for 35% of total energy loss in a building. These improved energy efficiencies will lessen the size of the cooling and heating systems, these systems will function far more efficiently (cycling on/off less frequently), lessen the overall use of lighting and lower utility costs. Businesses that have employed high performance windows as part of an overall energy improvement plan have found increased in productivity, reduced absenteeism and happier employees. A happy home or building is a productive and healthy environment.
High performance windows are readily available and can be part of a retrofit/upgrade to an existing building or home and not just for new buildings. The “cost” of high performance windows is on par with a high quality window and will provide a return on investment in both savings and comfort. Designers, builders and homeowners should ask to have the best performing windows used on their projects.
Another important part to the energy efficiency and useful life of a building is the type and quality of the walls, floors and roof. In housing the walls, floors and roof play the most important role in the physical structure of the building. Super insulated walls, floors and roof will provide an enjoyable space, economical benefits to the user and lessen overall demand of utilities and appliances. The builder benefits as well, super insulated walls, floors and roof, can be built faster, will differentiate your building from the competition and cost less to build.
Super insulation is a term that has been thrown around quite a lot lately. I heard a so called “green” builder state that they were using super insulation and charging more for it. In fact this builder was clueless and was up charging their customer without merit just for more fiberglass insulation. The unfortunate down side of new technology is uninformed and bogus builders. What is super insulation? For more than 20 years, I’ve been working with structural insulated panels, SIPs, an EPS core wrapped in OSB. SIPs are a panelized system pre-cut at the manufacturing facility, are welded together on site using a 2 x spline of appropriate width and spray foam and then lifted into place by a small lifting machine (crane, Lull, even a crew of guys). Panel sizes range from 4’ x 8’ to 8’ x 26’ with thicknesses from 3 ?” to 11 5/8”, they have ability to span 4’ openings which lessens the amount of framing materials needed to build. When properly constructed a SIPs built structure will all but eliminate any air penetration and have true performance “R” values of 14.5 to 43.6. By comparison, the “R” value of fiberglass bats run R-13 to R-30, yet in true insulating performance provide about half the advertised “R” value, because of air pockets, compression and improper installation.
SIPs are manufactured by a number of very good manufacturers and are distributed throughout
Super insulated walls, floors and roof combined with super windows will cut down on noise pollution, lower utility use, allow for smaller more efficient HVAC systems and more comfortable living. The best part of these systems is that they go up quickly (in as little as a couple of days depending on size of the structure), require less job site storage and will lessen loss from theft or weather. As soon as the exterior is in place, the interior framing and all other trades can get going, advancing the completion of the job.
SIPs systems are faster and less expensive to build compared with traditional framing. On average the 2 x 6 frame wall with insulation cost $8-12 per square foot, while the SIPs wall cost about $6-8 per square foot. The savings do not end there, the super efficiency with these systems allows for the size of the heating and cooling systems be dramatically reduced. The builder saves on the installation and cost of building these systems, can “up sell” because of the life time of savings and higher quality home. In the end the builder will make higher profits, sell their product faster and help “save” our planet.
Cost savings in time to build and carry costs, quicker to completion, eliminating the fiberglass insulation step, improved functionality and overall enjoyment of the building and home are all benefits of building with smart technologies like super insulated walls, floors and roof and high performance windows.
For the homeowner or end user, the long term return on investment will be enjoyed for 25 – 30 years or more with savings 50 to 75% of the utility and maintenance costs, not to mention the far ore comfortable living environment. These savings could easily add up to $50,000 or more over the life of the home. The “right sized” HVAC system will function better, run less often, lower utility cost, is cleaner to operate, requires less maintenance and creates a more enjoyable living space.
In 1986, I built a super insulated home using SIPs and high performance windows. The house, in spite of the less then spectacular heating and cooling systems of the day, was quite comfortable both in hot and cold weather with utilities bills near nil. And no the people didn’t live in misery, they were a family with a baby on the way, yes a pregnant woman did live “happily” in this new home.
In addition to the economic, environmental and physical comfort benefits of modern building techniques, there are huge tax incentives being offered for both the builder and the homeowner of super insulated houses and other energy efficient and water savings programs.
Imagine saving money, building a superior home, building it faster and doing the right thing by building “green”. Smart, educated builders, real estate professionals and buyers should no longer settle for the substandard “traditionally built” home, instead they should demand the energy efficient, comfortable and smart home of tomorrow, available today.
In coming articles I will look at other green, smart technologies that will benefit the builder, real estate professional and the end user. As with all of the suggestions I will make in this series, the systems will be readily available and proven technologies.